Battle Hag does not write riffs so much as they summon an unusually melodic thunderstorm. Tongue of the Earth is an apt name for the debut album; their doom metal swirls with primeval atmosphere that seems to rumble from the earth itself, rather than from any human artifice. This effect is accomplished by a tremendous attention to detail: the massive bass tone, the low and bestial growls, the slow and towering riffs, the sometimes-ritualistic percussion… the net result is that, at their absolute best, Battle Hag provides the distinct impression that the listener is cowering inside a shallow cave, helpless to explosions of thunder and bludgeons of debris while a formless predator roars in the distance. It’s pretty cool.
Battle Hag manages to make me gush partly because the opener, “Nechronomicron”, sits atop my Song of the Year shortlist; this, in turn, is helped in no small part because it contains my current Riff of the Year. “Nechronomicron” begins ambiently; it’s an overused metaphor, but the first two minutes of the album really are the calm before the storm. Eerie, monastic vocals echo over a disconcerting ritualistic drumming pattern. The mixture builds in intensity until The Riff storms in, and that’s about all you need to know about that.
The album is very cohesive; the low, harsh vocals preserve the atmosphere much better than traditional clean doom metal vocals would have. Everywhere the album is stocked with accoutrements dialing up the atmosphere — a little throat singing here, a synth effect there, an abused whammy pedal. None of it is overdone, though. The sound is never overpopulated with cheap tricks. Overall, it’s actually very sparse — if you discount the impossibly beefy guitar tone, anyway. Even for a doom album, it is heavy. So turn your speakers way up and blast some Battle Hag, please.