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, concluding here with 2008's Fields / Church of Broken Glass.
Hammers of Misfortune were my first introduction to John Cobbett, who quickly became one of my most beloved musicians. I seek out anything he contributes to from the essential genius of Ludicra to his recent supergroup of VHOL... hell, even part of The Sims 2 video game soundtrack he wrote and recorded himself is fantastic and hilarious. Everything the man has touched is at the very least worthy of attention as he’s proven to be one of the country’s best metal songwriters. At the time of this double album’s release he was playing guitar in Hammers of Misfortune and Ludicra and had just finished working on Slough Feg’s best releases. There’s even a rumor that he had a brief live stint in Gwar. What I'm getting at is the man is dedicated to his craft and talented as hell. His unique galloping rhythms and spot-on palm muting technique are his trademark that he brings to all his recordings, and this double album is no exception.
Fields / Church of Broken Glass was written after a stark lineup change, and before yet another one. Mike Scalzi and Jamie Myers left the band, replaced by scene newcomers Patrick Goodwin and Jesse Quatro, who took control of vocal duties. Their addition makes this a different Hammers of Misfortune album since Scalzi’s soaring voice had become a mainstay of the band’s trademark sound. And the now-sextet cranked the dial from prog to Prog as the music takes a grander, more experimental turn. These changes result in the most polarizing work in the Hammers of Misfortune catalog, but one that still doesn't stray too far from their original mission.
The Hammond organ is more forward than ever and it occasionally shares a place in the spotlight with a Jethro Tull style flute and Floyd-esque songwriting that shows Hammers wearing their 70s English fandom on their sleeves. Some will argue this is a vast improvement, but the fact that their previous soft approach to this influence was part of their charm may make it a little disappointing to others. Coupled with the new, vastly different voice of Patrick Goodwin to get used to, there is a lot on the surface that makes this 70-minute epic less appealing on the first listen.
|Sigrid Sheie & Jesse Quattro 2009. Photo by brandi.|
Patience for multiple spins is essential as it helps soften the blow of the new direction, making clear that the old Hammers we know and love still lives and breathes. The double album is a powerful listen and fans of more traditional Prog will find themselves drooling. Besides, I’d rather see one of my favorite bands experiment with their already complex sound than rest on their laurels. But Lulu this ain't, as the foundation of exciting guitar-driven heavy metal and playful instrumentals is still clearly in full effect. Jesse Quattro quickly proves to be the bands most skilled female vocalist to date, her emotion on “Fields” is hauntingly beautiful, and the playful upbeat melodies on “Rats Assembly” and “Almost (Left Without You)” make them two of the finest songs in the Hammers catalog. John’s guitarwork on “Always Looking Down” and “The Gulls” is world class; he makes you realize that no matter what direction Hammers of Misfortune takes, their music will always be in safe hands under his leadership. I came into this review less excited than the others, but diving deeper into this album after so many years completely changed my mind about its importance to the band's legacy.
After this one-off release on Profound Lore, Hammers of Misfortune finally got the attention of a label worthy of their world-class skills and were offered a deal from Metal Blade Records. But that blade is double edged for us here, as this means there is no Bandcamp page available for the incredible follow-up to Fields / Church of Broken Glass, 17th Street. As for the band, it’s been over three years since that album, and there has been no mention as to what, if anything, will come next. And our thoughts go out to current vocalist Joe Hutton, who was recently involved in a serious motorcycle accident and is on the long road to recovery. But as all great art takes time, it’s best not to be impatient. I eagerly await whatever they decide to do next as their incredible two decade run as Unholy Cadaver and then Hammers of Misfortune has shown they are one of America's greatest heavy bands.
Note: 17th Street has since been released on Bandcamp and Sundays of Misfortune continues here.