Hammers of Misfortune
Fields/Church of Broken Glass

Practically every progressive rock band wants to record their own version of Tales from Topographic Oceans, the 1974 double album that was praised—or vilified, depending on the listener’s caprice—as Yes’ finest hour (and twenty minutes) of prog-indulgence. The fact that Yes weathered the loss of keyboardist nonpareil Rick Wakeman after its release and still came out on top for decades afterward speaks to their inimitable talent. That of Hammers of Misfortune is a similar tale of incipient woe and ultimate triumph.

Though their output has been likened to Celtic, black, thrash, and all alloys of metal in between, HoM have been quietly crafting critically acclaimed metal/prog/experiemental albums since 1996 when they recorded the moniker Unholy Cadaver. The group, led by guitarists John Cobbett and Mike Scalzi, reached a career apex in 2006 with album three, The Locust Years. Scalzi departed shortly thereafter to focus on his other band, Slough Feg (of which Cobbett is also a part). With his co-conspirator gone, Cobbett recruited Dirty Power’s Patrick Goodwin on male vocals and Secret Chiefs 3’s Jesse Quattro on female vocals, resulting in a most unique sonic approach to traditional metal. Fields and Church of Broken Glass are two separate records packaged as one, as Cobbett realizes his dream of the conceptual double album.

Each volume can stand on its own, and Church of Broken Glass is the more ‘metal’ of the two. Spotlighting Goodwin and Quattro’s soaring vocal interplay, “Almost (Left Without You)” (augmented later in “The Gulls”) is an organ-driven number that percolates along like a double-timed Iron Butterfly. Like a Pete Sinfield-era King Crimson epic penned by C Average, the ten-minute “Butchertown” is buoyant upon the Pink Floyd-esque organ of keyboardist Sigrid Sheie. The ballad-like title track underscores the band’s penchant for neo-classicalisms, while “Train” cranks it up a few notches with optimistic indie thrash like the Fucking Champs.

Fields takes a different path, paralleling early Yes in structure and sound. The “Fields Trilogy” is a suite of varying moods: “Agriculture” starts on a high note, while “Fields” tempers the vibe with a Time and a Word-era Yes slant. “Motorcade” wraps up the suite with more Yes worship, as Cobbett’s rich guitar tones mirror the same from Steve Howe’s Gibson hollow-body excursions in the early ’70s. Sheie is truly phenomenal on the keys: “Rats Assembly” resembles a more classical piece due to the grand piano, and “Always Looking Down” is like a hymn played on Wakeman’s church organ until the Iron Maiden-esque guitar gallop begins. And thanks to Sheie’s accomplished flute, “Too Soon” sounds like Jethro Tull with its intricately prog bridges.

Hammers of Misfortune are the odd group that adds more to the prog metal canon than simple noodlery and ostentation: insightful lyrics, hook-laden melodies, and retro instrumentation that appeals to prog fans old and new. With this ambitious double album, HoM have finally recorded their Tales from Topographic Oceans, and how they will ever top this in the future is an exciting and surely gratifying prospect.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Chris Ayers
April 18th, 2009

Comments

  1. Commented by: ceno

    Excellent review and thanks for reminding me about this album. As much as I like The Locust Years and The August Engine, I still haven’t heard Fields and Church. Gonna remedy it asap.


  2. Commented by: Chris Ayers

    Thank you for the feedback, ceno! I have had these discs in my player for two months, no joke, and I hear something new every time I listen to them. Great band!


  3. Commented by: vugelnox

    counting these together as a single entity, this was one of the top 5 albums of 2008! I’m not sure if it can top the sheer brilliance of The August Engine but it is a step up from The Locust Years, a great album in its own right!


  4. Commented by: Joe

    These guys are all class. And this John Cobbett is something else. He has been involved with Ludicra, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, and the Hammers. He sure picks his projects and musicians well. Intelligent music with a strong independent vibe. That’s all I could ask for really.


  5. Commented by: Vance

    Damn this is a good review, I admire the fact that you threw Yes a bone and gave proper recognition to old school prog. Thanks for sharing.


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