Hammers Of Misfortune – “Sea Of Heroes” (Stereogum Premiere)

Hammers Of Misfortune are the principal songwriting concern of San Francisco-based guitarist John Cobbett. At this point in his career, Cobbett’s probably better known for his work with the influential black metal band Ludicra and the supergroup Vhol, the latter of which features fellow members of both Ludicra and HOM. (He’s also done a stint in GWAR and recorded a number of killer albums with the trad-metal group Slough Feg.) This strikes me as a little weird, as Hammers Of Misfortune are the longest-running, the most accessible, and frankly the best band in the guy’s oeuvre.

Hammers Of Misfortune traffick in a vintage style that, despite its venerable roots, usually goes by the name “progressive metal.” In this case, “progressive metal” sounds like a point of triangulation between Iron Maiden, ’80s Metallica, ’70s Pink Floyd, and Queen’s burliest numbers. Those are weighty reference points, and most bands that draw them would crumble under the resultant comparisons. But Hammers are genuinely making music on that level — as with these forerunners, they have an uncanny ability to wrap up lofty concepts and complex compositions in painfully emotive, insanely catchy packaging. This last bit is especially unusual in the contemporary metal scene, where sophistication and accessibility often seem inversely proportional. You might even call Hammers “fun,” if Cobbett’s harmonic sensibility and beautifully elegiac lyrics weren’t so poignant.

This politically driven melancholy plays a big role in Hammers Of Misfortune’s knack for making everything old sound new again. As with its predecessor, 2011’s excellent 17th Street, the band’s upcoming sixth LP Dead Revolution revolves around the ugly consequences of San Francisco’s ongoing gentrification — “The better world you were trying to build is / Laughing in your face,” sings vocalist Joe Hutton on the album’s absolute burner of a title track, which appeared a few weeks ago. The other major driver for Hammers’ surprising freshness is the fact that Cobbett is simply one of the best songwriters working in heavy metal, and he capitalizes on his skills by working with an impeccable band. Dead Revolution brings back most of the musicians who filled out the Hammers lineup on 17th Street, including keyboardist and singer Sigrid Sheie (also of Vhol and Amber Asylum) and guitarist Leila Abdul-Rauf, who fronts the death metal act Vastum. (The biggest changeup is behind the kit, where Death Angel’s Will Carroll steps in for longtime drummer Chewy Marzolo without missing a beat.)

The tune we’re premiering today, “Sea Of Heroes,” marks Dead Revolution’s first break in momentum. It’s a tense mid-paced banger that falls after a pair of thrashier tunes — a tried-and-true pacing maneuver that the band handles with their characteristic unearthly flair. Though it’s built on a rock stomp, the song’s thrumming rhythmic pulse supports layer upon layer of twining harmony between the band’s three vocalists, keyboards, and stringed instruments, especially in its soaring bridge. The density nearly evokes classical music, but the riffs are classic, and the results are timeless. Listen.

Dead Revolution will be out 7/22 via Metal Blade.