I first encountered Hammers of Misfortune in my later years in college, when a good friend who shares similar musical tastes stumbled upon them and saw one of their shows. He wanted to share what he described as one of the most absurdly over the top, hilariously entertaining songs he’d heard in ages, a song any true metal head couldn’t help but love. It was ‘You Should Have Slain Me’ off of Hammers’ ‘The Bastard’ (2001). And he was right, it was epically awesome, and I eventually picked up that album, mostly for the fun of that one song. It turned out to be a surprisingly good album, but I never followed their career with any serious interest. Fast forward 11 years and I saw this new release ‘Dead Revolution’ and a tag that it was prog metal (certainly hinted at even back then, but not fully fledged) and I jumped at the chance to review it. And doing so was an excellent decision.
Hammers have been quiet since 2011’s ‘17th Street’ and for good reason. Primary composer/lyricist John Cobbett is a busy guy with other projects, with his black metal tinged project Vhöl, in his professional life, and busy having a baby with Sigrid Sheie, Hammers keyboardist/vocalist, so he has plenty of excuses. Further delays were the result of vocalist John Hutton being in a serious motorcycle accident. So needless to say any delays are more than understandable. Which only leaves their present album ‘Dead Revolution’ and how it should be viewed.
I’ll simply say that this San Francisco band has put out a ripping good album of prog tinged classic heavy metal. The music is heavily riff based with tasty and darkly heavy crunch from the first cords to the last. And latched onto these riffs is a tapestry of classic prog tinged keyboards. The keys help drive the album and are as vital to the sound as every monstrous riff. While it’s certainly not a love letter to the 70’s as some modern prog bands can legitimately be accused of, the love and influences are there and can be heard. Everything from touches of Genesis’s ‘The Knife’ (this is early 1970 Genesis for anyone cringing at the idea of a pop song) on the opening track ‘The Velvet Inquisition’ to the keyboard sounds of Camel on ‘The Precipice (Waiting For the Crash…)’ which is fitting as it’s the longest song on the album. It’s only 8:14 minutes long, very short by prog standards, but the song flows and builds in a suitably epic fashion. And unlike their “proggier” peers, ‘Dead Revolution’ never for a moment is trying to impress anyone with its technical prowess, or mind bending complex music. No, this album is song oriented METAL album first and foremost, and the prog layers are the dressing that elevated it above the typical metal band who is going for a classic 70s metal sound (think early Sabbath and Uriah Heep) and solid songwriting, supplemented with lyrics that tell a story.
None of which is to suggest that the band isn’t tight, or lacking in prowess. Guitarists Cobbett and Leila Abdul-Rauf handle their rhythm and leads with ease throughout and treat the listeners to several fine solos. ‘Flying Alone’ is rife with blistering solos while the riffs and the thunderous bass work of Paul Walker mesh with the frantic drumming of Will Carroll. And rounding things off nicely is the baritone voice of Hutton who, while he’ll occasionally go into higher registers, will never face accusations of wearing pants five times too small, like so many vocalists of the genre have been. His vocals are particularly good on my favorite, the final monster track ‘Days of ’49.’ The song is a 7 minute tale of the days of the old west, the colorful barrage of characters and, as the title clearly implies, digging gold in the Gold Rush. And the melody running through the chorus mirrors a certain song about the old days sung every New Year Eve that rhymes with 49. The story is told with suitable sorrow by the narrator, and contains some of the heaviest riffs on the albums, slightly sludgy, and more than any other song brings to mind the riffs that Black Sabbath are so known for. It’s a perfect ending for a song and story based album.
This is generally where I’ll rail off a list of things I either didn’t care for or the band could do better. However the truth is, I can’t come up with anything wrong with the album. I’m not calling it a masterpiece, or a benchmark of either the prog metal, or classic metal genres, but there’s nothing to throw stones at either. It’s a tad on the short end granted (only 47 minutes) and one might argue the sound and approach is similar to the last two Mastodon albums, except for my money, this is a better album than either of them.
‘Dead Revolution’ is a bloody good album, and an excellent combination of 70s prog rock and classic hard rock and metal. Hammers of Misfortune however have a modern darkness, and heaviness that exceeds that of the past. Fans of the last few albums that wanted something heavier and with more eclectic influences will be thrilled with it. Some prog rock heads will likely find it too heavy, too simplistic, and too riff based, while I’m sure some metal heads will complain that there’s too much prog and too many keyboards. I’d recommend ignoring those from either group. For fans of prog metal, who sometimes wish for more gutsy riffage, and metal fans looking for something left of center, there’s a lot on this album to recommend.