HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE BIOGRAPHY
With a newly-rejuvenated line-up and their signature sound intact, San Francisco’s Hammers of Misfortune have returned with 17th Street, a brash and heartfelt song cycle, blending the best elements of NWOBHM, thrash, doom metal, and American folk music while somehow sounding unlike any of these. 17th Street takes the band’s inimitable sound to a new level, creating an emotional gravity that only further accentuates the band’s formidable songwriting chops. “I can see how someone could find it an upbeat record at first glance” says John Cobbett, guitarist and producer of the band, also of underground metal legends Ludicra and Slough Feg. “If you listen carefully, you’ll find that each song has its own point of view. You might find hope, or something very different, very dark.”
On 17th Street, Cobbett’s intuitive ax work creates waves of atmosphere that bear up one spirited anthem after another, with the help of freewheeling percussion provided by the band’s only other founding member, Chewy Marzolo, as well as the haunting organ and piano of longtime member Sigrid Sheie and the chugging rhythms of bassist Max Barnett. But the new album also showcases Hammers’ two newest line-up additions, guitarist and vocalist Leila Abdul-Rauf (Saros, Vastum, Amber Asylum) and vocalist Joe Hutton (The Worship of Silence). “Leila really brought me back to writing for the electric guitar” says Cobbett. “She thinks about the guitar as a rhythm instrument, in the same way I do. And Joe… people always ask me, ‘Do the line-up changes change the way you write?’ And the answer is usually no. But with Joe, it’s yes. How could you not write for a voice like that?”
While reconfiguring the band’s line-up, Cobbett began writing 17th Street, a multi-faceted expression of loss and disillusionment the guitarist felt reverberating near and far during the time of its writing. “It’s about loss, and endings” says Cobbett. “The songs each deal with this in one way or another. It could be the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a way of life, one’s home or livelihood, or one’s innocence. It could be about any number of these things at the same time. It’s not uncommon for me to write lyrics about several different things at the same time. I feel that this makes it easier for the listener to get whatever meaning he or she needs from the song.”
The past few years have been crucial for Hammers of Misfortune, full of both great turbulence and growth. After the 2005 release of The Locust Years, an album described by Blabbermouth.net as “dexterous virtuoso metal that never forgets hooks and heart,” the band lost two pivotal members, bassist/vocalist Jamie Meyers and vocalist/guitarist Mike Scalzi, leaving Cobbett in a lurch he had to drag himself out of. “After The Locust Years, we underwent a devastating line-up change,” recalls Cobbett, “so I had to really sit down and say, ‘Yeah, I’m making this, I’m doing it again.’ Things looked pretty grim after Mike and Jaime left.” After drafting female vocalist Jesse Quattro and vocalist/guitarist Patrick Goodwin, the band simultaneously released two albums, Fields and Church of Broken Glass, which Metal Maniacs hailed as “reminiscent of those glory days in the '70s when ambitious ventures from bands like Genesis rewarded the faithful with an overload of ideas and sensations.” In early 2010, the band lost both Quattro and Goodwin, a change that was more amicable for Cobbett. “We sort of knew it was going to happen,” says the guitarist, “and it resulted in us getting Leila and Joe, who are two of the best musicians I’ve ever worked with.” After the release of Fields/Church Of Broken Glass, Hammers of Misfortune became part of the Metal Blade Records family, providing the band with an international record deal that wouldn’t hinder their ability to self-produce and oversee their unique sound on future projects.
For all the personnel changes and moments of doubt, Cobbett remains driven in his desire to push Hammers of Misfortune forward. “I’m excited to head out on tour and get our stage legs with this new line-up,” says Cobbett. “We’ve been planning our first European shows. Rehearsals have been great. Leila and I make a great team on the guitar —and we have a frontman, finally, someone who doesn’t play guitar as well, but is just a frontman. That’s a first for us. We’re planning to incorporate several songs off of the new album into our live set. This line-up feels really solid. I think we all intend to keep this band going strong for a long time.”