Hammers of Misfortune

The Locust Years

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Their fans inevitably whine and bitch every time San Francisco's Hammers of Misfortune keep them waiting for up to three years between albums, but most gripes are just quickly silenced when those albums finally arrive; adorned with impeccable artwork, boasting reliably stunning and unique sounding music, and topped off with lyrical imagery of the highest order. 2006's typically much anticipated The Locust Years is the third such musical opus released by the fiercely self-sufficient group, and, although it's almost surely their most challenging upon first listen, it still doesn't take too long to fall in love with its idiosyncratic blend of twin guitar wizardry, neo-classical metal orchestrations, and trademark alternating of male and female vocals. Perhaps it also helps that, thematically speaking, The Locust Years is easily the band's most grounded conceptual piece yet; boasting little of its two predecessors' Tolkien-on-crack brand of fantasy, while offering up equally stimulating allegorical possibilities closer to this mortal coil. Indeed, no amount of florid wordplay or high-end vocabulary (one is always sure to learn a few new words from a Hammers of Misfortune LP) can disguise the thinly veiled parallels to real world politics alluded to in the title track, "We are the Widows," and "Widow's Wall" -- all of which are expertly threaded with John Cobbett's rich guitar interplay. Meanwhile, on "Famine's Lamp," the contradictions of man's holy wars are impaled upon the delicate blades of Jamie Myers' angelic voice and Sigrid Sheie's heartbreaking piano figures; on the instrumental "Election Day," the latter's organ flourishes provide a lead voice no singer could have bettered; and on the spectacular "Trot out the Dead," one may simply be surprised to catch oneself singing gleefully along with Mike Scalzi on such a morbid chorus. Even powerhouse drummer Chewy is given a chance to spread out during the self-explanatory "War Anthem," where he marshals an unlikely percussive marriage between oppressive military tempos, and joyous rhythms inspired by Brazilian Olodum players. All of which mounts up to an album of mesmerizing scope and seduction (as if you couldn't tell) that is likely to keep listeners busy, looking for new clues listen after listen, and helping to ease the wait until the next Hammers of Misfortune album.

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