Hammers Of Misfortune
posted on 8/2010 By:
Even the best bands can take awhile to hit their stride. For every Reign In Blood, there is a Show No Mercy; for every Times of Grace, there is a Pain of Mind; for every Pierced From Within, there is a Human Waste.
So it is for Hammers of Misfortune. The San Francisco collective arguably occupies the apex of the trad/power metal world today, and these Metal Blade reissues offer us a valuable opportunity to reflect on their catalog. The Bastard--HoM's first full-length offering--is bound to suffer by comparison to the classics that followed it, despite its considerable strengths.
Like the rest of the Hammers oeuvre, The Bastard tells a story--a swords-and-sorcery pageant, rather than the more topical narratives that drive The August Engine and The Locust Years. This rustic theme is accompanied by sparser, more traditionalist music. Without Sigrid Sheie's keyboards (she joined the band in 2003, two years after The Bastard), Hammers strikes a less ambitious, more rough'n'ready posture. Mastermind guitarist John Cobbett composes simpler riffs that nonetheless occupy more space in the arrangements. Or at least they seem to, thanks to the grittier production and then-bassist / vocalist Janis Tanaka's less-commanding vocal presence.
Nonetheless, the ingredients that make Hammers of Misfortune great are all present and accounted for. These compositions--or perhaps "this composition" is more appropriate, as these songs run together and share themes among themselves--drip with despondent grandeur. Cobbett's bleak melodic sensibility is at its most baroque here, and as ever, doom and folk metal seep into his writing. The inimitable Mike Scalzi dominates the narration with his rich baritone, rendering The Bastard's titular protagonist with depth and sympathy. Most importantly, Hammers begins to display their willingness to experiment with the genre's conventions while still paying them the utmost respect.
Equally interesting here is the road that HoM ultimately failed to take. In places, The Bastard flirts with an organic and yet rending black metal approach that would eventually recede as the band's music became more progressive. But though Hammers ultimately dropped that component of their sound, its echoes can be heard to this day in Cobbett's other band, Ludicra (where he wisely elected to cede harsh vocal duties to others).
The Bastard is a worthy buy for those who've already snapped up The Locust Years and The August Engine, both for its evolutionary significance and on its own merits. There's even a case to be made that it's as good or better than Fields/Church of Broken Glass, though I personally disagree. The Bastard is a unique monster, no doubt. But to these ears, it's a beast that hadn't yet grown to its full stature. It lurked yet in the forest, awaiting the right moment to reveal itself--just two short years later.
Register to post comments.
RelatedHammers Of Misfortune
10/25/2011 Hammers Of Misfortune
Fields/Church Of Broken Glass
8/3/2010 Hammers Of Misfortune
The Locust Years
6/25/2006 Hammers Of Misfortune
The August Engine