Since their first release The Bastard in 2001, Hammers of Misfortune have amassed a mountain of praise by both fans and journalists. Those who took the advice of numerous publications and sought out any of the four releases would not have been disappointed. Word of mouth and the publications smart enough to cover these releases were the only place to get these recordings because originally they were issued through small labels such as Cruz Del Sur, Tumult and Profound Lore. Now, the group has signed a worldwide deal with Metal Blade and is working on a new album. Before that new album drops, though, MB has reissued the Hammers’ back catalog.
Guitarist John Cobbett formed Hammers of Misfortune in the late ‘90s. Cobbett is no stranger to the ‘Frisco Bay scene. He has also taken part in major players Ludicra, Amber Asylum and The Lord Weird Slough Feg. Hammers of Misfortune displays characteristics found in these groups. The classic metal guitars and vocals by fellow Slough Feg member Mike Scarzi certainly resemble the weird lords, while female vocals played to classical music bring to mind Amber Asylum. In other places, Hammers pay homage to the masters of prog and doom.
Hammers of Misfortune debuted in 2001 with The Bastard
. Said album is a metal opera told in three acts by three different voices. These voices are Mike Scazi and John Cobbet of Slough Feg providing the male voices, while Janis Tanaka (L7, Pink) inserts the female perspective. Scazi and Tanaka sing solo at times or form a duet as heard on “You Should have Saved me.” The album consists of mostly short or radio-length songs, but the last track is epic in length. “Sacrifice/The End” clocks in over nine minutes. Here, the group incorporates black metal techniques—blast beats and single string harmonies, which offer a different vibe from the rest of the album. This added dimension does not come as too much of a surprise considering the band makes use of a variety of musical genres including classic metal, doom, folk and heaps of melody. The Bastard won numerous album-of-the-year awards including one from Terrorizer
Two years later, the group released The August Engine
. This album showed the group revisiting the same musical themes of metallic mastery and melody. Scazi and Cobbett’s electric guitar becomes more apparent on said recording. Their riffs have a fuller production and the group introduces keyboards compliments of Sigrid Sheie. Scazi and Cobbett’s floating notes hang in the air somberly as if the listeners were attendants of an electric funeral. Bassist Jamie Myers (Wolves in the Throne Room) brilliantly fills in Tanaka’s vacancy. On “Raindrops”, her soothing voice combines with chiming keys and earthy acoustic guitar notes to mimic the mood and pitter-patter of the song title. She tunes her voice to a tragic setting on “Doom Parade,” which when paired with acoustic guitar has a lulling quality, but the group comes back in a jolting, furious manner. With The August Engine
, Hammers of Misfortune again released an album that won numerous album-of-the-year awards from publications. It’s easy to see why.
In 2006, Hammers of Misfortune began a different era for the band. They stepped away from the epic elements of the past recordings and into progressive territories. The cast from the prior album returns, but this album would be the swan song for Myers and Scalzi. The August Engine
was prophetic in the fact that it so closely resembled Slough Feg because after recording said album, Scalzi left to concentrate on Slough Feg. While Sigrid Sheie’s keyboards added an extra dimension to the prior album, her finger tapings played an even big role on The Locust Years
. Scalzi and Myers compliment Sheie’s playing, jamming alongside of her Hammond Organ notes or providing a doom-y contrast such as the one found on “We Are the Widows.” To avid fans of the first two records, The Locust Years
might be disappointing, but fans of Deep Purple
, Jethro Tull and early Rush
will delight in their jam sessions.
The following recording(s) Fields/Church of Broken Glass
continue the prog pathways set down on the last album. Although released in one package, Fields/Church of Broken Glass
consists of two LPs. This is the first time we don’t hear Mike Scalzi’s magnificent, vibrato vocals. Joe Hutton from the doom band Worship the Silence steps in to replace him. Hutton has a mid-range voice that is more suited to this style of music. Leila Abdul-Rauf from Amber Asylum fills in for Myers, as well as taking up the slack left by Scalzi on guitar. Many of the songs feature her beautiful voice. Again, the guitar follows Sigrid Sheie’s organs. Also, we hear more big, Sabbath-y riffs. Check out “Butchertown” and “Always Looking Down” for an example. Fans of Opeth
and King Crimson take notice.
With Metal Blade now handling Hammers of Misfortune’s back catalogue, the group should reach a much wider audience. All four of these releases are hidden gems. I highly recommend each recording. Let’s see what the group has in store for its next release.