It says a lot about the strength of frontwoman Obscura's vision that ASAGRAUM are currently being talked about as major black metal contenders. As much as I'm sure the band don't need a white, middle-aged man to congratulate them for making fantastic music and possessing vaginas at the same time, it would be disingenuous to pretend that there isn't anything startling or, perhaps more significantly, refreshing about the ongoing rise of this all-female crew. The conversation changed almost immediately, upon the release of 2017's "Potestas Magicum Diaboli", from "Ooh, girls playing black metal!" to "Satan be praised, this fucking rips!"; subsequent live shows only adding to the band's aura and renown. Two years later, it's not easy to think of many young extreme metal bands that can boast the terrifying levels of confidence and command that course through every second of "Dawn of Infinite Fire". Still firmly wedded to notions of keeping the spirit of black metal '90s heyday alive, with a generous dose of claustrophobic psychedelia thrown in for bad measure, ASAGRAUM haven't so much evolved as expanded, edging ever closer to the monumental atmospheres of the EMPEROR, GORGOROTH and GEHENNA records that created the rudimentary framework for this incendiary din.
Wisely opting for a big sound that packs a huge bassy punch, ASAGRAUM share a lot of musical DNA with black metal's epic, symphonic and ambitious wings, but there is nothing polished or overly accessible here. Instead, from the abyssal eruptions of opener "They Crawl from the Broken Circle" onwards, Obscura and drummer A. drag the listener into a swirling, suffocating vortex of riffs and feral roars, powered by a percussive battery that frequently sounds like a war breaking out in hell. It's undeniably brutal and intense, but where many contemporary black metal bands are perfectly happy to charmlessly repeat a revered formula, ASAGRAUM side-step every cliché, with melodies that crackle with eccentricity and arrangements that never quite do the obvious.
Ultimately, "Dawn of Infinite Fire" looks likely to be one of this year's most hallowed black metal records simply because ASAGRAUM are so utterly convincing. You simply can't fake the bug-eyed violence that informs the album's most unrelenting moments, and the sinister vibes that leak from every calloused sonic pore are often genuinely unsettling. Even when channeling more prosaic, traditional influences, as on self-evident neck-wrecker "Abomination's Altar", Obscura's delight in corrupting cherished tropes for her own nefarious ends is obvious and quite infectious. Grotesque centerpiece "Beyond the Black Vortex" is a case in point: ostensibly one of those doom-laden black metal deep cuts that ladles on the atmosphere while giving the drummer a break, it swiftly morphs into something profoundly left field and disorientating; dynamics employed as weapons of war and a vocal performance so incensed and that they might make your eyes pop out, let alone Obscura's. The closing "Waar ik ben komt de dood" brings this stupidly exhilarating record to an end on an atypically restrained, sorrowful note, but that spectral spite is still there in plentiful supply. ASAGRAUM really do seem to be the real Luciferian deal.