Screaming for vengeance - Page 3

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

Scalzi, disinclined to divide his time between two bands, also departed, to focus his attention entirely on Slough Feg.


Today Hammers are touring with a refreshed and potent lineup, teaming Marzolo and Cobbett with bassist Ron Nichols; vocalist and second guitarist Patrick Goodwin of retro muscle rockers Dirty Power; and the musically omnivorous vocalist Jessie Quattro, who was raised on Doc Watson and the hymns and "occasional barking" of Pentecostal Christianity. Sigrid Sheie, a classically trained pianist, has been a constant on the last two records, bringing musical formality and some of the most boss Hammond B-3 and Leslie keyboards heard in rock since the '70s heyday of Deep Purple — particularly notable on "Election Day," the penultimate track on The Locust Years. The tune is a whirlwind instrumental workout that recalls such classics as Focus's "Hocus Pocus" and Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein."

The song is a joy to hear simply as rock 'n' roll and exemplifies the real musical exuberance Hammers bring to what is otherwise grim and woeful fare. The whole record leavens its bleak social commentary with what Cobbett describes as "little-kid enthusiasm" for rocking out in high style. The lyrics, while not necessarily dactylic hexameter, are still richly allusive as metalhead poetry, inviting listeners to suspend their disbelief, find their own meaning, and let the emotional sweep of the music fill in the blanks. Anything unstated by, for example, "Chastity Rides," a harmonically gorgeous paean to the Platonic ideal of politically conservative virtue, is made ever so explicit by the snarling, minor-key instrumental bridge. The same technique is also applied to great effect in "War Anthem," a stirring call to arms that blatantly steals its sentimental grandeur from "The Star-Spangled Banner" then yanks the veil aside to reveal the bald-faced rapacity of the masters of the war on terror — be they Islamofascists, Christian supremacists, or military-industrial profiteers.

From the record's opening moments, with Cobbett's guitar wailing like a thousand 9/11 banshees, to the dreadful prophecy of "Famine's Lamp" — certainly one of the great rock 'n' roll dirges — clear through to the gleaming, high-tech, satellite-guided apocalypse of the album-closing "Widow's Wall," The Locust Years appeals to me as a ferocious summation of all the shameless hypocrisy, betrayal, and avarice of the last six years. It is tremendously cathartic but not necessarily hopeful. The album's title — borrowed from Winston Churchill, who coined the phrase in reference to the declines and compromises of the 1930s and their resolution in the gas chambers and killing fields of World War II — is an embittered indictment of the flag-waving, churchgoing citizen-consumer. Good Germans all, dutifully following their leader as the abyss yawns ever wider.


No one in the band has any delusions that their underground heavy metal record is going to change the world — and not one of them seems willing to suck up to a music industry that would only turn it into focus-group approved, prechewed rage against the generic machine. Hammers is truly a Mission District group, deeply rooted in a seething community of fiercely — even dysfunctionally — independent musicians, labels, and fans with roots dating back at least 20 years.

But Hammers of Misfortune are also a band with a mission and a message — and a whole of good rockin' to come. Sheie modestly hopes for at least a European tour and enough earnings to not have to worry about covering practice-space fees — then confesses she thinks the record deserves a Grammy.

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