Monday, 18 July 2016

Hammers of Misfortune - Dead Revolution (2016) / 95%

The revolution is alive and well

John Cobbett is one of the most underrated American metal composers and he’s proving yet again that everyone should praise his name by unleashing the new Hammer of Misfortune record five years after the somewhat underwhelming 17th Street. Let’s jump into this mysterious world illustrated by this futuristic, apocalyptic and totally bonkers artwork. It’s an odd fit to the band’s modern yet timeless musical qualities.

The main characteristic of this album is its expansiveness or its richness. It might feel bloated at times but it’s the good kind of bloated, the “ohhh man this Chinese buffet was so good but I just ate two weeks worth of food” way. The seven songs are all mostly on the long side but they contain an impressive array of excellent riffs and never overstay their welcome. They’re one of the sole bands combining super heavy riffs with organ and piano in a tasteful and meaningful way. In fact, if you look for the definition of “progressive metal” in a 2016 dictionary, the name of this band should be the first one listed. They mix the idiosyncratic classic side of Peter Gabriel’s Genesis and the atmospheric power of Pink Floyd with a bunch of metal styles (from speed, thrash to power and epic heavy metal) in one consistent offering. It also feels heavier and much more metallic than most of their material (especially the latest two albums). They really manage to never forget that they’re first and foremost a metal band unlike, I don’t know, Dream Theater who just released a two hours sappy opera full of ballads.

The album is pretty varied, two examples would be the track full of acoustic guitars and a slight Spaghetti Western feel (“Here Comes the Sky”) and the one song channeling Bruce Springsteen in a old traditional folk way with the epic closer “Days of ‘49”. The amount of stuff found in this 46 minutes album could fill a double album made by an unfocused and less talented band.

The guitars are inventive and always interesting, the style of Cobbett has always been one of the biggest strengths of both Hammers of Misfortune and the albums he did with Slough Feg. The leads in the hard rocking “Flying Alone” are through the roof but they’re always done in good taste and aren’t shallow and overly technical. This dude can definitely play anything (hear his involvement in the genre bending Vhol if you’re still unsure).

Mike Scalzi’s departure from the band after The Locust Years was a bit of a letdown, I think Church of Broken Glass/Fields and 17th Street were transitional albums vocal wise. Now that it’s Joe Hutton’s second album with the Hammers, I feel that he’s much more comfortable with his microphone. He sounds really good on Dead Revolutionand handles all the lead vocals (Hammers often had lead vocals sung by band members Leila Abdul-Rauf, Sigrid Sheie or former female vocalists on their former albums). We’re still served a lot of background vocals by these two though and it adds yet another layer to the band’s opulent musical palette.

Sure, Hutton often has the same gruff approach to clean vocals that Scalzi (now focusing solely on Slough Feg) and he tries to emulate him but he does it everything well. He can be surprising too, the melodies on the supremely good opener “The Velvet Inquisition” almost reminds me of Muse with their operatic flair.

All in all, Hammers of Misfortune is one of the most intelligent bands playing metal right now and they released their best album since The August Engine. Essential listening for those looking for adventurous music mixing the genres effortlessly but without restraints.

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