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Hammers of Misfortune - "The Bastard" (CD)

Hammers of Misfortune - "The Bastard" CD cover image

"The Bastard" track listing:

1. The Dragon is Summoned (2:29)
2. The Bastard Sapling (2:23)
3. On Wings of Vengeance (2:28)
4. Hunting Tyrant (2:30)
5. You Should Have Slain Me (3:26)
6. An Oath Sworn In Hell (6:40)
7. The Blood Ax Speaks (2:28)
8. Tyrant Dies (3:42)
9. The Witch's Dance (2:31)
10. The Prophecy Has Two Meanings (2:12)
11. The New King's Lament (1:54)
12. For The Ax (2:56)
13. Troll's March (1:34)
14. Sacrifice / The End (8:56)

Reviewed by on August 8, 2010

"...it becomes clear that the band is looking for a musical identity, a combination that will be the standard-bearer for the band."

Hammers of Misfortune is mostly known for being the other band for John Cobbett (Ludicra, others). Formed with a goal of quality songwriting - led by Cobbett - instead of consistent membership, the band has combined prog, doom, folk, traditional metal, and even some power and black metal over the years into a mixture that is sometimes challenging but always interesting. Metal Blade, which recently signed the band, is re-issuing Hammer of Misfortune’s four previously released full-length studio albums in anticipation of the band’s fifth full-length coming in 2011. Metal Underground will be reviewing all four albums, “The Bastard” (2001), “The August Engine” (2003), “The Locust Years” (2005) and “Fields/Church of Broken Glass” (2008), over the next few weeks in a retrospective of sorts. We recommend you take a look through all the reviews as they are posted, preferably in chronological order, as over their career Hammers of Misfortune has undergone quite a transformation, and the story is a good one.

“The Bastard” is the debut album for Hammers of Misfortune, and is a clear experimental departure for Cobbett as he adds a heavy dose of folk to his black metal. Taking this folk metal, with the emphasis on folk instead of metal, Hammers of Misfortune puts winding melodies into black metal song structures and back those melodies with black metal elements - blast beats, tremolo and the like. Not surprising for the band’s initial album, as Cobbett’s main group, Ludicra, is a black metal outfit in the Darkthrone/Gorgoroth mold.

The fourteen songs on the album run by quickly, as with much black metal; ten of the fourteen are shorter than three minutes and only two of the longer songs are of any significant length. The shorter ten can be quite layered and deep - see the quirky vocals and syncopated chunk on “The Blood Ax Speaks” or the docile acoustic melody layered with tremolo on “The New King’s Lament” - but ultimately each moves quickly by. There isn’t much verse/chorus structure or melodic setup within those short runs either, as each song moves forward from old theme to new. Hammers of Misfortune rarely revisit melodies, never really looking back to where they have already visited for inspiration, always looking to create something new. Taking these constantly changing sections and combining them with songs that bleed together, as the murky edges of the songs fade out and back in again, and “The Bastard” makes for quite an off-kilter, confusing ride.

Just like a dark, mystical forest, however, there is beauty hidden in the murk. The counterpoint vocal and guitar melodies on “The Dragon is Summoned” are haunting, and “The Bastard Sapling” is a good set of traditional/doom chug with brief counterpoint melodies, but this time acoustic lines played alone as churning upstream against the rest of the song. These little hidden bursts of color scattered throughout “The Bastard” play well against the folk/black base of seemingly intentionally dissonant vocal and melody combinations and raw production.

As Hammers of Misfortune trudge through various doom and folk and black metal combinations, searching for music to fit their telling of a “[three]-act tale of royalty and betrayal,” it becomes clear that the band is looking for a musical identity, a combination that will be the standard-bearer for the band. Because of this schizophrenia they never find a groove and “The Bastard,” which was presumably written as a musical whole instead of fourteen individual parts, never coalesces into the intended beginning-to-end journey.

Highs: “An Oath Sworn In Hell” is phenomenal, with the best roiling combination of folk, black, and traditional metal.

Lows: Many of the vocals and diminished chord melodies just don’t work and are quite dissonant, even for black metal disciples.

Bottom line: An eclectic mix of folk, doom, and black metal from a band trying to find their identity on their debut album.

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)