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, starting with the material from pre Hammers of Misfortune band Unholy Cadaver.
|Artwork by Lorraine Rath|
One of the greatest catalysts in bringing metal to the front of the cultural psyche was the Bay Area scene in the 1980s. The region gave birth to the some of the most famous and pioneering thrash bands of the era, many of whom are still alive and kicking today. But less well-known is the scene the area produced in the 90s, which spawned a batch of bands who dabbled in both extreme and more traditional forms of metal to create something entirely new. (For an in-depth history on the scene, check out Invisible Orange’s fantastic three-part series on the era.) One of the more unique bands birthed from this perfect storm of reckless experimentation and a crust-punk outlook on life was Unholy Cadaver, a weirdo heavy metal group that would later rise to fame under a new name, Hammers of Misfortune.
Essentially a testing ground for their future Unholy Cadaver only released one demo, before changing their sound and their name to what we know them as today. Though they had recorded an entire album's worth of material, the rest remained unreleased until 2011, when Shadow Kingdom Records released the Unholy Cadaver LP. But as it was the first time the unstoppable duo of John Cobbett and Mike Scalzi (of Slough Feg fame) would perform together, it marked an important turning point for the two musicians, each just years away from their definitive releases.
If you enjoy Hammers, you’ll likely enjoy Unholy Cadaver. But I won’t go crazy with the comparisons because while many similarities exist, this short-lived project was clearly its own wild, skeletal beast. This first incarnation of the lineup borrows heavily from more extreme subgenres, while keeping a glimmer of trad roots with varying song styles; some are long and wandering, others are quick, relentless, and to the point. And a few feel like half a dozen ideas compressed into a single track, separating the influences into clearly defined passages. At its core Unholy Cadaver is a heavy metal record, but there’s so much to wrap your head around that even a dozen listens later it’s difficult to fully absorb it all.
Things start off with a slow burn, but when an errant shriek appears almost 5 minutes into “On This Final Night” you’ll quickly understand that there’s still an entire kitchen sink and more headed your way. The everything-goes approach begins soon thereafter with “Fuck the Galactic Police.” It’s definitely a bit of a head-scratcher, both sonically and lyrically. It’s a grinding foray void of any of the neoclassicisms Cobbett and co. are so fond of, and more intense than anything else the crew have done since. The next half-hour is a wild journey peppered with heavy ballads, NWOBHM-isms, traces of early black metal and whatever else the band was in a mood to throw into the middle of a song.
The longest track on the album, “Hammers of Misfortune” would actually serve better by the name of the former group as it captures all their quirky charm into one oddly shaped package. There’s the incredible dueling leads of a world-class heavy metal act, but also an odd dramatic section where a woman with a poor Russian accent is apparently being kidnapped. Around the 10:50 minute mark is where you can pinpoint the future of the band with their trademark 70s metal chugging and dueling melodic vocals. A wonderful taste of what’s to come. The album ends on a disappointing note though, as there is nothing of substance to be found in the grueling 9 minutes of “Kloven Septum.” It’s an odd assortment of noise experiments and a few half-baked jam sessions. At least it succeeds in helping to define just what an esoteric foray the project was.
It’s clear why Unholy Cadaver remained as a short-lived, singular entity. Their debut, while undeniably unique, seems to be pulling itself apart at the seams. Too experimental to be traditional heavy metal but not punishing enough to appeal to extreme metal fans, it still resides just too far on the edges of digestibility to elicit a wide appeal today. But there are some absolutely incredibly moments amidst the din, and it’s clear the band thought so too. Thankfully those choice cuts would be exorcised, reanimated and rewired shortly thereafter into Hammers of Misfortune, who would grow into one of America’s most revered prog metal acts.