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Hammers of Misfortune - "The Locust Years" (CD)

Hammers of Misfortune - "The Locust Years" CD cover image

"The Locust Years" track listing:

1. The Locust Years (7:32)
2. We Are The Widows (3:17)
3. Trot Out The Dead (4:14)
4. Famine's Lamp (5:16)
5. Chastity Rides (6:07)
6. War Anthem (5:25)
7. Election Day (5:38)
8. Widow's Wall (7:32)
9. Church of Broken Glass (4:15)

Reviewed by on August 13, 2010

"Their third studio full-length, 'The Locust Years' moves to a more progressive approach."

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.

After 2003’s “The August Engine” added a heavy dose of traditional metal and twin guitars to the lightly-black and folk metal base, Hammers of Misfortune is on the stylistic move again. Their third studio full-length, “The Locust Years” moves to a more progressive approach. Previous album “The August Engine” hinted at this as songs became longer and more complex, particularly on “The August Engine Part II,” but this is full on prog-metal.

The title track leads the album off with over seven minutes of constantly changing riffs and a duet of male and female vocals, presumably from Jamie Myers and Cobbett (the album notes are surprisingly sparse on this topic). A brief and gentle interlude, “We Are The Widows,” is the first extended use of piano for Hammers of Misfortune, and new band member Sigrid Sheie combines with Jamie Myers for a haunting three minutes. But then it is back to the winding roads of prog, as “Trot Out The Dead” quickly returns the expansive riffs packages to the speakers.

The nine tracks clock in at only 49 minutes, which is longer than the previous two albums but still pales in comparison to Dream Theater-style endurance tests. The other missing prog-standby is the technical noodling that is popular in modern prog metal. Guitar solos and other melodic interludes are certainly present, but they are kept to an understated minimum instead of assuming the center stage spotlight. Hammers of Misfortune use layered vocal combinations and group work instead of extended solo performances to drive their emotional themes.

Hammers of Misfortune has not gone across the aisle and turned into an abbreviated King Crimson on “The Locust Years,” however; it is clearly a Hammers of Misfortune sound and album. Keeping much of the folk elements from the previous two albums as well as Cobbett’s unique guitar style and tone, the band’s sound is still unmistakable. They even added some classical elements to join the folk and completely push any remaining black metal completely out. The acoustic guitar ballad “Famine’s Lamp” is fit for a king’s chamber, not a hippie’s lawn. Frequent extended musical passages also are a new aspect of the music. On “The August Engine” there were shorter bursts of interludes, but here they almost dominate the album. “Chastity Rides” is set up by the long passages without vocals, and the singing pays off what the instrumentals set up, eventually transitioning into a hard-driving riff and organ romp.

Continuing with the career-long musical evolution, Hammers of Misfortune has done well again. Moving away from the traditional metal patterns of “The August Engine” and into more progressive complexity suits the band well. The addition of Jamie Myers and Sigrid Sheie gives the vocals enough skill to stick with Cobbett’s roving riffs, which hasn’t been true on previous album and limited the overall musical scope. But the biggest key improvement is the comfort. The change was noticeable on the previous full-length “The August Engine” when compared to the awkward jump-shifts of studio debut “The Bastard,” and it is face-smackingly clear here. As the lengthy outro on “Church of Broken Glass” winds on, we get the feeling Hammers of Misfortune kept jamming for another couple days after they finished recording, just because they liked it so much.

Highs: The extended instrumental jams are excellently composed and performed.

Lows: Climaxes and crescendos sometimes get lost in the prog maze.

Bottom line: Another stylistic shift, from traditional metal to more progressive stuff, results in Hammers of Misfortune's best album yet.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 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)