Screaming for vengeance - Page 2

With The Locust Years, Hammers of Misfortune lean a heavy, hobnailed boot on the tender throat of commercial rock and take protest music to a new level

Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and the Obsessed were his bread and butter, but with the emergence of Revolution Summer's early emo bands in 1986, the music became, in his words, "specious and cloying."

Taking his cue from a friend who said he'd like San Francisco, Cobbett spontaneously packed his gear and hit the road. "Within a week I was living in the Mission District," he says, "and still do."

Before too long he had fallen in with Chewy Marzolo, a drummer with the heavy and hardcore outfit Osgood Slaughter. That carried them both into the 1990s, at which point the musical chairs began in earnest. Cobbett joined the Lord Weird Slough Feg, a band packing equal parts Celtic folk mythos and old-school metal pomp. There he connected with vocalist Mike Scalzi, who would later help define Hammers' sound with a manly, operatic holler that would do Rob Halford proud.

Marzolo, meanwhile, was busily following what he calls a "one-band-to-the-next continuum" all the way to Cobbett's first incarnation of Hammers of Misfortune in 1998. Along the way he founded Poverty Records, a vital imprint that documented the Mission's explosion of grimy and creatively unfettered rock 'n' punk with a slew of 7-inch records and CDs from such essential bands as Fuckface, Lost Goat, Towel, and Hickey.

After an initial outing as Unholy Cadaver — a devil-voiced combo that congealed around San Francisco's cultish homegrown black metal scene, along with such peers as Weakling and Ludicra — Hammers' lineup was refined and completed with the addition of vocalist-bassist Janis Tanaka, late of L7 and Stone Fox. Black metal became not an end in itself but a subordinate element in a larger musical palette that came together on Hammers' full-throttle debut, The Bastard (tUMULt, 2001). Despite its acoustic flourishes, spooky harmonies, medievalist illustrations, and Joseph Campbell–inspired lyrics, it ain't no teenage Dungeons and Dragons fantasy adventure rewarding its heroes with heaps of treasure and experience points. The Bastard turns out to be an ecological revenge fantasy, in which the "trolls of wood and stone" storm the village to "slay the ones who chop and cut / Slay them in the their wooden huts." It's a wicked metaphor for the fate awaiting those mortals who dare abuse the blessings of nature.

Despite the record's subcultural acclaim from magazines such as Terrorizer and Lamentations of the Flame Princess — and the admiration heaped on its follow-up, The August Engine (Cruz del Sur Music, 2003), a hard rock parable of cliquish music-scene self-destruction — Hammers of Misfortune had chosen a road that was neither wide nor easy. What kind of metal was this anyway? True? Black? Epic? These fine points of genre fidelity may seem irrelevant to a die-hard music fan, but for labels the difference is a record they can sell or not. "I loved Hammers the first time I heard them, and it never occurred to me to question or examine their sound, which was this gloriously confusional, amazing, and intricate chunk of mind-blowing music, metal or otherwise," says Andee Connors, who put out The Bastard on his tUMULt imprint. "It might be confusing for folks who are very strict with their genre divisions."

There is only so much small labels can do, however, and Tanaka's departure to play with pop vocalist Pink was another monkey wrench. The addition of Jamie Myers on bass and vocals carried Hammers through The Locust Years' recording sessions until she too took a bow, moving to Texas to raise her first child.

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