Longtime AMG readers may recall my excessive worship of guitarist John Cobbett and his various projects. His main endeavor, Bay-area prog-metallers Hammers Of Misfortune, has been dormant since 2011’s 17th Street, and with good reason. Vocalist Joe Hutton was involved in a near fatal motorcycle accident, Cobbett and wife/bandmate Sigrid Sheie welcomed their first child and released an album with Vhöl, and the Hammers themselves went through several lineup changes. Five years later, the band returns with the heavier, more direct Dead Revolution.
Opener “The Velvet Inquisition” starts the record off properly, with an organ-driven riff that lives somewhere between early Mercyful Fate and Deep Purple. The next 7 minutes consist of labyrinthine chord progressions, co-ed choral arrangements, and shit-hot dual guitar solos. In other words, it’s business as usual for the Hammers. Also worth noting is new drummer Will Carroll (Death Angel, Vicious Rumors), who brings a new level of performance and intensity to the band.
The title track follows, with Hutton delivering one of his best performances of the album, as Cobbett delivers the sideways trad-metal riffage that is his trademark. Mid-tempo stomper “Sea Of Heroes” takes full advantage of the band’s three-vocalist approach, with Hutton, Sheie and Abdul-Rauf harmonizing to great effect. “The Precipice” maneuvers through a dizzying array of changes, concluding with anthemic guitar harmonies courtesy of Cobbett and co-guitarist Leila Abdul-Rauf (also of Vastum). Cobbett seems to be saving the more insane riffs for Vhöl, but that simply focuses Revolution‘s approach on the complex and melodic.
According to Cobbett’s recent interviews, Dead Revolution‘s theme is the ongoing gentrification in his hometown of San Francisco, and those who are being forced out by that process. The band has already explored that subject thoroughly on 17th Street, but the difference is all in the tone. While 17th Street approached the situation with a sense of yearning and even hope, on Dead Revolution the lyrics paint a picture of a scenario beyond repair, with nothing left to do except mourn the loss. Appropriately, a lot of the music itself is minor-keyed and sorrowful.
“Here Comes The Sky” is all over the place stylistically, with a quiet yet ominous intro giving way to some killer slide guitar, concluding with what can only be described as bullfighter music (complete with trumpet). The band kicks the tempo up a notch for “Flying Alone,” a “Highway Star”-esque tribute to all things fast. Sheie’s Hammond organ anchors the riff on this track, with Cobbett and Abdul-Rauf delivering more excellent lead work on the song’s back half.
The album ends on a weird note with “Days Of ’49.” A folk standard dating back to the California gold rush, the song has been covered by the likes of Bob Dylan and Fairport Convention. In the hands of Hammers Of Misfortune, it becomes a plodding 8 minutes of near-doom metal. While it strikes me as musically anticlimactic, it’s a fitting metaphor lyrically for San Francisco’s current troubles.
Hammers of Misfortune are “progressive metal” in the truest sense. Their influences start with Pink Floyd and Genesis in the ’60s and end with the dual explosions of punk and NWOBHM in the early ’80s, and as such, they are capable of almost anything musically. While the band may have stumbled briefly with Fields/Church Of Broken Glass (which I still like), their last two records have clearly put them on the comeback trail. Dead Revolution is prog with a street-level, almost DIY aesthetic, ambitious as hell but also extremely focused. If you enjoy music that is good, I suggest checking this out.