It was I that hailed Under Black Skies, Purified In Blood’s sophomore album, as 2010’s best, calling it “crepuscular, bellicose, demented, swaggering, invasive” but, ultimately, “consummate”. In my mind, it blew away the competition that year, and I’ll stand by that opinion today. So, two years, down the line, one vocalist down and with a fervent desire to return to the raw potency of their Reaper Of Souls debut, have the band managed to retain the black magic that still gets me so hot under the collar?

Well, they’ve attempted to get around the loss of Glenn “Reaper” Rasmussen (who does make a brief showing for the track “Iron Hands”) by cramming in a few guest spots. Drummer Anders Mosness uses his Kvelertak connections to convince their frontman Erlend Hjelvik to rip into “Mot Grav” and Siberian throat singer Albert Kuvezin lends his extraordinary, never-ending rumble to the introductory “The Absolute”. Otherwise, it’s all down to Hallgeir Enoksen who, to be fair, has an absolute beast of a vocal that more than stands up to scrutiny. More than anything it’s this man’s nail-gargling roar that so endeared to me to the band in the first place.

“Storm Of Blood” is ripped with it, Enoksen digging out fury to go with the sort of drum battery and rotational guitar grot you’d associate more with the hammer and anvil stoner attack of High On Fire or the crust-covered ‘core of Black Breath. When the crush returns for “Mind Is Fire” (the thrash attack and vocal patterning on the chorus oddly reminiscent of Sylosis’ “Reflections Through Fire”) it’s even more powerful. Even that though is not the heaviest thing on the album. That honour goes to the galloping, blocky crush at the four-minute mark of the title-track; check it… it’s an utter mind-bender.

One reason for this increase in brutish weight requires a glance at the men responsible for twiddling the knobs. There’s few safer pairs of hands than those of Jacob Bredahl and Tue Madsen and they certainly haven’t impeded any of the thunderous intensity that the band have managed to knock out here. When they dial it down a notch and inject some driven groove they manage to produce the album highlights. Tracks like the throbbing neck-snappers of “Void” and “Iron Hands” come closest to matching the addictive peaks that Under Black Skies reached. Hjelvik brings along his black n’ roll spikes, and with “Mot Grav”s added thrash licks, the band dig out a real powerhouse.

Other than those rutted monsters though, the band are found to be rather wanting. At times, it is Ådne Sæverud’s frantically whining Hammond organ or Sander Loen’s wild, disconnected solos that are to blame as they succeed in derailing PiB’s chug-worthy building blocks; at other times it is the speed and noise-worshipping, a desperate search to raise the raw and inject the heavy, that has negated the neck-snapping cool of their sweetest rides. Although they manage to fish out several interesting minor chords, some swathed entirely in black, for long periods they seem to entirely forgo their fondness for structural build and plaster over any potential breaks in sound, ditching the chance for barbed hooks or sharp licks, to create yet more bulging angst and all-encompassing heavy. Worst of all, with only eight tracks to play with and running times trimmed, we get fewer changes of direction and a stingy 35-minute total.

Despite these flaws though, I simply can do nothing other than stringently insist that you try this on for size. Okay, it’s not the game-changing album of the year that their 2010 effort so obviously was, but it’s still got big, bushy chops on it and enough shades of black to make it worthy of your undivided attention. It will certainly be interesting to see how much of an impact they make on the scene this time and, more importantly, in which direction they will head with their next release.

(7/10 John Skibeat)