The sophomore release, Celestial Tyrant, from Sacramento’s Battle Hag comes at a point when the passage of time without its measurement is sorely needed. Of course, there’s no way to stop the clock, but there is a way to detach from the concept of time and try and focus on moments rather than minutes. With Celestial Tyrant—nearly 50 minutes in length, composed of three tracks running nearly fourteen minutes on average—Battle Hag manage to carve out space within time and the work in doing so may end up seeing Celestial Tyrant as one of the albums a lot of us circle back upon towards the end of the year.
On the opening cut, ‘Eleusinian Sacrament,’ Battle Hag creep their way through twelve minutes of doom metal that, on its surface, presents as fairly standard. The track certainly checks off all the boxes with titanic riffs and guttural vocals, plus an absolutely punishing rhythm section rounding everything out. Great production ensures every piece of the group has its moment in the sun and infuses each instrument with a welcomed warmth that isn’t always represented in funeral-adjacent doom. The real beauty of the opening track—and what keeps it from being doom-by-numbers—is the degree to which it teases the listener. There are tinges of NWOBHM-esque harmonies up front, bass forays off into the stoner weeds, and enough pounding and punching drums to hint to the listener that Celestial Tyrant isn’t just about moving at a glacial pace.
To call ‘Eleusinian Sacrament’ a bait-and-switch isn’t accurate because the honesty of the doom lineage is clearly presented, but a feeling of deliberate misdirection settles in as ‘Talus’ gets moving. Of course, in a very doom fashion, it’s six minutes into the second cut before the gates blow off the hinges. All of the elements from the album opener coalesce into a rumbling, NWOBHM/doom hybrid that sees the guitars and bass harmonizing with one another while the percussion is presented in such a way that it nearly comes punching through the speakers. The extra flavour might only be for a couple of minutes, but it comes in such a timely fashion and stands out in such a way that it provides a real moment of refreshment and reprieve from the lumbering nature of doom.
And it’s the extra flavour that really starts separating Celestial Tyrant from the herd. There comes a point—especially in doom where the prerequisite is low-and-slow—when extended track lengths become really overbearing. With the final cut, ‘Red Giant,’ sitting at nearly 20 minutes in length, a chance certainly presents itself for Battle Hag to riff themselves to death*. While 20 minutes provided a lot of latitude and room within which to play. there’s a lot of opportunity for the listener to check out. Making the most of the time is paramount, and Battle Hag come out and do just that. While the first few minutes of the album closer very much channel the plodding nature of the first two tracks, ‘Red Giant’ features more misdirection with the NWOBHM dragging the listener’s attention one way before veering toward the realms of psych and funeral doom** before building towards a closing explosion after 50-minutes of pent-up aggression.
Battle Hag have definitely brought their best effort forward with Celestial Tyrant and, again, it won’t be a surprise for this record to end up on best-of lists at the end of 2021.
*Admittedly, being riffed to death or riffing someone to death sounds kind of awesome, but riffing a track to death isn’t as awesome.
**The world needs funeral psych as a sub-genre.
Celestial Tyrant is out now via Transylvanian Tapes and can be ordered here.
Words: Tristan McCallum