Interview by Luisa Mercier
After listening to their latest release, Femme Metal Webzine had the chance to have a quite interesting chat with John Cobbett, mastermind of Hammers of Misfortune. He has explained us a lot about what lies behind the complex lyrical content and musical content of the record!
Hi John, first of all congratulations for your new album. I enjoyed it a lot! Unfortunately, there might be folks out there who have never heard of you before. Could you introduce yourselves to our readers?
Hello, my name is John Cobbett and our band is called Hammers Of Misfortune. We are a band from San Francisco, California, USA. We began as Unholy Cadaver in 1997 and became Hammers of Misfortune in 1999. Our first album came out in 2001. I’m glad you liked our new record!May you talk us a little bit about the concept that underlines the album?
Each song has its own concept. Some of them tell stories, some of them describe situations, some of them can be taken on several different levels at once. Many of the songs deal with common people dealing with hard times, a few of them deal with the people that created the hard times. There is a thread of lost innocence and disillusionment in the songs, but each one has its own story to tell. I was doing a lot of research about chronic unemployment, foreclosure, student debt, the credit crisis, the bailouts, bankruptcy etc. Not just the facts and allegations but the stories of real people who are going through these things, including myself and several of my friends. It’s interesting that the #ows movement (Occupy Wall Street) sprung to life right around the time this album came out. I guess I wasn’t alone in my concerns. This is a real crisis with real victims. At the same time, the lyrics could be about any situation of loss, heartbreak, resignation in the face of impossible odds, I could go on. I should reiterate that it’s not accurate to put all the lyrics under one thematic umbrella. Some are more specific, some are purposely so vague that they could describe almost any situation.
This cover artwork is quite different from the previous ones. Is it somehow related to the concept?
The photo on the cover is a long exposure shot of us standing on Bernal Heights, overlooking the Mission District of San Francisco, where 5 out of 6 of us live. It’s us in our natural environment. I guess if so many metal bands are taking pictures of themselves in the woods behind their house, we could do it too!
Since we are a female fronted music-themed webzine, would you introduce us the two female members of Hammers of Misfortune? How did you get in touch with them?
I was introduced to Sigrid Sheie at a punk show in 2002. She was originally playing bass with us (she can play almost anything). When we realized that she was a classically trained pianist, we saw the opportunity to add piano and Hammond B3 organ to our sound. I’ve always loved those instruments. It’s been quite a learning experience, writing and arranging with keyboards in a metal band. Sigrid showed up to her first rehearsal with a binder full of sheet music – she had transcribed our songs! We were quite impressed. She is now an adjunct professor of piano at University San Francisco.
Leila Abdul Rauf, along with Sigrid, also plays in a band called Amber Asylum. It was Sigrid who suggested we invite Leila to join the band. We were big fans of Leila‘s band Saros. We saw them many times and played some gigs with them, so I was already a fan of her guitar playing, and she was already part of the family, so to speak. She’s also pretty good on keyboards and a fine singer, but mainly it’s her detail-oriented, technical approach to guitar that I’m a fan of. She can also bust out a soulful guitar solo. It’s a privilege to work with both of Leila and Sigrid.
You’ve been in at least three other bands before Hammers of Misfortune, did the experience with them influence the work with HoM in any way?
Hammers has always been my number one. The other bands were much less complex, more of a release for me. Mainly because I didn’t have to write any lyrics. It was fun to just sling riffs and play the guitar. You learn something every time you go on tour or make a record, regardless of what band you’re with. Hopefully, you learn from your mistakes, especially in the studio. Making an album is a massive undertaking and the lessons learned in the studio are the ones that you bring to the next session. Those experiences and lessons definitely come into play every time you make a new album.
We haven’t had too much trouble with record labels. There’s very little money left in this business, so there’s not that much to argue about, haha! So far our dealings with Metal Blade have been very professional and fair. They stayed out of the way when we were making the album and now they have stepped up to help promote it. They’ve done a great job so far.Do you have any idea yet on what the future might bring for Hammers of Misfortune? Any thoughts on a tour or a new album?
There will be 4 shows in the Pacific Northwest US in December, then we’re playing Roadburn 2012! After that, who knows? The next album is always on my mind but it’s just forming right now. Once this new line-up gets our “stage legs”, we’ll have more chemistry as a group. I’m looking forward to that. Thanks!
John Cobbett : Twitter
Interview by Alessandra Cognetta
If you’ve never heard about them, this is a good chance to get to know more about Sabbath Assembly, a daring musical project that focuses its works on the hymns and texts of the Process Church (which we’re talking about right below). Their second album “Ye Are Gods” has just been released by Svart Recods and Ajna Offensive and we had the privilege to speak with mastermind Dave “Christian” Nuss and vocalist Jamie Myers about the new album and much, much more.
