Minus tonight’s tantalisingly blackened line-up, there’s precious little to endear us to the Macbeth of Hoxton. Tucked away in a nefarious-looking backstreet of this charmless, beige-bricked labyrinth of a London district, dated wall art and plastic grapevines adorn a dingy, faintly claustrophobic interior. And that’s all before we make the unwelcome discovery that: a. the only choice of beers behind the bar are cans of Red Stripe and Foster’s and b. a single one of these gassy abominations costs the princely sum of £5. Yet these are the necessary sacrifices we make for the acts we - heavy metal obsessives that we are - so fanatically worship and admire. And with the UK black metal scene still picking its collective jaw up off the floor following the immeasurable, brimstone-scorched brilliance of Dutch collective Asagraum’s ‘Dawn of Eternal Fire’ we are, quite assuredly, about to witness something very special indeed here this evening.
But first, essential crowd warm-up responsibilities fall to blackly bombastic Brits Formicarius, who, without so much as a second’s hesitation, hurl us headlong into a demented maelstrom of whirling, Cradle-esque keyboards and raggedly primitive snarling. Generously bestrewn with a sumptuous wealth of scalding arpeggios and nimbly orchestrated baroque flourishes that twist and writhe like densely entwined vines of ancient ivy, ‘Crimson Purge’ makes for a deliciously dark and absorbing standout. Then, it’s with characteristically manic aplomb that the corpse paint-smeared collective forge ahead into the giddy, power metal-tinged throes of ‘May The Rats Eat Your Eyes’. Revelling in a rich assortment of smouldering, deliciously infectious hooks together with an equally contagious sense of fun that’s seldom seen in this most frigidly grim and solemn of subgenres, their colourfully varied and playful set is met with frenzied waves of cheering and applause from the ever-swelling hordes of fans arriving now in thick and fast supply. But with its luxuriant layerings of sultry bass groove, thornily abrasive accents and fluidly cascading organ sections that palpably reek of the grave, it’s ‘Beyond the Veil of Flesh’ that finds these inventive Brits at their most tautly cohesive and entrancing.
From the second Asagraum violently break loose in a blinding onslaught of madly reverberating blasts and thick, distortion-drenched grooves that audibly crackle and blister with infernal hell-fire, it fast becomes apparent that this is an act for whom painstakingly engineered precision and attention to detail truly is everything. And tonight, that impeccable, carefully calculated complexity of design is here gloriously made manifest - from visceral barbs of tremolo that lacerate the senses with all the flesh-scorching ferocity of Nordic frostbite through to inky layerings of deathly atmospherics that plunge the listener into a state utterly removed from this earthly realm.
Corpse-painted faces ghoulishly stark beneath dusky strains of livid, blood-red stage lighting, every ragged, pulverising inch of ‘Abomination’s Altar’ thoroughly bristles with hostility, its pummelling snares gathering crazed acceleration beneath a dense haze of coldly immersive tremolo. Displaying seamlessly fluid ease in blending trappings as varied as brimstone-scorched hooks, frenzied episodes of battering hyperblasts and whirling, blackly introspective passages that ooze morbidly hypnotic magnetism,‘Guahaihoque’ makes for relentlessly entertaining and absorbing listening. Among the illustrious wealth of supremely blackened, subterranean gems mined from this year’s masterful ‘Dawn of Infinite Fire’, its electrifying title track of the same name sees sinewy hunks of bass find perfectly manipulated placement alongside deliriously intricate feats of nimble-fingered fretwork. From bloodcurdling bouts of sulphurous, tortured screams and raggedly accelerating lines of bristling tremolo, all the instantly recognisable trappings of the gloriously iconic second wave are richly apparent here. Manipulated with deft, genre-twisting ingenuity and a uniquely crafted aura of intense, undiluted malice, Asagraum truly is an experience quite unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed. Pure, unadulterated darkness.