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Hammer are quite an obscured band from the N.W.O.B.H.M explosion releasing this their debut, about half way through that golden era. The cover art might suggest occultic themes, but on the contrary the music has more akin to the anthemic rockers of Def Leppard or Tygers Of Pang Tang. This is what I like about delving into these old British metal records, most of them are good from front to back in musical quality despite the lack of accolades and recognition. Hammer are just one of many bands who could/should, have at least had a semi-break through but never did. I was very lucky to be around during this period, and many reviewers on here are probably one or two decades removed from the legendary N.W.O.B.H.M era. Most will review this album with hindsight, with the "wish I was there" sentiment but let more modern influences from a whole range of sub-genres cloud their vision when judging this. Sometimes you just had to be born in the right place and at the right time, and I remember this record getting me quite hopeful of what this band had yet to offer. Unforunately this was their only album, but even all these years on and despite what has changed, this record has not so much as dwindled. And who knows maybe releasing one album was good enough for these guys...better to burn out than to fade away right? The most fun apsect of this record is the riffs and vocals, the vocals have real swagger and the riffs have a life-affirming infectious rhythm to them.
"Try it" is chock full of bluesy/metal riffs just calling for some kind of airplay from somebody. The track actually kicks off with a solo, not too technical or over the top, but it will take you back to the days when it wasn't deemed uncool to grind your axe in the night. "Hey you" has a high synthesiser presence without failing miserably at catching up with the 80's, like a lot of bigger more exposed metal bands were becoming guilty of. It kind of reminds me of a forgotten Van Halen track. Actually now I think about it, the vocals sound very David Lee Roth, and there are a few prodigal finger-tapping segments ala the great man Eddie Van Halen himself. "Hard hitting women" speeds things up a little, reminding me a little of Di'Anno era Iron Maiden, minus most of the hard punk underbelly. But still extremely catchy for one of the faster tracks, with orgasmic solos just never letting up. I would love to explain in detail each track one by one, but with tracks this catchy it would be a crime for you not to check it out yourself. This is not just for N.W.O.B.H.M nerds like myself, anyone can appreciate this album from hardened metal heads to the completely uninitiated. Not that this album lacks bite or edge, but it is genius as it simply delivers what it sets out to do. The band do not get caught up in their own musical competence, nor do they take their eye off the ball and trip over themselves resulting in akward untimely listening. This band just wrote a great classic metal album, not much more need be said.
“…with his sword at his side and the vengeance he will never free, he rides into the dark across the line…”
With an unperturbed line-up during the Holland/Hammer name change, the five-piece climb out on a limb and throw some nails into their image, going with a Thor-born logo and an album title more suited for the corrupt antics of Bulldozer or the patchy, wanna-be scariness of Witchfynde. Within those quarters lies Hammer’s sound, and naturally it leans way more toward their countrymates in style and mindset. Nope, hell doesn’t await this eight-tracker, but it’s still a durable little lp in the vein of its older sister, Early Warning. Of course, if you happened across this act as Holland, you’d have a much better sense of your future (with) Contract With Hell.
Now I liked Early Warning quite a bit, so I could only pray they didn’t get a foot caught in a sewer grate on the way to making this lp, and while it’s a few eyelashes away from the heavy rock/metal dynamic of EW, the leap isn’t quite a parallel one. The songwriting’s still there, as is much of the porous hard rock quality that hunkered down previously in their resonance…,
…for those of you doing the sideways dance in your chairs just from hearing the words rock and metal joined in joyous matrimony, this album, along with the aforementioned Holland opus, isn’t for your indelicate ears. I understand your plight with this amalgam (though I can’t say I don’t enjoy it). It’s like ancestors you’re ashamed of and with one sweeping motion wish could be wiped from civilization’s memory. And by the thrashing rage of ’85, who the hell needs this, right? Metal did, and still does, not only to bring its galaxy-sized ego back down to earth every once in a while, but to show one can write and perform memorably catchy rockin’ metal tunes without stumbling onto it in late ’79, doing it on purpose and in full view of the enlarging metal spectrum around it, yet without reading the Revlon blotting tips on the back of the package. The recipe is parts sympathy, awareness, and tolerance, all of which make some groups – Vardis, 220volt, Santers, Praying Mantis, White Wolf, Krokus, Girlschool, Karo, Rage (UK) – truly swirl within the eddy of the genres...
…but now there’s something clean shaven about some of it, hard rock that’s been moisturized down to melodi-rock, a not-new tendency found in the professionally cushy “Satellite”, main rhythm in “Try It”, title cut, and “Hey You”, a blushing, throbbing, moderately catchy tune that from a metal standpoint displays a very Van Halen/1984-ish fade to pop. Not a pleasant sign, but the album isn’t done spinning yet.
While featured fleetingly on Early Warning, keyboards flutter, glimmer, and warp more here, floating an atmospheric crosswind of plunky Dream Theater and caressing Europe, making a play out of the gate with the tempestuous “Caution to the Wind”, a gliding tsunami of a song with a chorus so airborne it can be seen circling Saturn now. Even though “Try It” is a little light in its rhythmic stride, it does kick up some dirt while running through its chorus, meanwhile “Hard Hittin’ Woman” kicks off side two with a bit o’ propulsion and quick-time energy that helps cook the stronger sinew of “Prayer of a Soldier”.
Contract With Hell ends with an eight minute detonation of elegance, the slowly spun yet dramatic finale “Across the Line”, one of those strangely sad, epic stirrers that’s lonely in an early ‘80s Whitesnake vibe, cool keyboards coloring it a soft celestial hue while the Glenn Hughes-y vocals of Dog Wilkinson take on an equally rock-anchored Dave Coverdale naturalness - easily a fave track, on the scorched heels of “Caution to the Wind”, sturdy bookends to an album that has a few more tail feathers than its slightly more hardened predecessor.
The musicianship shines like gold – tight, professional, and technical without becoming overbearing as guitar team Henman and Nicholson weave emotively powerful solos throughout the songs (especially toward the end of “Across the Line”) and seem even more self-assured than on the Holland disc.
Despite bearing the band’s heaviest, nwobhm-flamed track and quite a grand finale, the lp falls slightly short of Early Warning. Its (comparably) excessive keyboards, while alluring in some prime spots, softens blows and fails to offer times more memorable, an idea that was widely used but didn’t always deliver (see horrid Alaska). Yep, the sandier EW wins out by a small margin, but at least the sirens of glam aren’t going off, not even in “Hey You”, but what we also don’t hear is another peep from the band as Hammer, Holland or anything else, lost in the toolbox forever.
Nicholson would saunter over to Fast Kutz, another lonesome Ebony act, along with similar elusion of success.
Chances are, you've never heard Hammer. The name of this band alone tells you what you're in for, and that's METAL folks. Not much else to say, except this is a great piece of nwobhm, a lost classic. A few songs that stick out:
Caution To The Wind - Hard-hitting, almost speed metal, great riffs and chorus, shows you what this band is about.
Hey You - This song always cheers me up, it's about how there's no reason to feel sad or depressed, because you are metal!
Hard Hittin' Woman - Great lyrics and vocal performance, also, love the riff that comes in around the middle, somewhat epic sounding, very nwobhm stuff.
All the songs are great though. This is a terrific album for any old-school metalhead. Or anyone looking to get into some older, more straightforward metal. Kind of rare to find. It's metal, it smashes into your head, and makes you proud to be a metalhead. I felt that it deserved a 95% because I couldn't think of anything wrong with it, it is what it is, and that is a pure metal classic.