Hello and welcome to Femme Metal! It’s a pleasure to have you both here. Sabbath Assembly‘s upcoming album “Ye Are Gods” will be released in a few days, how are you and how do you feel during such an important phase?
Jamie: Terribly excited!
Dave: We are excited and grateful for the opportunity to share this music with the world.
How would you describe “Ye Are Gods” to someone who still hasn’t had the chance to listen to it?
Dave: “Ye Are Gods” presents hymns and liturgical text of the Process Church of the Final Judgment, a religious movement that began in the UK in the 1960′s. These are prayers and praise songs to the four major deities in Western religion: Christ, Satan, Lucifer and Jehovah. The album brings the listener through a cycle of spiritual death and resurrection.
There are a lot of guests on the album, with Genesis P-Orridge voicing the Sacrifist, Eyving Kang playing viola on “Declaration of Gods” and Imaad Wasif delivering a stunning performance on “We Give Our Lives”. How were these collaborations born?
Dave: The project seems to attract a wide range of occult thinkers and performers, and we welcome this opportunity to bring many voices to the recordings. Genesis came on board via Feral House Books, who supported our first album and subsequently recommended Gen to the project. Imaad was part of the very first incarnation of Sabbath Assembly and was recommended by the publisher of Timothy Wyllie’s book about the Process, to be discussed further below.
Jamie, let’s talk a bit about your involvement with the new album. What was your approach on Sabbath Assembly‘s music (previous works included), and how much did you participate in the creation process?
Jamie: When Dave first approached me about the project we had many discussions about which direction to take the new material in. He was extremely open to new ideas and graciously allowed me the room to explore the music in my own way. Especially when it came to reinterpreting the hymns from a vocal standpoint. It was important to me that I approach the melodies and harmonies with a level of creativity that satisfied me, while still maintaining the authenticity of the original hymns. Dave and I seemed to bounce ideas off of one another with a certain amount of ease and I was appreciative of the freedom to experiment with “Ye are Gods”. Nothing felt overly planned. There was good chemistry and the spontaneity just flowed.
It almost seems like you recorded the album as one whole piece, I admit I had to check a few times to see what track I was listening to. Was it in your plans to give the album this sense of, if I may say so, “unity” (integrity?), or was it a natural development of the writing process?
Dave: The album follows the structure and format of the Process’ “Sabbath Assembly” liturgy. Our task was to blend together text and hymn in such a way that a rock album was made, rather than simply a document of a Church recording. We tried this more documentarian approach at first, and the results fell flat. Our hope is that the story of the liturgy is well-conveyed through the final result of weaving prayers and hymns into and through each other. The credit for the narrative flow must go to the writers of the Mass.
What drew you towards the Process Church in the first place? How did you find out about it and why did it catch your interest to the point that you decided to base your musical production on it?
Dave: In Timothy Wyllie’s book “LOVE SEX FEAR DEATH”, there are several reproductions of sheet music in with the photos and propaganda of the Church. These immediately caught my eye, and in particular one called, “Christ and Satan Joined in Unity.” For some years I had been light-heartedly referring to myself as a ‘Christian Satanist’ — I just felt I could sympathize with both sides — and here was a hymn that was singing about this exact concept. It was a great moment of synchronicity; and thus a plan was hatched to bring these hymns into the world.
Your music is (please, correct me if I’m wrong) at present the only recorded version available of the hymns. Do you consider this a burden, a responsibility, or a pleasure, being able to spread Processean theology?
Dave: These are the only recordings of the hymns, and we do feel a great honor and responsibility in bringing them into the world. We’ve had many discussions in the arranging process about the question of authenticity. In the final analysis, Sabbath Assembly are interpreters, not historians. On the first album we printed the sheet music for two hymns in the cd booklet of the EU tour version, and on this album we print sheet music for 8 hymns, in both the LP and CD. Part of the intention behind this is to express that Sabbath Assembly does not hold any exclusive right on singing and recording this music; and others, should they feel inspired, can also participate in this movement. This is one reason we try to keep the focus of Sabbath Assembly as much as possible away from the personalities of the band; it’s the message that’s important, not the members.
The song “In The Time of Abaddon II” features words from the “Discourse of Abaddon” by Timothy I of Alexandria (Bishop of Alexandria between 378 and 384) and is the first track from “Ye Are Gods” to get a – very suggestive – music video. Why did you choose to implement part of this scroll and how is it linked to the Processean main theme of the album?
Dave: The first album has a song called “In the Time of Abaddon”, so in the wake of performing that tune we embarked on some research into the myth and story Abaddon, the Angel of Death, and discovered the “Discourse”. In terms of the album sequence, the song follows the hymn “Christ, You Bring the End”, for Abaddon is the creature you meet at your “End”; he frightens your corpse with his hideous appearance so that you willingly give your soul to God. “Abaddon II” is actually not a Processean hymn but one we wrote ourselves because we wanted a moment with a particularly dark feel, and honestly most of the Process hymns are fairly joyful. On a deeper level, the “Discourse” presents an ambiguous portrayal of Abaddon and his interaction with Jehovah that leaves the reader wondering who’s actually the “evil” one in the story. This moral complexity of what is “evil” and what is “good” also fits well with Processean ideas.
