We’ve talked a lot this week about the glory of the riff and the power of heavy metal to help you escape from what’s going on around you. That’s part of what sucked me into this style of music to begin with because, as a loser dork kid in a high school around a lot of kids who didn’t understand me, it’s one of the things that helped me push above that.
That’s a major reason I’ve always had a sloppy soft spot in my heart for Bay Area traditionalists Hammers of Misfortune. Their style shoots you way back to the ’70s and ’80s, when heavy metal really was starting to understand what it could be, and the art form was beginning to branch off into different territories. Hammers have that vibe that could make you think of Judas Priest, Cirith Ungol, the Scorpions before the radio hits, Deep Purple, Queen, and bands of that ilk, but they have a very modern touch smeared on top of that. Not that they sound like any of those groups necessarily, but the essence is there. And for someone old enough to remember the latter end of the era of which I speak, it certainly takes me back to my formative years in metal when the riff carved its way into my soul.
Hammers are back with their killer sixth record “Dead Revolution,” the band’s first since 2011’s great “17th Street.” So, obviously, it’s been a long wait between albums, and there’s good reason for that. Vocalist Joe Hutton was injured in a serious motorcycle accident, so we’re pretty lucky he and his powerful pipes are here blazing through this record. For the other members, work and life got in the way. Band mastermind John Cobbett and keyboard player Sigrid Sheie welcomed a child into the world and also made some nasty noise with supergroup Vhöl, while Sheie put an album out with Amber Asylum. Guitarist Leila Abdul-Rauf unleashed hell with awesome death metal band Vastum and also immersed herself in solo work. Bassist Paul Waller also was busy with the Worship of Silence, and the band added new drummer Will Carroll (Death Angel), so there’s been a lot going on here. But no matter, five years after their last album, they offer “Dead Revolution,” one of their most varied, edgy, and exciting records that will reveal new layers every time you listen.
The record kicks off with “The Velvet Inquisition,” a song that opens with riffs and organs splitting the seal, and each element taking its time to build into a fervor. Hutton eases his way into the song purposely, first delivering his lines smoothly and calmly before eventually building to a crescendo, wailing, “When you find that you’ve been wasting all your time, you’ll run to me!” The back end has prog fury, strong lead guitar work, and a fiery finish. The title cut feels like it’s driving down the open road with reckless abandon. The singing is strong and gritty, with the keys especially giving this a Deep Purple vibe in spots. “Every tear drop feels like Moses coming down from the mountain,” Hutton howls, as the pace (mostly cowbell driven in the most understated manner) trudges and flashy guitar work punches to the finish. “Sea of Heroes” is charged up, with the singing reaching a little higher, and the guitars and keys in lock with one another. There is some tasty guitar work later that feels like heyday Brian May, and the final moments bleed out into a fog. “The Precipice (Waiting for the Crash…)” is my favorite cut, running a perfectly timed 8:14, with the drums rallying and riffs chewing. The verses punch along, feeling both forceful and fun, with Hutton later soaring, noting, “And all you see is sky!” The chorus is surging, with the keys unloading and the track coming to a smoking end.
“Here Comes the Sky” is both psychedelic and sunburnt, like it hurtled out of space and landed in the Wild West. Acoustics and piano blend together before the tempo kicks into high gear. There is dusty guitar work, especially the doses of slide fire, and everything feels drenched in whiskey, with Hutton leading as your storyteller. Later in the song, trumpets play out like they’re signaling the end of a duel, with the song disappearing into the dirty streets. “Flying Alone” is one of the most aggressive songs on the record, with the guitars landing heavy blows, organs providing an ’80s-style prog feel, and the band dealing metallic punishment that causes a shitload of bruising to wherever it is they landed their punches. Closer “Days of ’49” is one of the most interesting in the band’s entire catalog, a charging, heavy-as-fuck take on the traditional folk song that originated from Joaquin Miller’s poem about the gold rush of 1849 (Bob Dylan also covered the song on his 1970 album “Self Portrait”). Quite a fitting song for a band from San Francisco. Anyway, they knock this thing out of the park, with the folk elements coming through amid the blazing power, and Hutton does an excellent job not only pushing the plot about old Tom Moore but also adding his signature passion to the cut. Great way to end the record, as this is a really fun surprise.
Hammers of Misfortune are a true gift to pure heavy metal fans, and the five-year wait certainly has been satisfied with “Dead Revolution.” The band is still taking chances, continually breathing fire, and offering another scorching chapter in their storied run. Metal always is better off when Hammers of Misfortune are active, and their thunderous, glorious sound is as alive and healthy as it’s even been.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/hammersofmisfortune/
To buy the album, go here: http://www.indiemerch.com/metalbladerecords
For more on the label, go here: http://www.metalblade.com/us/