Its clear the whole “occult retro doom/rock” thing is here to stay, like it or not. With entities like Hour of 13, Castle, Occultation, Devil’s Blood and Ghost already throwing on the vest, hailing the 70s and generally receiving good press, you can expect newcomers to keep popping up like hippies at a discount grow-op. Bloody Hammers is one of those filthy, dirty hippies (saddled with a name that implies a death metal barrage). Led by gothic indie artist Anders Manga (X and the Eyes), Bloody Hammers is steeped in the old timey style of Black Sabbath, Witchfinder General and Pentagram, and they sweeten the magic brownies with a fair amount of The Misfits, Samhain and all things Danzig. At times they season it with greasy biker rock like Fireball Ministry and stoner buzz a la Fu Manchu. What you end up with is a stripped down, throwback Pupu platter full of dark, doomy rock with a creepy, devil worshipping vibe and when it works, it works pretty well. Unfortunately for all you unwashed masses, this thing doesn’t always hit the musical G Spot and some of the material is flat and dull when it wants to be moody, spooky and occulty (that’s a real word in some countries, I checked). Hey, not ever batch of brownies can be moist, chewy and delicious, right?
This isn’t anything you haven’t heard before, as lead track “Witch of Endor” will demonstrate (Endor had witches AND Ewoks?? No wonder the stormtroopers got owned). The classically fuzzy, groove-based doom riffs are there and Manga’s vocals are more or less what you expect as well. The sound reminds me most of the recent output by Hour of 13 and it has a similar smokey, 70s haze loaded with distortion. The solos channel the opium den charm of the psychedelic era and the entire construct feels suitably stuck in the past. It isn’t a bad song, but it certainly won’t blow you away either. It feels too safe and predictable for that. Things improve with the hypnotic rumble and shake of “Fear No Evil,” which ups the charm and hook factor considerably. The riffs are simple, but they’re slinky and cool and work very well with Manga’s laid back singing and catchy chorus. Its further boosted by horror movie keyboards with just the right amount of creepy.
“Say Goodbye to the Sun” goes for an extra slow, eerie vibe as Manga explains why the vampiric life isn’t all glittering skin and tweenage lust. It’s a tad emo, but remains faithful to the doom ethos, reminds me of some of Saint Vitus’s old stuff like “Burial at Sea” and ends up decently memorable. “Trisect” shoehorns some Tool influence into the structure and vocals with some solid results, while “Beyond the Door” shows the band rocking out more urgently with a nifty, swaggering riff and some Danzig style, chest thumping, bellowed vocals of manliness and machismo.
Then there are the cuts that don’t really cut. “The Last Legion of Sorrow” is dull and falls flat despite an aggressive style and decent riffs. Likewise, “The Witching Hour” is bland and vanilla, though the riffs are again respectable (worth noting is the trippy solo full of lava lamp and black-light-Elvis poster glory). “Souls on Fire” borrows a page from the beer and bourbon biker rock of Fireball Ministry, which I appreciate, but the song never really takes off. Lastly, “Don’t Breathe a Word” employs acoustic strumming and moody, low-key, Danzig-esque crooning to create a vaguely ominous mood, but its pretty dull and there’s no payoff. That’s the problem with these lesser tracks. They all seem to be plodding toward something good, but just never get there. They just continue to plod, without any hook or peak.
As vocalist go, Manga is respectable, has a nice, mid-range voice, and he’s capable of venturing into aggressive tones as he does on “Trisect” and “The Last Legion of Sorrow.” Sometimes he sounds like Phil Swanson (Hour of 13, Briton Rites and many more), sometimes he’s a poor man’s Maynard James Keenan, and he even channels The Shirtless One when needed. He certainly gets the job done and has a great feel for how this type of period occult rock should be sung.
The bigger attraction for me is the riffing, and especially the solos from Zoltan (no, not THAT Zoltan). He truly knows how to craft the 70s flavored riffage and almost all the tunes benefit from his super simple, stripped-down style. His nebulous, tripped out solos are even more fun and sound great even on the dull tracks. The understated, but effectively moody, Dracula’s castle variety keys by Devallia are a plus as well. They never become too prevalent, preferring to hang back and provide nuance and atmosphere.
With all the above going for Bloody Hammers, this debut should be considerably better, but about half the songs are undercooked and just not ready for primetime. Making matters worse, the guitar sound is mixed in such a way that it lacks a real punch, despite being fuzzy and raw. If they beefed up the guitar in the mix, these songs would hit that much harder.
This is the classic example of an album displaying a potential that it can’t fully deliver on yet. The good stuff is pretty good and the bad stuff isn’t really bad, just dull. It’s clear these folks have all the necessary (and bloody) tools to succeed, they just need to put in more time at the writing workbench. Definitely worth a spin for fans of the ever rising occult rock genre, just don’t expect this to nail you with excellence (discretionary bonus point may be awarded for the topless goat-woman on the cover).