Jamie, what brought you to Sabbath Assembly? You performed with Hammers of Misfortune and Wolves in the Throne Room before joining forces with Dave, how would you describe these three phases of your career?
Jamie: I started out in music like many of my peers. I tagged along with my older sibling to a ton of metal shows and spent a lot of my youth going to DIY shows and playing in punk/hardcore bands. All the while, seeking out and listening to any interesting bit of music I could find. I would scour the dusty record bins at second hand stores for anything metal, punk, deathrock, even old country. It didn’t stop there either, I made it my mission to seek out every prog rock gem I could get my hands on. So when the offer to play bass and sing for Hammers was laid on the table I snatched it up. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play music that was influenced by some of my favorite musical genres. The level of musicianship that the members of Hammers had was unlike any other project I had been a part of. It really pushed me to better myself as a bass player and vocalist. My involvement with Wolves followed some shows that Hammers had played with them. I had a strong connection with the Weaver brothers and could tell that those guys were on the brink of something great. So when they asked me to work with them I happily obliged. In a round about way, performances with those two bands are what led to my involvement with Sabbath Assembly. Dave and I were familiar with each other’s music and had come from similar backgrounds so it wasn’t a stretch for the two of us to collaborate.
Timothy Wyllie (an original Process Church member) is featured on “Transcendence”, his voice delivering words from “Gods on War” by Process Church founder Robert DeGrimston. Why did you decide to seek him out and what where his thoughts on Sabbath Assembly?
Dave: For the album sequence we needed a moment following the apocalyptic “Abaddon” to bridge us into the redemptive tale that is the last track, “The Love of the Gods”. Timothy‘s homily about “the new beginning” that follows every death is absolutely inspiring. He has been a part of Sabbath Assembly since the beginning of the band, actually, as he and I and his book publisher, Jodi Willie, hatched the idea of the project together at a Book Expo in NYC that presented his book about the Process. Since then he has been a great support.
Have you ever received any particular or unusual critics or comments regarding your music?
Dave: We saw recently that a critic tore apart the last track on our album, “Love of the Gods” because of the positive vibes. It is important for people to know that while the Process did dress in black and preach about the Apocalypse, they also spoke with great joy of the inevitable reconciliation that awaits those who can unify good and evil in their lives — the Phoenix rising from the ashes. In some circles it’s more acceptable to sing about death, and in others it’s more acceptable to sing about life; Sabbath Assembly needs to do both.
Dave, I’ve read that playing drums and listening to rock music caused you some troubles in the past, to use an euphemism. It’s no secret that religion isn’t very fond of metal music. I’m Catholic and live in Italy, and I’d be redundant if I described the poor situation we’re in, “metal-wise”. Do you think there is a way to reach a sort of reconciliation, or maybe there’s already some form of mutual understanding and we just can’t see it (because having something to whine about is more entertaining)?
Dave: I really feel that what the Process teaches is a gateway for the future of Metal. We passed through the Satanic thrash of the 80s and the Church-burning black metal of the 90s. Karmically these steps needed to happen because of the history of the Christian Church and the repressive and destructive steps it took to control the darkness. Darkness of course can’t be controlled or repressed; it is always there, even if you can’t feel it for one moment it is waiting to resurface. So repressing is not the key as much as managing. In this regard, an explosive Satanic Weremacht may not be what the world needs today as much as a more balanced approach. I don’t mean that stylistically music needs to become as tonal and folky as Sabbath Assembly at all, I just mean that thematically bands could potentially work more with the idea of balance. While the metal scene seems to be accepting of bands like us, we can imagine that — MAYBE — in about 1000 years, the Catholic Church will begin to acknowledge the wisdom in this approach.
What can we expect from Sabbath Assembly in the future? Will you still draw inspirations from the Process Church or do you intend to explore new paths?
Dave: There are still many more hymns and texts to explore within the Process Church, so as of now the plan is to continue sharing the depths of their theology as it is revealed to us over time.
That’s it! Thank you both for taking the time to answer our questions. This is the “write whatever you want” space, so feel free to leave a message to fans and readers. We hope to see you soon on the road!
Dave & Jamie: Yes – see you on tour in Spring 2013!
