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 Osborn takes a look at each of the albums, continuing here with 2006's The Locust Years.
|Cover art by Thomas Woodruff|
What does a band do after such a perfect output as The August Engine? Do they switch it up and forge a new path or keep going with what worked so well previously? Impressively, The Locust Years sees Hammers of Misfortune doing a little of both, albeit with enough restraint as to not exceed their grasp or limit their creativity. Part of this change is a shift in the lineup, foreshadowing much bigger changes that are soon to come. Jamie Myers of Wolves in the Throne Room and Sabbath Assembly fame replaces Janis Tanaka on bass and backup vocals, both of which are more pronounced this time around. The rest of the band sounds largely as they did before, with the exception of Sigrid switching from piano to Hammond organ. Its unmistakable tone gives a circus-like feel to the tales of dystopian politics gone mad.
Some familiar tricks are employed as Cobbett and Co. recycle a few choice riffs to maximize their impact; once again the (partly) instrumental intro acts as the reservoir for these fantastic streams of sound that grow into raging rivers as they reach their apex. Overall the music strays closer to the ballad side of things, with emotional slow burners like “Famine’s Lamp” and “We Are The Widows” dominating the mood. But the guitar-forward epic “Trot Out The Dead” and the painfully pretty “Chastity Rides” are the highlights of this more somber album.
The key to Hammers of Misfortune’s success is, as I’ve hinted at this before, their ability to balance all the ingredients of their complex recipe. At once playful, deadly serious and forward-thinking, there’s just the perfect amount of prog in their prog metal. But that’s prog with a lowercase “p” because there’s not a hint of pretension or weird for weird’s sake to be found. Just a group of musicians growing comfortable together, learning from one another and pushing each other to make devastatingly captivating music.
Bits and pieces of The Locust Years are easily as - and sometimes more - memorable as The August Engine, but as a whole it isn't quite as perfect. This slowed down and more reflective version of Hammers of Misfortune doesn't reach the grand scale they’re capable of. But that’s hardly a criticism. If anything, this third full-length solidifies their rightful place as a band to be reckoned with. Their quirky individuality, songwriting genius and the unstoppable duo of Mike Scalzi and John Cobbett make The Locust Years a fantastic addition to the Hammers catalog.