The new album from San Francisco’s Hammers of Misfortune is not just a fine listen it goes even deeper to give a full experience that lights up the senses. The sounds within 17th Street coax, caress, and pleasure the ears as it unveils its melodic and creative glory to stimulate and bring forth powerful imagery and emotions, at times you can almost taste the world and atmosphere the band conjure with their skilled songwriting and stirring sounds such is the quality contained within the release. The album wraps itself around the listener bringing them into its heartfelt premise, the songs within dealing with loss and endings. John Cobbett the guitarist and producer of the band expanded further when commenting “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”.
The album sees the new line-up of the band with guitarist and vocalist Leila Abdul-Rauf (Saros, Vastum, Amber Asylum) and vocalist Joe Hutton (The Worship of Silence) joining band founders Cobbett and drummer Chewy Marzolo, plus long standing members Max Barnett on bass and Sigrid Sheie who adds organ, piano, vocals and flute. It has to be said that listening to the album one envisages a larger band, the songs they produce having an almost orchestral feel at times and always creating a big and expansive sound. 17th Street is not easy musically to pin down, the blends of NWOBHM, progressive, thrash, black metal and folk rock all spices in a sound that swings from hard rock through to a rock opera feel but without all the indulgence and over blown grandeur. It is wonderfully varied, rounded and most of all it is uniquely Hammers of Misfortune, though there are many bands and flavours recognisable within the songs it is all distinctively the Californians.
Formed in the late nineties as Unholy Cadaver it was with their 2001 album The Bastard that the band changed its name to Hammers of Misfortune. The new release is their fifth album and comes via Metal Blade Records, and evidence that the new line-up has brought more vitality to the band’s sound that is rewarding for all. The musicianship is impeccable and the ideas and their realisation impressive and completely engaging. From the opening ‘317’,which feels like an introduction to the joys ahead rather than a self contained song, the album is ablaze with light and dark alongside hope and shadows all encapsulated in striking and energising sounds.
The title track pounces next with teasing keys, taunting riffs and invigorating harmonies. The vocals of Leila Abdul-Rauf backing and combining with the great voice and delivery of Joe Hutton bring a melodic sweep to the music that it is very easy to become infatuated with. The song swoops and sways in mesmeric fashion bringing highs tinged with more ominous taints peeping from within. A stunning song equalled easily on 17th Street by the likes of ‘The Day The City Died’ a song that is large, bristling, and verging on bitter, the grand and robust riffing and rousing keys of the ramped up and brilliant ‘Romance Valley’, and ‘Summer Tears’ with its Queen and Phantom of The Opera tinged power ballad flow.
It is ‘Grey Wednesday’ though that takes top honours on the album. With more than a touch of Rush driven with insistent riffs, shining melodies, and intense rich expression the song is a beacon, its power and light drawing one into its heart to feel and breathe the varied tones and shadows.
17th Street is a masterpiece and masterclass of stunning creativity and emotive delivery, a glorious source of heartening and disconcerting themes, words, and sounds. There are obvious touches of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden as well as those already mentioned and more, but all is mere whispers and the music wholly unique to Hammers of Misfortune. The simple fact is 17th Street is one of the most invigorating and impressive albums this year.