Label : Metal Blade Records
Review by Luisa Mercier
The Hammers of Misfortune are the creature of John Cobbett (already with Ludicra, Unholy Cadaver, Gwar and Slough Feg). They were born in late ’90s and now are about to release their fifth full-length, “17th Street”. Defining the genre they play it is quite a challenge. Basically it is a progressive metal with a lot of influences that draw up from so many different styles. Joe Hutton delivers the main vocal performance, but also the two girls of the bands (Leila, the guitar player and Sigrid, the keyboard and flute player) offer their contribution. You can clearly hear them in the title track: they grace the song in the choruses. Overall it’s a very up-tempo song with some slight folk/country influence. “The Grain” is quite epic with an emotional chorus and perfectly fits the concept of the album about “loss and ending”. The following “Staring (The 31st Floor)” has a distinctive Nevermore feeling, reminding me of the song “Garden of Gray”. Way less gloomy is “The Day the City Died” with its sweeping keyboards who give the song a Queen-ish mood. Quite romantic the piano intro for “Summer Tears”, the only ballad of the album in which the two girls deliver the background vocals in a 70s prog rock atmosphere. “In Grey Wednesday” we are back to power/prog metal, while the closing track “Going Somewhere” is the longest on the album and in its 10 minutes embodies everything the band stands for: progressive metal, male & female vocals, heavy metal, power and a slightly doom-sludge influence. Hammers of Misfortune have crafted a very good release that will appeal a wide variety of metal listeners, given the multitude of genres featured in “17th Street”.
Rating – 80/100
- 17th Street
- The Grain
- Staring (The 31st Floor)
- The Day the City Died
- Romance Valley
- Summer Tears
- Grey Wednesday
- Going Somewhere
- Joe Hutton – Vocals
- John Cobbett – Guitars & Vocals
- Leila Abdul-Rauf – Guitars & Vocals
- Sigrid Sheie – Organ, Keyboards, Vocals & Flute
- Max Barnett – Bass
- Chewy Marzolo – Drums
Label : Metal Blade Records
Review by Tony Cannella
The fourth and final of the Hammers of Misfortune re-issues by Metal Blade is “Fields/Church of Broken Glass”, originally released in 2008. This San Francisco based band has really perfected their Avant-Garde/Progressive Metal sound, and with this album their progression continues. The organ heavy opening track, “Agriculture” gets things off to an excellent start. Right away, the organ on this track reminds me a bit of Ken Hensley’s work in early Uriah Heep. This track is a great opener and a good way to begin things. Next is “Fields”, this track features only the female lead vocals. The third track, “Motorcade” quickly became my favorite. This song features an infectious melody, a cool riff and excellent vocals. Other highlights include: the 8-minute, “Almost (Left Without You)”, the 11-minute “Butchertown” and “The Gulls”. The end result of “Fields/Church of Broken Glass” is quite a monumental opus. It has been cool to see how Hammers of Misfortune has progressed from album-to-album. The band is currently working on their debut for Metal Blade which should be out in 2011. Until then, these four re-issues will have to hold us over.
Rating – 91/100
- Rats Assembly
- Always Looking Down
- Too Soon
- Almost (Left Without You)
- The Gulls
- Church of Broken Glass
- Jesse Quattro – Vocals
- Patrick Goodwin – Guitar, Vocals
- John Cobbett – Guitar
- Sigrid Sheie – Organ, Piano, Vocals, Flute
- Ron Nichols – Bass
- Chewy Marzolo – Drums
Label : Metal Blade Records
Review by Tony Cannella
Originally released in 2006 – and re-issued in 2010 by Metal Blade – “The Locust Years” was the third album from San Francisco’s avant-garde/prog metallers Hammers of Misfortune. These series of re-issues continues to be a treat for fans that may have (sadly) missed out on these excellent releases the first time around. As with their previous two releases, Hammers of Misfortune do a great job in mixing complex and adventurous material with more straight forward metal songs. The 7-minute “The Locust Years” gets things off to a pounding metal start. “We Are the Widows” starts off with piano and the female vocals take over as the track gets heavier, but maintains a steady mid-tempo pace. “Trot out the Dead” quickly became a huge highlight for me, thanks to the tempo and mood changes to go along with the male/female vocal duo at work here. Other highlights include: “Famine’s Lamp”, “War Anthem” and “Widow’s Wall”. On their third album, Hammers of Misfortune continue with their march to excellence, and deliver a masterpiece of complex music and thoughtful, insightful lyrics.
Rating – 90/100
- The Locust Years
- We Are the Widows
- Trot Out the Dead
- Famine’s Lamp
- Chastity Rides
- War Anthem
- Election Day
- Widow’s Wall
- Church of Broken Glass (Bonus Track)
- Jamie Myers – Vocals, bass
- Mike Scalzi – Vocals, guitar
- Sigrid Sheie – Acoustic & electric piano, Hammond B3, backing vocals
- John Cobbett – Electric, lead & acoustic guitars
- Chewy Marzolo – Drums
Style switcher only on this demo version. Theme styles can be changed from Options page.
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