Hammers of Misfortune - The Locust Years
Cruz Del Sur Music
Progressive Symphonic NWOBHM
8 songs (45'00")
Release year: 2006
Hammers of Misfortune, Cruz Del Sur Music
Reviewed by Alex
Album of the month

Regardless how much I know about metal (or think I know about metal) I have huge gaps in my education. Just about every year/month/unspecified period of time I run into a band that a lot of others seemingly knew and appreciated while I never came across before. It does happen often and, frankly, if it didn’t my music discoveries would have stagnated. Hammers of Misfortune (from San Francisco area) made sure I avoid stagnation again. Ask me how I missed out on this band and I would not be able to tell you. Bandleader/guitarist John Cobbett has been a very noticeable presence in one of my favorites Slough Feg. Crosspollination was happening as well with Mike Scalzi (bandleader/guitars/vocals in Slough Feg) contributing both guitar and his vocal talents to Hammers of Misfortune. Hammers 2003 release The August Engine has achieved wild acclaim in some circles, and all this while I have been completely in the dark. The Locust Years, with the band continuing on Cruz Del Sur Music, will change that for me.

The Locust Years should teach many a few very important lessons. One does not have to sound superbrutal and heavy to be “metal”. And it is most certainly that there is no need to hire some big-ass philharmonic orchestra to project symphonic sound. Conjoining some distinctly 80s, but unorthodox, NWOBHM riffs with some 70s Hammond and electric piano sounds, with Mike Scalzi’s very fitting clean voice and female vocals, both leading and background, does the trick. Not many know how to achieve synergy between the organ and guitar, but the title track can provide with the tutorship. Racing chorus with keyboards ensuring music will soar, catchy melody and twisting guitar solo joining the whirlwind – the song is an instant hit.

Faster dashing and mellower, often largely acoustic guitar/piano, tracks tend to alternate on The Locust Years. Stronger chords provide the necessary contrast on We Are the Widows to Jamie Myers’ voice, and normally I would lap up the niceties of Famine’s Lamp, but the flying melodic exuberance of the title track, Trot Out the Dead and War Anthem is so breathtaking it simply makes my mind demand more of those. And when the songs take their time to get going, starting with the Southern church spiritualism (Chastity Rides), that makes the eventual liveliness and energy even more pronounced. Yet, in all on-the-surface upbeat outlook I can sense the uneasy sense of drama permeating The Locust Years, War Anthem and, especially, Widow’s Wall. The latter, the album closer, begins soft and anthemic, to grow somewhat disturbing, until the guitar lead finally triumphs.

The anxiety is definitely perpetrated by the lyrics. Unconventional and philosophic, sometimes they are very direct (War Anthem), challenging the current state of politics in this country. Large portions of the album are instrumental, and Election Day is completely so, this song shifting from optimistic to foreboding with keys noodling a la Jon Lord (Deep Purple) and crazy guitar intertwined riffing. For some bands there could be an album worth of ideas in just this one cut.

Warm naturally sounding recording is another key to Hammers of Misfortune success. This will surely please the fans that grew up before the age of Pro Tools. Plastic sound would have killed this band, reducing it to self-parody. Every musician is required to perform to the best of his/her ability, i.e. drummer Chewy constantly filling and rolling (Chastity Rides) or laying down the tribal solo gathering the troops on the plaza in War Anthem. Hammond, which can sound so tacky, is a wonderful mechanism in Sigrid Sheie’s hands, sounding just as appropriate as a grand piano.

I wish Mike Scalzi would be singing more (I don’t know what it is about his voice, but it always makes me shiver), I wish the album lasted longer not ending so abruptly without a definitive finish, but these are very minor complaints. John Cobbett’s previous association with Gwar and Hammers of Misfortune goofy band picture aside, The Locust Years is a very serious endeavor. Primarily, it shows that in the world of copycats, the great ol’ sense of rocking out to a great tune and superb musicality will always drive you to the top of the heap. If you get this album you would be proud that you did. Meanwhile I am already ordering The August Engine to call my edification complete.

Killing Songs :
The Locust Years, Trot Out the Dead, War Anthem, Election Day
Alex quoted 92 / 100
Other albums by Hammers of Misfortune that we have reviewed:
Hammers of Misfortune - The August Engine reviewed by Adam and quoted 97 / 100
Hammers of Misfortune - Fields/Church of Broken Glass reviewed by Adam and quoted 94 / 100
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