As the COVID-19 lockdown begins to ease, I find myself wondering what will be the state of our beloved extreme music underground during the coming weeks and months. Will bands have managed to find a way through, will the live venues have contrived to stay above water, will fans want to venture back into sweaty, rammed gigs or will we find a decimated scene unrecognisable to pre-COVID times?

If UK BM stalwarts Shadowflag are anything to go by, the future is bright (in an appropriately grim and battering manner, obviously!). Having been honing their dark art since 2013, ‘In Asylum Requiem’ is the band’s most complete and abrasive release to date. Opening with deliberate, sinister riffs, ‘Lest The Night Be Thorned’ soon builds momentum as harsh screams morph into a more measured, formidable vocal onslaught. The track settles to a mid pace with a pulsating rhythm and oppressive atmosphere, perhaps reminiscent of early Satyricon. Title track ‘In Asylum Requiem’ continues the theme, building to a fully immersive black metal behemoth, conjuring up images of dense, dark forests with potent malevolence.

My highlight from the album followed, and had me immediately reaching for the replay button and cranking up the volume. After a standard black metal intro, ‘One Beast One God’ explodes into a blackened death metal masterpiece with an anthemic chorus that it is impossible not to bang your head to. I found myself comparing it to a black metal version of Kataklysm or perhaps One Man Army and the Undead Quartet. I cannot wait for the opportunity to get into the pit with this beast orchestrating things.

‘From Agony To Cold’ keeps up the intensity with a furious, almost scornful, barrage that builds to a frenzy before a glorious, well placed solo restores order. The savagery is perpetuated with ‘Nameless Realm Eternal’ where a frenetic opening is sustained leading to a harsh, relentless black metal aural incursion.

Things are brought to a close with the epic ‘To The Earth, To The Corpse, To The Seas’. Clocking in at over ten minutes, this swirls around generating a veritable maelstrom of emotion, with slow emotive passages juxtaposed effectively with crushing riffs and percussion. This is one of those tracks that just carries you away and you become lost within its maleficence.

This album is brutal, sinister, precise and a real gem. It should see Shadowflag join the higher echelons of the black metal ranks and I look forward to catching them live again soon.

(8.5/10 Andy Pountney)