Silkworm drummer Michael Dahlquist’s 2005 death in a car accident was doubly tragic, destroying indie rock’s most gloriously enigmatic band, which flaunted the most complex set of down-and-out emotions since Bob Mould’s fretful Hüsker Dü days. The Chicago icons held together for nearly 20 years, actually improving their craft with time, honing down their rage into thoughtful outbursts and thusly earning a tribute album and upcoming biopic. For surviving guitarist Andy Cohen and bassist Tim Midgett, persevering in a different guise (à la New Order) was a tribute to their friend and bandmate and a mark of their dogged determination to grapple with senseless, painful loss (think of Neil’s “Tonight’s the Night”).
As such, there’s no mistaking the elegiac feel to this debut for their post-Worm quartet, Bottomless Pit. Though they don’t get pathetically morbid (liked P. Diddy did with Biggie),Hammer of the Gods almost dares you to connect the dots, its very title mirroring the biography of another band that dissolved after its drummer’s death. But the loud/soft dynamics here are now more organic than the Pixies’ ever were, and the underpinning tragedy at least helps to ground and contextualize these moving songs. Cohen’s the blunt one, immersed in the anger phase of grieving, with the ZZ Top funk workout “Dead Man’s Blues” including car-crash details and “Greenery” plumbing Joy Division goth territory and featuring his dive-bombing guitar solos. Midgett is kinder, gentler, and more accepting: His “Leave the Light On” and “Human Out of Me” serve as Hammer‘s sad, sweet core. With its familiar, plaintive vocals and angry-depressed-confused undertones, this isn’t a new beginning, but something more important: a continuation, a promise to soldier on but not forget.