Hammers of Misfortune – Overtaker Review

It’s not easy being John Cobbett, legendary underground guitarist of Vhöl, ex(ish)-Ludicra,1 ex-The Lord Weird Slough Feg, and mastermind of Hammers of Misfortune. Along with his long-collaborating partner Sigrid Sheie (also of Vhöl), Cobbett has, at his own pace, pumped out eclectic success after eclectic success with his rotating Hammers crew. Hammers doesn’t often scratch the same post twice, their identities ranging from lightly blackened folk wailings to soaring rock operas to Hammond humming prog-tinged gallops. Nonetheless, Cobbett imbues his work with a recognizable, dramatically-voiced, neoclassical-spiked, and rhythm-driven style that riffs, shreds, and arpeggiates its way across a palette that’s as fueled by classic rock as it is experimental whimsy. So, with another fork emerging in the Hammers of Misfortune path, can Cobbett continue to strike like the curiously forged stalwart of the six-stringed arts he is?

Accelerating 0 to 60 through a half-second guitar slide, Cobbett wastes no time letting us know that Overtaker aims to thrill with calculated speed and vicious riffs. Having tested the boundaries of thrash with his shorter-lived project Vhöl, Cobbett is no stranger to raging, quick-picked chaos, but the change here runs deeper than just a little project osmosis. Shortly after the previous Dead Revolution, Cobbett and Sheie succumbed to their woes regarding what they viewed as a crumbling cityscape around them in the SF Bay Area and shipped out to Montana. Fun facts about Montana include that the average population of most counties host six or fewer people per square mile—not exactly the most conducive environment to forming a new band of merry Hammerers. Long story short, Cobbett ended up forming the foundation of Overtaker with the freshly available rhythm section from Vektor, Blake Anderson and Frank Chin, the former of which has become a primary performer for the Hammers crew. Overtaker, then, grew out of back-and-forth thrash idea exchange warped by Cobbett’s Hammers mind, a mutation solidified by the addition of the previously Hammered Jamie Myers, the witchy vocalist of the now defunct Sabbath Assemblynew faces, old friends, heavy Hammers.

While other iterations of this shape-shifting project harbored a more prominent romantic 70s prog rock influence, Overtaker subverts this most expected Hammers sound with a hot-handed, high-speed assault. Littered with stuttered, cutting runs woven swiftly between Anderson’s surgical kicks, each minute of the highest octane numbers rush by like seconds (“Overtaker,” “Vipers Cross”). Later tracks “Dark Brennius” and “Overthrower” feature brief respites of Sheie’s familiar and fluttering synth and organ work before quickly disintegrating against frenetic half-muted ripping rhythms and flanged-out leads. Cobbett and co even play around with power metal adjacent noodling (“Ghost Hearts,” “The Raven’s Bell”) to complete the “what else can Hammers do” bingo card. With relentless riffs and dense layers of harmony, it’s hard to take your ears off of whatever voodoo comes about Overtaker’s fully loaded 44 minutes.

Really though, Myers and her inspired vocal work steal the show for me. It would be natural to assume that after her long tenure with Sabbath Assembly, she may focus on psychedelic doom croons and spaced-out wails. The hefty closer “Aggressive Perfection,” in fact, comes close to that; however, Myers spends far more time throwing down spits and shrieks coated in demonic levels of reverb, slipping in sneaky and harrowing layered passages with the equally haunting Sheie (“Don’t Follow the Lights,” “The Raven’s Bell”). On “Dark Brennius” and “Overthrower,” Myers reprises a Hammers trademark, ghastly vocal duets, complete with former Hammers vocalist Mike Scalzi. But Myers doesn’t always need the help of friends to carry the vocal weight—mid-album switch-up “Outside Our Minds” proves that her full-throttle summoning can duel against Cobbett’s frighteningly fuzzed bends with ease.

Overtaker is not the most mission-driven statement in Hammersߵ long career, nor is it the most experimental. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to hold either of those titles to be what it is: energetic and unpredictable. Whether it’s the Rainbow on acid organ onslaught courtesy of Steve Blanco (Imperial Triumphant) on “Vipers Cross” or the somber piano break against the unsubtly muffed bass on “Orbweaver,” not a moment passes on Overtaker where any sound goes to waste. Like a rollercoaster with only loops, corkscrews and cutbacks, this version of Hammers of Misfortune overwhelms the senses, but with each pass, their madness settles from wide-eyed wonder to close-eyed bobs and grooves. Stick around for this ride, it’s worth it.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self Release2
Websites: hammersofmisfortune.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/hammersofmisfortune
Releases Worldwide: December 2nd, 2022

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Ludicra recently re-formed for some live shows with no intention to record again.
  2. Cruz del Sur will be handling the vinyl print run and distribution
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