PICK OF THE WEEK: Prog & thrash unite as Hammers of Misfortune unleash new fire on ‘Overtaker’

Every band has a style and a sound on which you pretty much can rely, strange wrinkles aside. You know you’re getting top-flight metal from Iron Maiden. You can guarantee Panopticon will deliver woodsy black metal with a side of bluegrass. You can be assured Metallica will serve thrash metal with some strange diversions into the “Load” era. Amon Amarth? Melody and Vikings.

When it comes to Hammers of Misfortune, the anticipation isn’t so easy. Sure, you’re in for riffs, top-notch vocals, be it clear or harsh, and a hefty serving of dramatics. But you never can fully anticipate how it’s going to hit you. Well, on their seventh album “Overtaker,” the guessing game gets deliciously out of control as they present their most aggressive record to date, but one that still pulls in their cavalcade of progressive tricks. The album, not initially intended as a Hammers record but that became one when some of its family of players returned to the fold, is part heyday thrash and part ’70s prog, and it is fucking glorious. The main band contains Jamie Myers on vocals; John Cobbett on guitars, bass, mellotron, and solina; Blake Anderson on drums, piano, and timpani; and Sigrid Sheie on Hammond B3 and backing vocals. Other than Anderson, the other three all date back to “The Locust Years,” with Cobbett its longtime mastermind. Joining them are former member Mike Scalzi (The Lord Weird Slough Feg) on vocals; Frank Chin (Crypt Sermon, Daeva) on bass; Tom Draper (Spirit Adrift, Pounder) as guest guitar soloist; Steve Blanco (Imperial Triumphant) on synth solos; and Brooks Wilson (Crypt Sermon) on backing vocals. That a massive team to pull off a killer record that’ll take off your head but also dazzle you with power. Try to listen to this and not feel instant happiness.  

The title track opens and immediately rips as Myers’ singing powers, and sinister guitar work eats away, adding a heaping dose of darkness. Murky synth blends in as the melodies blind, and Myers’ voice utterly snarls as the playing pummels and echoes away. “Dark Brennius” simmers in vintage keys as Scalzi’s familiar and unmistakable voice howls, the band thrashing heartily. The playing is intense and sometimes gleefully zany, dramatic twists and turns adding electricity and character, the guitars going off and catching fire as everything comes to a haunting end. “Vipers Cross” begins with keys rushing and the guitars getting the blood flowing, Myers howling and jarring your heart. Organs sprawl and increase the progginess, and then things go cosmic, the playing zipping through time and space, bleeding infectious strangeness. “Don’t Follow the Lights” is a brawler, bleeding out of icy keys into full-on thrash, Myers warning, “They’re not what they seem!” over the chorus, discouraging your trust in the light. The energy glistens and feels wonderfully ambitious, Myers’ voice calls into the distance, and the playing rushes hard before burning off its energy. “Ghost Hearts” has keys heating up and the leads boiling and blistering, Myers flexing her power and increasing your heart rate. Vicious, scathing bursts go for your throat, guitars lap and lather, the bass chugs, and bruising is left behind.

“Outside Our Minds” thrashes heavily as the keys add an adventurous texture, Myers’ singing driving the emotion. A psychedelic wash adds numbing energy, the guitars scorch, and the keys sprawl, the splintering power dealing heavy blows. “The Raven’s Bell” slashes away as the guitars swirl, and the tempo jabs through your mid-section. The playing shuffles as organs lather with psychedelic sheen, shrieks rip, and the pace picks up and destroys, dealing monstrous, thrashy punishment. “Orbweaver” is rousing and exciting, Myers’ vocals increasing your adrenaline levels before calm arrives. That settles the waters a bit and adds dreamy gazing. But it’s temporary as the shrieks send chills down your spine, the playing dashes and excites, and fluid energy ravages you completely. “Overthrower” serves aggressive riffs and Scalzi returning on vocals, the playing threatening and forcing wounds to fester. The pace is delirious in spots, and at times the keys enter to change the temperature and add haziness, but the energy underneath is undeniable, carrying you into the middle of the battle. Closer “Aggressive Perfection” unloads with mauling thrash and the keys coating like a syrup, the howls hissing as the pace picks up and murders the gas pedal. Maniacal howls echo in the night, the leads explode and give off thick smoke, while the frosty bass freezes your cells. Darkness sprawls as the fury multiplies, the thrashing encircling and drilling into the earth’s molten core.

There isn’t a twist or turn that scares Hammers of Misfortune, and while “Overtaker” is their most unexpected release in their vast catalog, it’s also not really a surprise to anyone who has been following along. This vile mix of aggressive thrash and dramatic prog rock energy suits this band perfectly and is an ideal statement for the chaotic times in which we are entrenched. This record is a joy to behold, a destructive reunion of forces that belong together, and a statement that heavy metal has no rulebook, and anyone who adhere to regulations will be consumed by the Hammers’ relentless fire.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/hammersofmisfortune/

To buy the album, go here: https://hammersofmisfortune.bandcamp.com/album/overtaker