HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE – Overtaker (2022)REVIEW

There’ll be no recapturing the freed self, no hitting the reset button on a never-was hive mind long void of the caustic zap of their machine. There’ll be no righting of broken shoulders no longer willing to bear the weight of homogenized existence. We can only consider the virtuous artist a master of adaptation when they aren’t doing what comes naturally, eh, otherwise remaining unbent is all anyone should ever request. Unbent, tried and still true to what ails ’em the return of relocated and re-revivified (now) Montana-based heavy metal entity Hammers of Misfortune for this seventh full-length album is a nuke, a reckless and fittingly overwhelming dive-bomb into maximal progressive thrash metal. ‘Overtaker’ is guaranteed to sound like nothing else you’ve heard, at least not all that close, as an energized experience crammed with riffs enough to leave the mind tingling with transcendence and the body radiated into slop.

Hammers of Misfortune made an awful lot of sense to start in terms of evolutionary beginnings as Unholy Cadaver circa 1995 through ~2000 unto their first few post-formative releases. They’d decompress the doomed yet extreme traditional heavy metal braced unreleased result (‘Unholy Cadaver‘, 2011) unto a fresh boon of broadminded progressive heavy metal achieved on the timeless ease if their debut full-length ‘The Bastard‘ (2001). Intentional rhythmic leitmotif? Vocalists representing characters in concept albums? A sensical three act sequence? Conditionally blackened prog/heavy metal? Of course maestro guitarist/vocalist John Cobbett wasn’t the first to do any of these things but the heavy metal underground and nerds like me were all paying close attention as the fellowe managed to not only feature on a few of the best Slough Feg albums and pull off the influential Ludicra while simultaneously cranking out the first several Hammers records… which are yet considered great works of progressive/heavy metal to this day. The artist was clearly relishing in meeting the demands of endless creative possibilities while largely doing exactly what they’d wanted to do, the passion paid off in grand form and the thread headed in a natural enough direction beyond that point.

The turn taken on ‘The August Engine‘ (2003) was the band’s ‘The Deluge‘ moment, the big deal for my own taste thanks to the thrash metal riffs they were chopping away at in its opener, and a believable evolutionary event in keeping with their general stride. It was beloved for what possibilities it introduced, the weirding personae achieved, and for the story it’d told. I don’t know if they’d seen it that way at the time but there was some strong continuity of purpose and inspiration put into all of their first three records, even if the line-up had changed in the interim the spiritus of the band was yet intact. For most fans this’d quickly change beyond ‘The Locust Years‘ (2006) which’d marked the last of the Mike Scalzi (Slough Feg) era, the first (and last ’til now) to feature Jamie Myers (ex-Sabbath Assembly) on vocals and the introduction to the decidedly 70’s-sized prog-rock ambitions going forward (see: ‘Fields/Church of Broken Glass‘ double LP + ‘17th Street‘.) It made sense where they’d gone with it even if it was a softer rocking, Hammond organ driven hustle without the dramatism and impassioned performances where they’d began. I’ve built this very light argument in retrospect for the sake of seeing the bigger picture precedence in the twenty plus year history of the entity and ‘Overtaker‘ which is a shard, a glorious yanking loose of a latent thread in their cumulative heavy (and extreme) metal mind palace which is at once bizarrely different yet fittingly bizarre in its manifestation.

Anno MMXVI — Going in expecting the impossible to follow estranged, kinda chill heavy metal magick of ‘Dead Revolution‘ (2016) to be replicated in perhaps rowdier fashion wasn’t the right approach as a listener, in fact who’d have guessed I’d land upon Corbett‘s insightful and overactive imagination applied to one of my personal favorite niches, progressive thrash metal as ‘Overtaker’ immediately kicked in? Moving to Montana and accepting the fact that self-recording techniques and long-distance project management would be a new (and likely horrifying) reality to accept going forward it seems the maestro naturally took to creating what’d inspired in the moment and after teaming up with former Vektor drummer Blake Anderson and exploring the possibilities, began approaching this latest Hammers of Misfortune record as a chance to delve into a form of heavy metal which has always clearly influenced his guitar playing. This is not your average chunk of chumped-at Bay Area scrubbing, though, as we find certain nodes of Blind Illusion‘s irascible operatic rock flair, a several generations swollen rhythmic aggression paired with occasional odd-meter which fans of prime Mekong Delta will love, and of course the spirit of the fantastic speed metallic blazing Manilla Road had done between ‘The Deluge‘ and ‘Courts of Chaos‘ (later reprised per Hellwell.) This isn’t necessarily an actual cumulative comparison on my part so much as a very general grounding the average thrash metal fan might want going in, though mention of Psychotic Waltz and the ambition of Ken Nardi‘s solo work might be helpful side-notes. Of course the proper elevator pitch on my part is something like: The blistering attack of late 80’s prog-thrash metal with the grand vision of keyboard-jammed mid 70’s progressive heavy rock’s peak narration.

