Another year, and more juicy low-end horror to get our teeth into. London trio Hag has been around for five years yet Fear of Man (DNAWOT Records) is the band’s debut album – and it’s a hulking, resonant beast of a thing.
The opening title track is a curious amalgam of Black Sabbath and the grungy/post-hardcore infusion peddled by the likes of Kowloon Walled City: vocalist Ian Baigent finding a middle ground between Ozzy Osbourne and the scarring pain of Scott Evans. The ensuing ‘Kingdom O’ and the brutal ‘Trauma Yauma’ set the tone for the rest of the album with a vicious, Stoner-Sludge vibe: a speedier, Melvins-style bluster given a Doc Marten to the arse, with Baigent’s growl reminiscent of Matt Pike. ‘…Yauma’, however, cascades beautifully to a staggered, psych-drenched second movement which shows the band’s invention alongside some endearing rough edges.
A potent production brings every ingredient to the fore, giving the roars of ‘Rainbow Dust’ no little beef whilst forcing huge riffs and Tamas Kiss’s titanic drums through the soul. The High on Fire link grows throughout the album, in particular through the sandpaper groove of ‘Low’, and the slightly ponderous yet fathomless ‘Metal Detector Man’ and ‘White Lion’. The swelling, ferocious riffs and powerful drums prove the overriding influence of the Americans, but a unique English personality allows those variations to shine through and help the band find their own identity.
The intricate, Jazz-tinged structures of the latter tracks, following a ‘stop-go’ format, are augmented by Bluesy leads which, although fleeting, leave their mark and exemplify that nasty charm. The rhythms of the penultimate ‘Beaten at Your Own Game’ pummel the mind whilst leading the senses a merry dance, with Robin Freeman’s bass work utterly ground-shaking. Closer ‘Wrong Bar’, meanwhile, shows both the few flaws and soaring attraction of Hag’s nefarious intent: a slightly limited vocal working alongside crushing power; an occasionally lumbering pace twisted and transformed by sheer oscillating muscle and flowering creativity.
This is an album that will continue to grow, overshadowing any limitations while flinging forward the boundless ammunition in Hag’s arsenal.