NIGHT HAG – Phantasmal Scourge (2022)REVIEW

Not to be confused with the short lived Australian blackened crust quartet of the same name, death/doomed chest-sitters Night Hag formed in Virginia Beach, Virginia circa 2010 presumably spearheaded by sole original member Jon Ransom (Toilet Fetus, Kryptcest) who’d eventually found the right slow-mo bros in fellow goregrinders and miscreants over the cours of about 7-8 years. Though they’d released a handful of demos in the early 2010’s it wasn’t until 2018 that we’d get our first taste of the -real- hag trio with the celebrated ‘Insemination Rites of the Succubus‘ EP and from that point of thrilling traditional death/doom metal motion this debut full-length has been nothing short of anticipated. ‘Phantasmal Scourge‘ is exactly what you’d expect, exactly what previous works had promised and nothing more, a straight forward gore-sputtering slow-hammer of unsanctionable, decaying underground doom.

The major difference between what Night Hag manage by way of classic 80’s doom metal-direct riffs, found in their basal even-paced form across this entire 50+ minute debut, and typical late 80’s/early 90’s death/doom metal hybridization revivalist acts is a minor note; Sidestepping the usual too-direct use early Celtic Frost riffing (see: Cianide, Winter, etc.) and instead pulling from movements one would see as the deranged kin of early Saint Vitus, Penance‘s debut or even ‘Day of Reckoning’ for the sake of a devil’s triangulated slinging of a warmer, easier perpetuum. See their recent split with Cryptic Brood for clearer illustration of the difference as well as an example of Night Hag‘s solid consistency on display within each release since 2017.

This exception isn’t a hundred percent rule but there is plenty of precedence for the motion of their gore ocean, which should bring to mind just a few notable acts who’d stood out for similar reasons, such as early tapes from Sweden’s Eternal Darkness and perhaps more obviously their primal ancestry in ‘Mental Funeral‘ (and ‘Retribution For the Dead‘) era Autopsy alongside Derkéta. We do eventually find some strong Joe Goncalves circa ‘Into Darkness’ influence in vocalist/drummer Ransom‘s increasingly sharp skin slapping as he spirit-guides songs like “Petrifying Realization” into cold, dead tribal entrancement but much of this album relies upon the two-steps forward, one step back progressions of nascent 80’s doom simplicity.

In this sense we are getting orthodox (“no frills” as they put it) death/doom metal craft from Night Hag in seven 6-8 minute mounds, a pristine and direct rack of skull-clubs which neatly inserts itself into the best, most respectable early timeline for the sub-genre. If this all sounds like a mountain of my own blather, and it should, the keen ear attuned to death/doom metal classicism will nonetheless understand before the first fifteen minute chunk of the album has expired in ear; I’d specifically direct the listener to the title track (“Phantasmal Scourge”) for prime directive, “Corrosion Corruption Possession” for their early 90’s Autopsy-ian moldering and lead preview track “Degradation of a Putrid Soul” for a few of the more exciting bursts of speed to feature on the album. As an early death/doom devotee of sorts I’ve found a lot of modern death metal nostalgia erases the unhinged speed which most classic death/doom metal bands would use as surprising bouts of extremism in their craft (see: Disembowelment, Rippikoulu) but when Night Hag specifically finds this balance on this song they provide a truly impressive level of insight and I suppose direct study of the archaic beyond the usual ‘net-scene garbage.

As you’ll have gathered this style and sound, which is clear and full-bodied as a decently filtered ale but filthier than fuck in terms of attitude and attack, is exactly to my own taste and I’d made quick bedfellows with the easily approached and impressively thunderous resolve of ‘Phantasmal Scourge‘. It isn’t a complete edge-of-my-seat experience after thirty or so runs but the eerie tension of the full listen gives Night Hag serious legs thanks to fine-tuned sound design and almost clinically ‘old school’ semblance brought into modern fidelity. The only aspect of the record I didn’t find necessary were the cover songs, which are fully absorbed into the running order without a flinch as they pay tribute to Mortician with “Ghost House” and Necrophagia with “Embalmed Yet I Breathe”. The especially chunky Rahmer cover is cool but serves as a sort of interruption that is redundant next to “Degradation of a Putrid Soul” but, eh, this is a point which neither helps nor hurts the running order, only extends it a more than needed. No complaint on the Necrophagia song, entirely appropriate song and placement.

Night Hag have managed to make the same damned impression upon me as their two most recent releases only this time they’ve stuck me with a crater-sized wound to pack by way of a girthy, bodied full-length. All new material striking out with their same ol’ largely untouchable, unfussed over death/doom metal sound. Picking it up and letting it chunk out phlegm-dripping horrors for all hours into the night has been an easy joy on my end and a fun enough record that seems likely to stick in mind. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (86/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Phantasmal Scourge
LABEL(S):Rotted Life Records
RELEASE DATE:January 28th, 2022

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