Review: Battle Hag – Celestial Tyrant
In the footsteps of Titans.
I can’t say I’m a devoted student of the Classics, but I am a fan of expressive, creative doom epics. Sacramento’s Battle Hag, thus, are even bigger nerds than me, because they’re clearly both. On Celestial Tyrant, their second full-length, a trio of well-planned and ethereally-executed tracks made me stretch out my myth muscles. This is a record where tracing out the accompanying imagery helps make the music richer, and it is already rich, indeed.
Battle Hag has a strong grasp of the emotive tools available to them, and manages to spin the funeral doom essentials into something that feels resolute and dutiful, like it has little hope but has determined to carry on. “The Eleusinian Sacrament” is structured after the Classical Greek ritual, retelling the myth of Demeter’s descent into Hades to retrieve her daughter, Persephone. Split into three chunks, to mirror the myth’s three acts of descent, search, and return, there’s a few clever layers of allusion sustained through songwriting. The first part and last parts take on a Pallbearer pairing of reverberating chords and plodding leads, reinforced from below to alter their inflection, but on the latter, the lead guitar is joined by a partner, as mother and daughter reunite. In the central passage, where Demeter seeks Persephone in the netherworld, the drums and bass come to life like swirling spectres darting across the goddess’ path. Drummer Grey Cat takes a staggered, proggy stance here, using jilted stabs of triplets against the guitar’s consistent plod to sow confusion, while Neal Oliver’s bass warbles to and fro, stirring the backdrop into bubbling pitch.
You see why I like this so far? The composition is alive and purposeful, keeping imagery in mind to guide it instead of losing itself in the murk of vainglorious vamped riffs. “Talus” feels more lonesome, but still focused on that wearying journey, now through eons of time instead of across spiritual gates. Though beginning with only a mechanical heartbeat, and the faintest idea of a riff, the full fuzz wave brings Talos his first steps. An adventurous, spirited riff takes over from there as Talos sets out, leaving behind his Bronze Age brethren to watch the last days pass, aware that even the earth under his feet will soon wear away as he walks it. The song marches skywards, treading from the base of Olympus with aspirations to the summit, bringing rolling, thundering drums beneath the swaying guitars, and finally gasps its last at the grand sight of an empty realm, barren but fertile. Dan Aguilar, singer and guitarist, shows off some stirring, dramatic sensibilities here in his playing, conducting in crescendos with his to-and-fro progressions.
In “Red Giant”, the entire second half, Helios’ daily grind across the sky gets threaded out into a gargantuan scale, opening with the most flat-out doomiest passage on the record, truly cosmic-sized. From the primordial, hammering drone festers forth signs of life, burgeoning, ponderous peals of thunder. The warmth of the gleaming sun thaws a pulseless earth as the instruments become more nimble, drinking in the strength of the star and writhing among each other as their hunger is sated. As the final harmonized phrase reaches its apex, however, it falls away into cold void, withering as the nurturing heat recedes, left in the somber embrace of wet flanging reverb, strumming lazily in psych rock doldrums. The golden age cut off in its infancy, just as it was learning to speak. The hazy, drifting phrase feels like the eclipsed corona of a much heavier star, faint shimmering whose true majesty we may never behold again. That is, until it comes crashing back, harrowed and mourning, overlapping screams outlining the sheer scale of the thing. The Red Giant swallows us up, all the life that grew in his radiance now seared away by that same boundless love. The sunset of all Sol’s children. It’s so fucking rad.
On Celestial Tyrant, Battle Hag does a good job of keeping their eyes on the ball, not overplaying the motif and always having a new place for it to evolve as the song progresses. Doom bands that cannot do this will throw down a 10-minute slab that lies stagnant and fallow, never blossoming into what it should be after all that time. These tracks, however, have lives of their own and journeys to follow, making even the more boilerplate moments weighty and gripping. It feels cohesive and intentional, adept at both writing strong riffs that thrive in their genre and deploying them for emotional effect. Battle Hag has learned much from the doom titans. They do a fine job walking in their footsteps, and have harvested much wisdom from their myths.