Released: 2006, Cruz Del Sur
The promise was strong on this one. Hammers of Misfortune, perpetually considered an offshoot of Slough Feg (both John Cobbett and Mike Scalzi were members of both bands until recently), released a classic from the beginning with their concept album/opera, THE BASTARD. That album found a way to meld traditional metal with rock opera, folk, and touches of extreme metal. In 2003 the follow-up, THE AUGUST ENGINE, was recorded and released. The small amounts of praise THE BASTARD received was dwarfed by the acknowledgement of THE AUGUST ENGINE by some larger print magazines recognizing the band’s sophomore effort, even if the album was at least a mild disappointment. The album coming off as a jumble though John Cobbett has said in interviews that THE AUGUST ENGINE was intended to be a double disc release, so possibly that has something to do with why many, not just myself, feel the way they do about THE AUGUST ENGINE.
Three years since the release of THE AUGUST ENGINE saw Hammers of Misfortune come together again for a new album, released with a much different musical landscape surrounding it. An interest in traditional metal has increased, as well as an increased interest from indie scenesters who seem to have, at least mildly, helped increase awareness of bands like Slough Feg which, in turn, has helped out Hammers of Misfortune. Where as once Hammers were a band you’d hear from the resident crackpot on a message board, many message boards, websites, and magazines are now peppered with Hammers of Misfortune fans. Don’t mistake me though; Hammers will always be a niche band and the new album, THE LOCUST YEARS, only reinforces that fact.
While Hammers has had a number of line-up changes since the last album with Jamie Myers taking up bass and vocals, Sigrid Sheie now on keyboards/piano/organ what are considered the major players in the band, Scalzi (though mostly a misconception) and Cobbett, are still here. Musically the band are furthering the sound from THE AUGUST ENGINE, minimal to no folk influences are present and there seems to be a higher penchant for 70’s sounding prog soundscapes. Metal is still the most prevalent sound here but something feels very distinctly 70’s rock here, maybe part of it is the use of organ, while the other factor is the entire mood of the album.
The album opens with the title track, “The Locust Year”, and gets off to a slow start. The song takes up a rather slow, descending guitar run while the organ accents. A solo pops up shortly and the guitars give way to jamming drums and soft piano. While the guitars had been leading the way prior, the piano sets the mood soon after, until the pace is picked up at 1:40, still no vocals. The guitar swirls through one melody, yet a few slightly modified riffs. 2:32 sees the entrance of vocals, both male and female, with Scalzi taking the lead and whom I presume is Jamie Myers taking up the rear. The verses start off with rather open sounding music, used only to accent, but by the time the second verse comes around the music is more fleshed out, the guitars not used merely for accenting as they chug on throughout. Multiple layers of Mike Scalzi’s vocals take the chorus around, creating a nice catchy section that is almost completely carried by the vocal line. The song’s slow building solo, starting off as merely a melody overtop of the main music but slowly building works well, especially since it mimics the way the song is built.
Second track, “We Are the Widows” works on simple repetition. For just over 3 minutes the song repeatedly works the same piano/guitar melody and repeats its verses over and over in an attempt to get its way into your brain. There is no male presence vocally, Jamie and Sigrid taking the main role here. “Trot Out the Dead” stands as the album’s catchiest, the band following a more simple rock pattern. Mike Scalzi’s vocals take up much of the space here, the guitars being pushed slightly back to make room and only coming out from open chords and accents for the sections in between verses and the solo section. A heavy rock groove opens up “War Anthem”, organ accents nicely, and a choral styled vocal section takes up the main vocal slot; sounding as if the entire band is singing in unison. The song works some interesting melodies between the heavy groove that is thrown about here and there, the song even getting slightly jammy with the drum chorus that comes in just after the halfway mark.
While THE LOCUS YEARS is indeed a fine album from Hammers of Misfortune, I still feel slightly let down. Why? Because I’ve been somewhat hoping the band would top THE BASTARD or at least play a bit more in that style this time around, seemingly it has not happened. The band has progressed and picked up a few new influences this time around and it will be interesting to see what comes next for Hammers seeing as there’s almost an entirely new line-up since this album’s release.