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Hammers of Misfortune - "Fields/Church of Broken Glass" (2-CD Set)

Hammers of Misfortune - "Fields/Church of Broken Glass" 2-CD Set cover image

"Fields/Church of Broken Glass" track listing:

1. Agriculture (5:04)
2. Fields (4:44)
3. Motorcade (6:20)
4. Haruspex (0:57)
5. Rats Assembly (6:10)
6. Always Looking Down (5:33)
7. Too Soon (8:31)
8. Almost (Left Without You) (8:17)
9. Butchertown (10:19)
10. The Gulls (6:34)
11. Church of Broken Glass (4:19)
12. Train (4:01)

Reviewed by on August 17, 2010

"This organ obsession is the biggest negative change Hammers of Misfortune have on 'Fields/Church of Broken Glass' and throughout their entire career, as its heavy-handed addition to the mix completely changes the nature of the band and the music. "

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.

Constantly evolving, Hammers of Misfortune starts “Fields/Church of Broken Glass” off with an extended organ jam, something we haven’t heard yet on the previous three full-length albums. But instead of going fully to King Crimson prog as a follow-up to “The Locust Years,” album opener “Agriculture” ends up more like a Neil Young cover. And that is the big stylistic shift on this simultaneously released double album – adding touches of 1960s classic rock (think Jefferson Airplane psych and The Mammas and the Pappas vocals) and lots of 1970s style arena rock (think Genesis and Emerson Lake and Palmer jams) to the already winding roads of Hammers of Misfortune folk-prog metal. Oh, and they’ve fallen head over heels for the organ.

On previous album “The Locust Years,” Hammers of Misfortune jammed, but with a destination. Be it a climax, killer set of riffs or just the end of the song, each extended session clearly had a purpose. But on “Fields/Church of Broken Glass” they meander from song to song, with the extended jams now just setting up the vocals. The first three songs all run together, playing as one big suite like the (much shorter) songs that ran together way back on debut album “The Bastard.” And while the music is still a maze of complexity, the vocals are back to the fore. “Motorcade” has the male vocals carrying the crescendo and the hook, instead of Cobbett’s guitar; despite the extended guitar solo toward the end, the vocals ultimately come back to steal the limelight before the song ends.

And let’s not forget the organ, as if we could. Debuted in small parts on “The Locust Years,” it is on full display here. “Rats Assembly” in particular is the organ show, with it driving the melody, supporting the vocals, getting all the hooks, and taking all the solos. Even in the guitar-driven “Always Looking Down” the organ is there, lurking in the back of the mix. This organ obsession is the biggest negative change Hammers of Misfortune have on “Fields/Church of Broken Glass” and throughout their entire career, as its heavy-handed addition to the mix completely changes the nature of the band and the music.

The first three albums, while unique, all clearly sounded like Hammers of Misfortune - doom-tinged vocals, folk elements, expansive riffing, and other choice heavy metal pieces combined into the distinct and slightly off-kilter harmonies that were Hammers of Misfortune’s hallmark. But now they might as well be a 1970s arena rock cover band – the music flows too easily. Each organ jam and guitar solo is clean, melodic, and smooth.

Hammers of Misfortune are best when they are the sheen hiding dark corners, not harbingers of happy. The doom metal parts are completely gone on “Fields/Church of Broken Glass” and the black metal was chased out long ago. Those departures leave the music without the subtly dark undertones that gave it life and soul, even during the triumphant moments. According to Hammers of Misfortune, glory lasts only so long, as another suffocating ballad or constantly digging dirge is just around the next bend, once the power chords recede. But on “Fields/Church of Broken Glass,” for example, “Too Soon” combines a flute with a cheery bass line and female croon to make us feel great. Even “Butchertown,” which starts with some good dirge-like potential, never gets to those unsettling moments; the lyrics about everything crumbling in butchertown babble like a pleasant brook from the happy baby’s mouth, and the unending easy melodies assure us all will be okay. Ugh.

Highs: The title track, “Church of Broken Glass,” gets at the foreboding feeling that made Hammers of Misfortune so good on previous albums.

Lows: The organ ruins everything – it makes the music easy and happy and void of character.

Bottom line: Changing to AOR-style music and organ driven jams disembowels Hammers of Misfortune of their dark character and distinct style.

Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls
2.5 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)