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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Hammers of Misfortune

The Locust Years

Review by Gary Hill

If I had to pick my favorite musical genre it would definitely be progressive rock, but heavy metal would come in a close second. I would say that Hammers of Misfortune must have similar tastes. It certainly seems like they can't decide which of these two styles they'd like to follow, so they instead just play what they want in sort of collage of the two formats. The result is just about exactly the type of music I like. That said, I'm not sure if the mix will appeal to an extremely wide range of people. Frankly the major metal heads might get lost with some of the more classical and world music styled sections. Those who are progressive rock purists will possibly be turned away by the heavy metal riffs that show up at varying points. The thing is, if both schools of thought were to give this one a chance they'd find a lot to like. They'd probably also realize that the two formats aren't really all that different. Then there might be more people who share my two musical passions. What a wonderful world that would be.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Locust Years
This one jumps right into a scorching jam that to me feels very much like a heavy metal take on Red era King Crimson. This cut is an incredibly powerful jam with a bit more prog that metal in this segment. It drops a bit later to a mellower section that feels more like Procol Harum before jumping back up to the zone it came from. After a time like this it takes on a more metallic musical presence. This introduction is a near perfect marriage of progressive rock and heavy metal sounds into an instrumental excursion. It's full of frantic changes, virtuosic riffs and everything else you expect in progressive rock. It's also quite long as intros go. As the song proper enters male and female vocals carry most of the lines in unison and this one still teeters between those two musical styles. This is a simply incredible epic adventure that is both dynamic and powerful. I even hear a little bit of The Flower Kings in this arrangement. What a way to start the disc!
We Are The Widows
A rather classical piano segment starts this off, but after that runs through for a time the band launch into a stomping metallic mode. The vocals lend a bit of a Lana Lane sort of approach here. This one is far more pure metal in the song proper, but when they drop it down to the mellower segment it feels a bit like Renaissance. The cut basically alternates between these two modes to create its drama.
Trot Out The Dead
This one comes in with a psychedelic mellow prog approach and runs through for a short time that way. Then it pounds out into some killer old school metal territory. Although this one is in many ways the most straightforward metal cut on show here, it drops to a piano based segment that again calls to mind Renaissance. It's just enough of a variant to keep it interesting.
Famine's Lamp
I love the augmented acoustic ballad approach that starts this. It has a feeling of mystery and awe, but also is full of beauty and class. The vocals come over the top of this in a very olde worlde way and the effect is to bring back more of those Renaissance leanings. This one is a slowly building balladic piece. This turns to a very twisted sounding dissonant movement later, but it's still in a sedate ballad approach. It really does a nice job of conveying a sense of doom. They move it back out to the earlier segment afterwards, though. And then it's time to rock! The last couple minutes of the song keep the same melodic concepts but turn it into a metallic jam that is fairly heavy. Overall, this one is a bit odd, but very cool.
Chastity Rides
They scream out here in metallic fury with a killer riff driven jam. The thing is, after they run through that for a time they break into an oddly timed segment that calls to mind Dream Theater a little. This doesn't stay around long, but rather gives way to the segment that preceded it to continue in an alternating pattern for a time. Then another closing type riff takes over. The cut drops to just vocals and keyboards for the verse. Again it feels a bit like Renaissance during this section. After this verse they slowly build the cut upward, but still maintain that classic progressive rock motif for the bridge. However, once the next segment of vocals enters they are accompanied by a more typical heavy metal stomp. After the next verse and chorus they move out into an instrumental progression that is based on an exceptionally meaty riff. Even here, though, keyboards add a different sort of retro approach at points. They segue back to the song proper is Zappa like progression. This is another exceptional dynamic one. A staccato segment later is another combination of progressive rock and heavy metal.
War Anthem
The most metal mode of all starts this one with a very chunky and quite tasty riff. They move through a few variants on this theme with a definite '70's bent to it. Then they drop it back to more progressive rock type movements (with a definite baroque approach) although there is still quite a bit of crunch. This alteration becomes the rule of the day on the track - the repeating pattern. If I were pressed to pick a favorite on this disc it might be this one. It's not that it's the most challenging or impressive song structure, but rather the fact that the main riff is just so meaty. Of course, the drum solo (from my point of view) doesn't help the track out. Still, I'm not a big fan of drum solos but this one is basically short segments broken up by that choice riffing.
Election Day
This comes in with a slower classic metal riff that has lots of other textures laid over the top. They break it up with a prog metal sort of progression. Then after one more iteration of the first segment this shifts gear to a metallic jam that is essentially a classical music composition played on rock instrumentation. It feels a bit like both Rush and Dream Theater. It turns later to a Deep Purple like resolution mode. After a time like that a new riff takes the piece and they seem on the verge of screaming into total metal abandon, but instead modulate into more Dream Theater sounds with some of that Deep Purple texture still remaining. This instrumental seems to be in a constant state of change and reminds me at differing points of Dream Theater's "Ytsejam" and Rush's "YYZ." There is even a full on neo-classical segment ala Malmsteen later. I actually hear a bit of Vanilla Fudge on this one, too.
Widow's Wall
A pretty piano ballad approach begins this and carries it in dramatic and mournful ways for a time. The female vocals come over the top of this and the cut begins building gradually on this motif. As this eventually becomes more and more powerful I hear some definite Procol Harum on display again, but then it stomps out into a galloping metallic romp for an instrumental progression. This then gives way to a metallic prog rock mode for the next set of vocals. Here I can make out just a touch of Pink Floyd. This one is another that just seems to keep reinventing and redefining itself. Eventually, though a triumphant sort of riff fades away and sound effects rise to end the piece and the album in a very satisfying manner. This one will keep you wanting to hit the "repeat" button. That's what a closer should do.
 
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