Early this year Hammers of Misfortune made their discography available on Bandcamp (everything except for 2011's 17th Street). In the Sundays of Misfortune series Andy takes a look at each of the albums, continuing here with 2001's The Bastard.
|Artwork by Lorraine Rath|
I was working as the Metal Director for my college’s radio station when Metal Blade reissued the Hammers of Misfortune discography, giving me a crash course in what would soon become one of my favorite bands. I absorbed their albums voraciously, but it was only when I revisited them all last year that I realized how much I truly adore them. There has been a Hammers of Misfortune fanboy lurking within me for years, and now I finally have the means to properly convey my feelings for the band formerly known as Unholy Cadaver.
Rebranding themselves as Hammers of Misfortune, the quartet tried a more streamlined approach to songwriting on The Bastard. The meandering experiments explored previously are left behind as the Bay Area prodigies continue with their classic approach to extremity-infused progressive metal. And if that wasn’t enough to appeal to the tastes of the discerning metalhead, the album is a concept of epic proportions. With a tale of dragons, witches, trolls and revenge it’s a veritable Game of Thrones season imbued into sonic wondry with fantastic neoclassical melodies and dialogue to match.
Every track is efficient and to the point, each its own chapter in the fantastical tale. But despite the short and sweet approach to the songs, The Bastard is an incredibly fluid piece meant to be absorbed as a whole, although its individual parts taken out of order can form the most metal Choose Your Own Adventure ever penned. As the tale progresses it becomes clear dialogue is what breathes life into the dragon’s fire behind the record. Not just the dialogue in the story itself but the back-and-forth between the grand, sweeping lead guitars and the conversation-like tone presented in the various singers as they present themselves. The band is fully comfortable with one another, a far cry from the slightly awkward interplay shown with Unholy Cadaver. But the crowning achievement is the guiding star of John Cobbett’s regal voice, a perfect fit for the medieval setting.
Galloping and blasting their way through kingslaying, enchanted axes and sacrifices, Cobbett and Co. excel without so much as a misstep or unnecessary diversion. This conceptual journey is trimmed of its fat, more Pratchett than Tolkien. It’s exciting and thoroughly rewarding, with nuanced plot points revealing themselves upon subsequent listens. With this debut the Hammers have arrived, and this is only their first pounding at the metal forge.