HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE “The Overtaker Takeover”
By Dr. Abner Mality
If you’re in search of “The Great American Metal Band”, allow me to direct you to the HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE. In existence for over 20 years now, this band has taken inspiration from classical sources like RUSH, IRON MAIDEN, MEGADETH and likely uncounted more and weaved them into something uniquely “HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE”. Each album of this unique collective has its own sound and quirks. Their body of work is impeccably written and performed.
For a while, it didn’t look like we’d be getting anymore HAMMERS. Following their 2016 album “Dead Revolution”, things got awfully quiet and it seemed as if they had struck their last blow. It was with considerable glee that 2022 brought us an amazing new album, “Overtaker”. Not only was the drought over, but “Overtaker” might be the best HAMMERS yet. When you hear an album description like “Court of the Crimson King”-meets-”Reign In Blood”, you’re first thought is likely “yeah, right”. Well, in this case, it’s “yeah, right” indeed, as the album is jaw-dropping progressive thrash metal that doesn’t let up for a minute and throws one great idea after another at the listener.
It’s obvious that band mastermind John Cobbett is reinvigorated after moving with his family from the Bay Area to the wilds of Montana. After being blown through the wall by the power of “Overtaker”, I thought it was high time to catch up with John and HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE…
WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Greetings and welcome, John! I wondered if we would ever hear another HAMMERS album, so it was great to get “Overtaker” in my inbox. Did you always know that HAMMERS would return someday or did it seem well and truly buried for a while?
JOHN COBBETT: Thanks, hello! I wondered about that myself. For a while I just couldn’t see a way forward for HAMMERS. The logistics of operating in the customary way were just impossible, given our time and resources. Once I started thinking outside the box things started to fall into place. A few people really encouraged this decision (Sigrid, Jamie, Hunter, Jeff, Aaron) and I’m very grateful to them for doing so.
WC: Your move from the Bay Area to Montana in 2016 had to be such a major life change. I am guessing that the beautiful photos accompanying “Overtaker” were shot there. Was the move done for economic reasons, creative reasons, mental health reasons? Could “Overtaker” have been created anywhere else? How much did the location contribute to the “feel” of the album?
JC: Yes, the photos were taken in our back yard. The move to Montana was undertaken for our son. We wanted him to be able to play outside, climb trees, explore nature and all that good stuff. It certainly wasn’t for creative reasons; we had to leave all our musical infrastructure and contacts behind. Finding a way to continue creatively took a lot of creativity! Perhaps this LP could have been created anywhere except San Francisco – as long as I was tied to a traditional band line-up I’d be hindered by the usual obstacles and endless schedule conflicts. Getting away from all that necessitated the next step, which turned out to be “Overtaker”.
The question of environment is interesting. The cliche goes that once you get out into nature its all peaceful and pastoral: green fields, campfires and acoustic guitars. Not so for us. Nature is harsh and in your face up here. That being said, it’s even more pastoral and beautiful once you’re up to your knees in mud , haha. Surely this change of environment had some effect on the music, but I can’t say what or how much. I know I had to become a much more capable person all around. Perhaps that extended to building my home studio and recording all the guitars and stuff myself?
WC: Do you regard the current make-up of HAMMERS as an actual band or is it more of a fluid type of project without set boundaries?
JC: It seems pretty fluid at the moment. No one has been “fired” from the band. The door is open to anyone, past, present or future to participate if they feel so inclined. I’ll work with whomever has the talent and discipline to see a song or a project through to completion. Look at a band like KING CRIMSON: constant line-up changes and reinvention. Same for Bowie, Zappa and many others. Not to equate us with these giants, but they did what was necessary to get the music out. Hell, you could even say the same for HAMMERS to a point; I’ve practically had to rebuild the line up for every album!
WC: How easy/hard was it to reconnect with old colleagues like Mike and Jamie?
JC: It was no problem at all. We’ve all been in touch over the years. Jamie reached out to me one day and asked if I had any music underway that we could collaborate on – the rest is history! Mike and I are also friends and the idea of collaborating has never really been off the table.
WC: The addition of Blake and Frank from VEKTOR was an inspired addition. What all do these guys bring to the table? Did their contributions flow right from the start or did it take a while for them to get in the HAMMERS flow?
JC: I agree, I was stoked beyond belief when they agreed to do it! At the start it wasn’t a HAMMERS project, just throwing ideas back-n-forth. I had no active bands going at the time, so I asked myself who I’d like to work with if I could choose anyone. Blake and Frank were my first thought. Later I found out just how skilled and educated Blake is as a drummer and pianist. A great all-around musician. He and I will be working together again with any luck!
WC: It’s mentioned in the press how some of the “Overtaker” songs may have had their origin in songs meant for VHOL. I can definitely hear the speed and progression of VHOL in many of the tracks. How deeply is VHOL embedded in these songs?
