July 17, 2016

Sundays of Misfortune 6: 17th Street

By Andy Osborn. Any band that switches a key member with almost every release invariably starts to look like a solo project over time. There’s a reason we jokingly call the thrash giants Megadave
By Andy Osborn.

[In 2014 Hammers of Misfortune made their non-Metal Blade discography available on Bandcamp. In the Sundays of Misfortune series Andy Osborn guided you through all of it. Recently a new Hammers album was announced (pre-order here), and Metal Blade uploaded 2011's 17th Street to Bandcamp. And so, two years later, it's time for another Sunday of Misfortune.]

Any band that switches a key member with almost every release invariably starts to look like a solo project over time. There’s a reason we jokingly call the thrash giants Megadave, and there’s no question who was the mastermind behind Death before his untimely passing. Although it was already becoming clear, 17th Street settles any debate that Hammers of Misfortune belongs to John Cobbett. With their third lead vocalist in as many albums, it’s yet another major reincarnation of the premier Bay Area non-extreme metallers.

17th Street showcases John Cobbett’s skills as a musician and bandleader, but also as a nucleus able to attract incredible, unknown musicians to his cause and get them to put forth otherworldly performances. This is proven by new vocalist Joe Hutton, previously of southern-fried doomsters The Worship of Silence, who steals the show. His buttery tenor was tailor made to fit with Hammers’ unique style, and the album seems crafted specifically to showcase his talents. Tracks like "Staring (The 31st Floor)" and "Summer Tears", the latter being a full-on ballad, show him front and center as the band plays with their newfound introspective, slowed-down style.

Compared to most of their earlier material, 17th Street is a laid-back affair. It only borders on metal, and leans more towards a prog-infused hard rock. There are fewer fist-pumping riffs and epic choruses filled with chanted harmonies. It’s more stripped-down and straightforward, but still retains the band’s unparalleled approach to their singular sound. Like the previous double album, the organ is as ubiquitous as the guitars, as both trade leads and give the nine tracks a twisted, playful spine.

The album’s first single and defining track, "The Day The City Died," is the most quintessential Hammers song of the bunch. A bit faster than the most, it’s at once uplifting and utterly depressing. An ode to gentrification, it’s a goodbye to the Bay Area that so many artists, musicians, deadheads, and bohemian types once knew and loved. Even though it was written five years ago, it perfectly captures the upheaval caused by the unending influx of tech money which continues to this day and makes life near impossible for those on a blue collar salary. Hammers have never been a political band, but John Cobbett moving to the Bay has defined a large part of his life, and each line is unsurprisingly dripping with equal parts sadness, frustrating, and gratitude.

It may not be the Hammers of old, but it’s a solid addition to their discography and a fantastic introduction to Joe Hutton. John Cobbett’s tasty licks and solid songwriting continue to be the center of the Hammers of Misfortune universe, but also prove his uncanny ability to nurture and showcase talent. The band continues to dance on the line between prog, heavy metal, and rock, and their first album for Metal Blade is a welcome addition after their previous experimentation.

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