Battle Hymn is one of those early 70's UK rock albums that seems to be born of another time and place, dotted by semi-heavy riffs here and there that crunch and creak like an old wooden door, dabs of medieval Renaissance faire folk, and schizoid blues caterwauls combining to create a sound that feels weathered and lived-in. A mix of various hard and soft stylings circa '72, there's a definite air of dread and disillusionment at play throughout this disc. And some credit must go to the bulbous, bass rich production by Roger Bain whose knob knowledge steered similar era statements by the likes of Black Sabbath and Budgie. Finally, dig the artwork, a regiment of identical WWI toy soldiers blanked out with a blood red X, their matching graves similarly splayed across the back cover. The gatefold reveals a group portrait of the bummed out hippies who will lead us on this journey, four beards and five frowns against a jet black backdrop. No fun, man, no fun.
Opener "Butterfly" stops and starts in fits of nervous dual lead licks, Injun-stomp riffs and teary, mellowed out respite, a tension filled tale of doom for the titular character. The reaper comes a'knocking on another hard rocker morbidly dubbed "Twelve Streets of Cobbled Black" furthering Wild Turkey's agenda of angst with a set of riffs knotted like the branches of an old tree. A sort of Wicker Man sense of folky foreboding permeates the acoustic "Dulwich Fox," images of English village life soothing yet somehow eerie, an atmosphere that carries through "Easter Psalm" with its images of church bells and processions set to an insistent accompaniment of guitar octaves and shuffling snare drums. Side one closes with "To the Stars," sure enough it's a song of yearning to blast off for another galaxy, delivered via a fairly soft and earthy blend of piano, organ, and fuzz guitar.
Lest we get our hopes up, the post-apocalyptic "Sanctuary" opens side two, furiously strummed acoustics and eastern flavored leads weaving together on this soundtrack to a gypsy caravan rolling through Armageddon. Check out the cool effect that draws a distant vocal closer by rolling back the reverb. A cowbell clunk and wah-wah hearalds the return of light and shade heaviosity to Battle Hymm on "One Sole Survivor" as jolts of electricity pierce the more delicate interludes, a technique that continues through the bleak anti-war sentiment of the title track, a stomping indictment starring cripples and corpses. Harpsichord and Hammond organ are dusted off for proto power ballad "Gentle Rain," a fine lead in to the album's closer, "Sentinel," a from-simian-to-spaceman existential crisis set to a mean-spirited riff and punctuated with some more cranium cleansing cowbell for good measure.