JC: On VHOL’s second album “Deeper Than Sky” I found a musical direction that I really liked. I knew VHOL would never make another album, so it was never meant to be anything but further development of that style. I wanted to take the DTS sound and expand on it. Blake, Frank and I just figured we were doing a new band. Things really got interesting once Jamie came on board and we decided to christen it as HAMMERS. That opened up all the possibilities HAMMERS’ music brings: the songwriting, keyboards, vocal harmonies, and a long held dream of incorporating the Mellotron into our sound.
WC: . Speaking of that band (VHOL), I loved it! Is there any chance for a return?
JC: Thanks! But the VHOL chapter is closed, for the same logistical reasons cited above. Besides, VHOL would be redundant, as I’ve rolled all those tendencies into HAMMERS. I’d like to be done with having several imprint bands to satisfy various musical cravings. I’m going to stick with HAMMERS from now on, unless it’s something that would be really unfair to our listeners, in which case I’d do it under a different identity anyway.
WC: What are some of the prog rock influences on “Overtaker”? I would imagine some are less obvious than others.
JC: A lot. Do you want a list? CARDIACS, GENESIS ’70-’76, KING CRIMSON ’69-’74, ROXY MUSIC ’72-’74 among many others. New research included MAGMA, the aforementioned CARDIACS and some Italian stuff like BANCO DEL MUTUO SOCCORSO and PREMIATA FORNERIA MARCONI.
WC: What made you decide to go the independent release route for “Overtaker”? Was there ever any label consideration or interest?
JC: We were technically signed to Metal Blade (they had a contractual option for a third album). I let them know I was working on it and they weren’t interested. They didn’t even want to hear the demos. This was at the height of the pandemic, so I guess they were circling the wagons like everyone else. The decision to go DIY was easy. I felt we were well-positioned to pull it off. If we were a brand new band I would’ve considered a label, just to get the name out there, but for us it didn’t make sense. The only problem was finding someone to press vinyl without relinquishing our digital rights, which we have since solved.
WC: Lyrically, what’s going on on the album? I would guess there is a connection between the “Overtaker” and “Overthrower” tracks.
JC: I wrote half the lyrics on the album. The other half were written by Jamie, with Mike Scalzi contributing lyrics for “Dark Brennius”. There’s no connection between the “O” songs, just a coincidence. Jamie wrote the lyrics for “Overtaker” and I wrote the lyrics to “Overthrower”. Each song is self contained. It’s not a concept album. I guess you could say that mass psychosis – and corruption of the inner psyche – at the hands of psychologically and emotionally manipulative technology is a theme that appears in a few songs.
WC: You’ve got a great sci-fi cover from the album, with this techno-organic creature/ship. Is this critter the Overtaker? What’s the story behind the art?
JC: I approached Saprophial about the cover art and we worked together for several months back and forth. Our inspiration was the cover art for ELP’s “Tarkus”; fantastical creatures and landscapes that wrap around the front/back and inner gatefold. We wanted bio-mechanical hybrid creatures and alien landscapes. The classic LP covers by Roger Dean were a big inspiration. Saprophial took a few suggestions from me and then just proceeded to kill it. Working with this artist was a joy and I couldn’t be happier with the cover art!
WC: Any chance for any live activity for HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE?
JC: Doubtful. If someone offered to cover all the expenses, including a few weeks of rehearsal, we might consider it. How likely is that? Not very.
WC: What else is keeping you busy outside of HAMMERS these days?
JC: Parenting, gardening, raising chickens, cooking, general maintenance and running a rural household. Being a stay at home dad is a full time job! We do as much skiing and mountain biking as we can get away with. Camping, hiking, floating on the river and all that good stuff.
WC: Any band or album you’ve heard recently that you can recommend?
JC: DAEVA, WOBBLER, MEFITIS, SPIRIT POSSESSION, ATOMIC WITCH, BESIEGED, NEKROMANTHEON, CONDOR, PHANTOM SPELL, FUNERAL CHANT, STEEL BEARING HAND, CRYPTOSIS, SACRAL RAGE, HYPNOSIA, OXYGEN DESTROYER, POLEMICIST, SCHIZOPHRENIA, DEATHRAISER, TYPHUS and many more. Blake and I would sit up after Overtaker mixing sessions and listen to a lot of Zappa and crazy jazz fusion stuff. My current favorite along those lines is Bundles by SOFT MACHINE (with Alan Holdsworth!) As for Zappa, you’ll need to ask Blake about that haha!
WC: Any thought of what comes after “Overtaker”? Any ideas stored for future albums?
JC: Yes, lots of ideas floating around. Blake and I are hoping to get together for some writing sessions in the new year sometime, perhaps with Jamie and a few others. We’ll see how that works out!
WC: Last words for the faithful?
JC: Thanks everyone, for your support and for listening! I’m very excited about what the future holds. Hopefully the next transmission won’t be such a long wait this time. The glory of metal is eternal!