In The Days of ‘69…
With almost 20 years and a solid discography under their belt, it’s a shame that San Francisco based prog-metallers Hammers of Misfortune haven’t attained a larger audience. Although prog bands are usually known for their eclectic musical diversity, Hammers of Misfortune definitely show a lot of them up with a very wide array of influences, and their entire discography displays some impressive genre diversity and musical evolution. Even some of the most respected progressive artists can’t boast their kind of musical variety (except maybe Haken).
From ‘70s rock to folk to NWOBHM, Hammers of Misfortune have covered a lot of bases. It’s been five years since their 2011 album 17th Street, which had a much more distinct power metal vibe. Their newest record, Dead Revolution, decides to head a little further back in time, taking some pointers from bands like The Sword and Ghost. This is a record that celebrates the classic ‘60s and ‘70s metal sound, while still incorporating some of the stronger folk elements heard on The Locust Years. Every song on the album screams throwback, but like many of their contemporaries going for the same feel, it’s done in such a masterful way that it feels like that era of music never really ended. Heavy old-school metal riffs, strong guitar melodies and folk-style vocals make for a solid foundation to what ends up being an incredibly powerful record.
Dead Revolution succeeds because it doesn’t try to simply replicate an older sound, but rather reinvigorates it by pushing it through a more modern progressive filter. John Cobbett, the band’s guitarist and musical mastermind, writes incredibly effective guitar riffs that capture the feel of classic heavy metal but incorporate the technical prowess, heavy drive and melodic contour that powers the more contemporary metal sounds of today. Couple that with some ‘60s and ‘70s style keyboard synths, it becomes hard to see why this kind of music ever went out of style to begin with.
The opening track, “Velvet Inquisition,” wastes no time getting right to the meat of the music, with driving riffs, big synth sounds and complex harmony that underscores some beautiful vocal and guitar melodies. What makes this record work so well is that it doesn’t make the mistake many prog bands do by resorting to over-repetition. Everyone has probably heard their favorite prog band keep a section dragging on for longer than they should have, but these songs spend just the right amount of time on each section and then are sure to keep the flow moving. For an intro track running at seven and a half minutes, it manages to move by in the blink of an eye. The title track itself also serves as one of the stronger songs, with a lot of grandiose energy and just a bit of ‘80s flavor (and some cowbell too). The longest track on the record, “The Precipice (Waiting for the Crash…),” still keeps up the vitality of the album with some great fuzzy guitar hooks and a wide dynamic range.
What makes Hammers of Misfortune so unique though is their incorporation of folk melodies and chord progressions. A lot of bands can fail at using folk melodies effectively because they simply take lead from other folk metal bands and not from actual folk music itself, thinking a few licks in the dorian mode is a substitute for actually studying the music of older cultures. This is definitely not the case with Hammers of Misfortune, as it’s clear when listening to their music that Cobbett has put the effort in to brush up on his ethnomusicology. The track “Days of ‘49” actually takes folk metal a step further and metal-izes an actual folk tune. “Days of ‘49” is an old folk song which details the hardships faced by pioneers during the Gold Rush. It’s surprising to see just how astoundingly well this old Irish-sounding folk melody works in a metal context, but the reason it does is ultimately due to masterful composing and a strong musical education from the songwriters behind it.
Hammers of Misfortune has a lot to offer the progressive music world, and Dead Revolution should be a real treat for prog fans that will captivate listeners both young and old. If you’re a metal fan or just plain old prog nerd, this is an album you won’t want to pass by.