6. Hammers of Misfortune – The Bastard
Hammers Of Misfortune's debut album, The Bastard, follows the Coen Brothers rule of good storytelling: Create a character you love, and then torture him. The titular-but-unnamed character seems like a nice guy living a peaceful life in a haunted woodland until he finds out his father, who abandoned him, rules a nearby kingdom. Revenge plots, trips to hell and faustian bargains follow.
The Hammers have gone on to make a few rock operas with more complex themes (I toyed with including The Bastard's immediate successor, The August Engine, on this list) but The Bastard's plot is as recognizably folkloric as the Celtic influences that guitarist and songwriter John Cobbett blends with his classic heavy metal. It's a surprisingly effective story with shades of Grimm's fairytales, Greek tragedy, and a slight environmentalist undertones, and feels timely even a decade after its release. The fact that the album is neatly divided into three acts and component chapters makes it an easy adaptation as well
The Hammers recorded this material with just three people playing all the parts, and that intimacy is part of its power. The story an intimate revenge drama writ large, and the band sounds like Iron Maiden as played by your friends in a sweaty basement. Imagine it as a black-box take on Sondheim's In The Woods, except with an evil axe.