The core thesis quickly becomes abomination in mind yet works in wilding practicum as the brilliancies of this record reveal themselves capable of pleasing the heavy prog-rock classicist and the weirding thrash snob alike. But hey, the more urgent point to make at this juncture is that ‘Overtaker‘ impresses for the sake of achieving an invigorated sound outside of time, an enthusiastic record which is simultaneously unlike anything else yet somehow manages the signature glow of Hammers of Misfortune all the same. This comes by way of the return of a few recognizable faces including the prominent feature of Jamie Myers on lead vocals, bringing a chaotic element to her performances which are frequently accompanied by layers which exaggerate certain phrases or feature three or more registers firing off at once. This is initially disorienting as it is grounding as “Overtaker” nearly resembles the first Skyclad record for its trashing mad riffing and violin-esque (solina?) accompaniment and various growling and spoken vocal entrance right out the gates. Guest contributions from Scalzi and Daeva/Crypt Sermon bassist Frank Chin prove invigorating on “Dark Brennius”, a piece which helps hold fast the momentum of the title track/opener and conditionally reminds the keen-eared fan where this band started out. The on-fire kick into ‘Overtaker‘ overwhelms, packing as much detail into each of its first two ~3.5 minute pieces as is possible while still allowing each participant to breathe a bit and no doubt the effect will be vexing and maximal up front for the average listener.

By the time that “Vipers Cross” hits and the contributions from Sigrid Sheie once again shine in the essential Hammond B-3 organ headspace it becomes clear that Cobbett has picked his poison and isn’t going for an arena thrasher so much as a wall-to-wall riff fest in the best tradition of late 80’s underground thrash wherein a rhythmic language is developed and pushed to its limit. A few moments of guitar/organ interplay might recall the second half of ‘Your Last Orison‘ or certain keyboard forward classics from 90’s German prog metal but the impetus of what Hammers of Misfortune are doing here doesn’t lose sight of the aggression found in actual thrash metal, rendering it unrelated to any legacy of ex-thrasher crew in mind. The biggest breakthroughs on the album happen just as those inklings warm in mind, though, as “Don’t Follow the Lights” reaches for peak ‘Kaleidoscope‘-era Mekong Delta phrasing if it were powered by a neo-thrash core and of course it goes without saying that Anderson‘s performances allow the compositions to run-on in every direction possible while still feeling like an authentically disturbed, psychedelic thrash metal enlightenment. “Ghost Hearts” is the premiere piece on the album per my own taste, a standout step on a constantly rising escalator of riffs which presents itself at top speed in feature of exceptional interplay between each musician. It also emphasizes, uh, Corbett kinda shredding all over this record while Sheie easily keeps up, wherein the action is so stoked that none of it feels self-consciously performative or overly measured. The tunnel vision is exceptionally thick at this point and the value of the full listen generally sold on my part.

Overtaker‘ is relentless, unstoppable as further delves into the possibilities with great sense. What is initially a storm of frantic jagged riffing and nuclear-powered cathedralesque future thrashing mania eventually crystallizes in mind but, nowhere near as fast and as easily as any previous Hammers of Misfortune release. This’ll likely be the most common point of contention for existing fandom the momentum cannot be stopped and, well, this’ll likely be the most common point of appreciation for progressive and technical thrash metal fans who want a bit of the ‘old school’ feeling of mastery which is otherwise virtually void of replication beyond 1996 or so. The stretch between “Outside Our Minds” through the theatric jogging of standout “Orbweaver” was frequently a point of mania, a challenging thread of ideas unwilling to relent and it wasn’t until I’d steeled up to the demands of Side B that I’d find it particularly brilliant in its continued escalation unto slight trad metal comedown moments here and there. Herein lies my actual criticism of this record, though, that it demands such consistent focus that its ~45 minute spin feels like an eon siphoned from the mind, decompressed unto doubled file size and reinjected. Per my own tastes, it is one of the most invigorating thrash metal-related sensations I’ve been struck with all year, yet if we must consider the typical listener it’ll be a bit much and a challenge reserved for the still wide-eared and eager to devour fan. Again, I believe they’ll win over the prog/tech thrash metal heads first and foremost through sheer attrition.

What do whales, San Francisco, and an undying love for the exploration of new worlds have in common? Eh, besides Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home…” — The electrifying sensation of Hammer of Misfortune‘s unpacking of their data hive direct to skull has proven heavily replicable per the intensely fine amount of work put into each of these pieces, most of ’em hardly repeating more than a sequence or two in cycle. The value of ‘Overtaker‘ as a built-to-last shelf item became inarguable as I’d hit my tenth or so listen and began to fully absorb the logic of the rhythm guitar placement and sheer amount of activity in hand though it’d always feel like I’d had a smoking bomb in hand, that this piece of tech was going to become exponential, transcendent the more I’d picked over its moving parts. Anyhow, I’d found giving this record due attention yielded exponential rewards. Sure, it’ll be a lot to take in and no doubt not all folks will be up for it but this record is beyond worthy. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (89/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
ARTIST:HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE
TITLE:Overtaker
LABEL(S):Self-Released,
Cruz Del Sur Music
RELEASE DATE:December 2nd, 2022

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