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John Cobbett: Guitar
Will Carroll: Drums
Sigrid Sheie: Organ, Piano, Vocals, Flute
Leila Abdul-Rauf: Guitar, Vocals
Joe Hutton: Vocals
Paul Walker: Bass
When West Coast progressive heavy metallers Hammers of Misfortune are asked what took so long to follow-up 2011's acclaimed 17th Street, principal songwriter and guitarist John Cobbett is likely to throw out a Lennon lyric, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Though he's had Hammers of Misfortune on the brain for a good five years, life is exactly what's halted Cobbett and company from marching forward on what would turn into the group's sixth full-length, Dead Revolution. One, Cobbett and keyboardist Sigrid Sheie welcomed a baby. Two, frontman Joe Hutton was sidelined after being involved in a severe motorcycle accident. And three, while Hammers of Misfortune were away, Cobbett and Sheie blazed a crusty northern sky in Vhöl, guitarist Leila Abdul-Rauf had her coffin full with death metallers Vastum, bassist Paul Walker extolled doom metal's virtues in The Worship of Silence, and drummer Will Carroll - who replaces Chewy Marzolo - was sticks up with legendary Bay Area thrashers Death Angel. Indeed, Lennon was right.
Then again, Dead Revolution was finished in 2015. It's been sitting on Hammers of Misfortune's shelf between copies of Roxy Music's For Your Pleasure and Scorpions' In Trance. Well, not literally.
"Mostly, the delay was my fault, trying to finish the cover art," admits Cobbett. "Specifically the gatefold/booklet, which is hand drawn and hand lettered (while holding a baby), took me a long time. Sorry! The front and back covers are by Robert Steven Connet, and are beautiful. I absolutely can't wait to hold the vinyl in my hands."
Hammers of Misfortune's legion of heavy metal maniacs can't wait for the vinyl either. Formed in 2000, the Fog City metallers have enjoyed the majority of their catalog - save for 2001's The Bastard and 2006's The Locust Years - on precious wax. It's Cobbett's preferred format as a fan of '70s music like The Sweet, David Bowie, and various progressive rock bands. But that's not to say the songwriting for Dead Revolution was informed by the promise of a double vinyl or timeworn groups Cobbett holds dear. In fact, Hammers of Misfortune's sixth full-length started off, more or less, like previous efforts.
"Sometimes I feel like we're too metal for the progs and too prog for the metals," the guitarist rifles before getting into his songwriting routine. "A cup of coffee, a guitar and a keyboard. The riffs come easy; lyrics, and arrangements are murder. Most of it comes down to making decisions, deciding what to cut out and what to keep. At least half of the music I write gets thrown away. Not very glamorous."
As for differences between Dead Revolution and its predecessor 17th Street, Cobbett says it's more varied, using different tones. The mainman also thinks it's a darker and heavier effort. If trends and opinions are anything to go by, it would appear Hammers of Misfortune are sliding slowly into, well, darker and heavier territory. 17th Street, by comparison, was fiercer than Fields / Church of Broken Glass. Likewise, Dead Revolution eats its forebear 17th Street for proverbial breakfast. To wit, there's no power ballad ("Summer Tears") on Hammers of Misfortune's newest.
Then again, with tracks like the awesome "Sea of Heroes", the stupendous "The Precipice", the raging "Flying Alone", and the title track's riff-organ fest, fans expecting a continuation or expansion of "Summer Tears" will be placated by a more musically active Hammers of Misfortune. That's not to say Dead Revolution is without its slow-burners. "Here Comes the Sky" pivots off a Pink Floyd axis (think "A Pillow in the Wind") - with its soft strums, careful vocal interplay, and delicate percussion - before jettisoning into traditional heavy metal motifs. Dead Revolution's no musical slouch, that's for sure.
"Of course, every song stands out to me," says Cobbett. "I've no idea how listeners will react to them. 'The Velvet Inquisition' is probably one of the most ambitious compositions we've ever recorded. I was trying some different writing methods and the results are...interesting. 'Days of '49' is an attempt to repurpose an old traditional folk song, which is new for us."
To realize Dead Revolution, Hammers of Misfortune altered the studio and studio personnel. Whereas previous efforts - going all the way back to 2001's The Bastard - were handled by engineer Justin Weis, this time around the group enlisted Nick Dumitriu (Vhöl, Ritual Chamber) to control the sound. The result is a warm, sharp sound that harkens back to productions like John Leckie's treatment of Pink Floyd's Meddle or David Hitchcock's master work in Camel's Mirage. "We recorded at Light Rail Studios in San Francisco," Cobbett reveals. "We recorded half the album before our son was born, and half after. We used no auto-tune, no digital reverb, no amp sims, no simulated keyboards, practically no plug-ins. It's pretty raw."
If there's anything Cobbett is coy about, it's the lyrics to Dead Revolution. As with 17th Street - an album about "loss and endings" - so too Hammers of Misfortune's latest, lyrically it's very personal. "As usual, I'm reluctant to talk about it," says the six-stringer. "It has a lot to do with what's been going on around me where I live, which just so happens to be going on seemingly everywhere. I live in San Francisco's Mission District, and have for over two decades. A little research into what's been going on here would explain a lot to the curious."
What Cobbett and the rest of Hammers of Misfortune are excited about - besides the long-awaited release of Dead Revolution - is getting out there and playing the new songs live. And maybe writing a new song or two. "Playing some gigs and eventually writing some more songs," settles Cobbett. "I'm hoping we get to play some festivals this time. That would be excellent!"