Hammers of Misfortune - Fields/Church of Broken Glass
Profound Lore Records
Avant-Garde Hard Rock/Heavy Metal
Disc 1: 6 songs (36'26") Disc 2: 5 songs (33'32")
Release year: 2008
Hammers of Misfortune, Profound Lore Records
Reviewed by Adam
Album of the year
Lineup changes are a common occurrence in the music business, and many times the band in question seamlessly moves forward without much of a noticeable change in sound. That is, of course, unless the lead vocalist is the departing member. Often times a vocalist becomes the main identifying facet of a band’s sound, and replacing this person has seen just as many hits as misses. It is for this reason that it should be difficult for any fan of Hammers of Misfortune not to approach their latest release, Fields/Church of Broken Glass with some amount of trepidation after the exodus of both Mike Scalzi, who chose to focus solely on his main band Slough Feg, and Jamie Myers. Though it may be tough for some to warm to the new sound (it was for me), patience and repeated listens will reveal this to be the most dynamic Hammers of Misfortune release, more than able to stand alongside the rest of their catalogue.

Replacing two vocalists (who also play guitar and bass) is never going to be an easy task. Patrick Goodwin effectively replaces Scalzi as both the lead male vocalist and the second guitarist. Jamie Myers’ former duties have been split between Jesse Quattro for the lead female vocal portion and Ron Nichols on the bass. Quite an overhaul, yet one very important constant remains. You see, Hammers of Misfortune is and always has been the brainchild of lead guitarist John Cobbett. His songwriting has undergone subtle changes for this double album, perhaps to suit the new vocalists as he sees fit. Whatever the reason, his place as the heart and soul of this band has been firmly cemented here.

Fields, the first of the two LP’s, begins with the Fields trilogy: Agriculture, Fields, and Motorcade. The most obvious sound alteration for this album is the classic rock feel to it. An abundance of keyboard melodies from backup female vocalist Sigrid Sheie might lead you to believe you’re listening to a Yes protégé band at times. This influence has always been there, but on this release it has been ratcheted up to the next level. Goodwin is the first voice heard, and although he’s no Scalzi (then again, who is?), he turns in good performances and certainly never affects the sound adversely. Jesse Quattro takes the vocal lead for the second portion of the trilogy and her soulful voice is outstanding alongside a much calmer composition of similar melody to the first track. The close of the trilogy is the highlight, featuring wonderful leads and solos from Cobbett and nice harmonized mix of both new vocalists. The trilogy is a tough act to follow, but the remaining three full tracks are nothing to sneeze at. Rats Assembly, which was available as a sample track prior to this album’s release, is much harder hitting guitar-wise and falls more in line with the traditional Hammers of Misfortune sound. Always Looking Down is a fast-moving affair full of scaling guitar leads from Cobbett and somber organ sounds from Sheie. The closer, Too Close, is by far the best of the non-trilogy tracks. It is more of a guitar and keyboard showcase than anything else, but with the talent on each instrument the results are constantly engaging despite the over 8 minute runtime.

As good as Fields is, Church of Broken Glass is even better. The artwork at the top is the cover of Fields, the Church of Broken Glass cover can be seen here. It begins with two of the longest tracks on either album. Almost (Left Without You) is a shining example of how the guitars and keyboards work in congress and feed off each other for stunning results. Also worth mentioning is the top notch drumming of Chewy Marzolo, who turns in his best work on this track. Butchertown, the longest track at over 10 minutes, fittingly starts out with a very slow and crushing doom riff. A tale of woe stemming from the story of a neighborhood in Cobbett’s hometown of San Francisco, the somber tone stays throughout, especially in the soft bass and keyboard verses, giving it an almost post-apocalyptic feel. I felt this to be Quattro’s finest vocal display, which I suppose is a bit curious because she sings exclusively in her lower register. Though this might not allow for much power, she advances the depressive atmosphere perfectly. The crescendo building structure makes for a fantastic conclusion. Gulls returns to the galloping keyboard driven melodies used on Fields, but it has the unfortunate draw of being placed between two of the album’s strongest and darkest tracks. On one side is the mammoth Butchertown, and on the other is the shorter but equally powerful title track. According to Cobbett, Church of Broken Glass got left on the cutting room floor in sessions for the previous two Hammers of Misfortune albums, The August Engine and The Locust Years. This has given him the chance to tweak and perfect it into an outstanding showcase of male/female vocal harmony. It makes sense that this track was taken from previous recording sessions, as it is the only one that I can truly imagine Mike Scalzi singing on. I would love to hear the previous iterations of this song to be able to compare the Scalzi/Myers pairing with that of Goodwin and Quattro. The closing track, Train is more of the upbeat style, though Goodwin is given much more of a vocal role and is given the opportunity to show off a more powerful style.

If you are a fan of either Slough Feg or Hammers of Misfortune, you know that there isn’t a vocalist out there quite like Mike Scalzi, so finding his replacement had to be a daunting task. At first, the lack of his charismatic voice was quite a downer, but as I listened to each album more and more, I noticed that this might be Cobbett’s most inspired songwriting to date. He has adapted his style to fit his new vocalists, and managed to mix in small changes in direction flawlessly. I challenge anyone who was initially disappointed by Fields/Church of Broken Glass to give it more of a chance. Hopefully, if you’re like me, all the little intricacies that might have been overshadowed in the past will shine through. Though Scalzi will always be missed, Hammers of Misfortune should continue to please as long as they are in the capable hands of John Cobbett.
Killing Songs :
Fields, Motorcade, Too Soon, Almost (Left Without You), Butchertown, Church of Broken Glass
Adam quoted 94 / 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 - The Locust Years reviewed by Alex and quoted 92 / 100
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