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Jethro Tull – Hammer on Hammer Review

With two unconvincing Nordic Rock singles under their belt, tripling down on that style was inevitable. Jethro Tull, whose latest album RökFlöte, which gears toward listeners with sickening inevitability, is hoping to steady the wooden ships that are dribbling from their Nordic roots. These are no Vikings though, although Hammer on Hammer does attempt to pillage the ears of its tranquillity and rattle the brain of those stuck listening to it. Ian Anderson and his tooting flute find themselves gathering up what they can of an imagery and theme that has not been cool since the late 1970s. That was when Jethro Tull was last pushing for powerful, challenging work. None of that comes through with Hammer on Hammer.

To its credit, Hammer on Hammer avoids the immediate reach of hard-hitting rock stylings in a track that would likely suit it. Anderson opts for a lighter flourish, some nicely worked instrumentals guide his vocal leads. An occasional, lazy bit of guitar work throughout is used more as a bridge and a break than a focus. Simple stuff that proves to be the glue that sticks it all together. Whether the White Nights noted in Anderson’s lyrics is a reference to the Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel is a double-edged sword. He has either noted great literature and failed to adapt it to his style or has found himself with a happenstance reference to an early short story from Dostoyevsky. Neither is more likely.  

Despite its brevity, the barely three-minute track makes for an acceptable listen. The best of the boring singles bunch so far. Not much flute in this one, instead reliant on electric shimmers and a guitar riff and tuning that would fit in better under a barrage of immediate, post-1990s metal. It feels isolated from the point of the song, whatever that may be. Hammer on Hammer hits out at Communism and the Cold War, obviously trying to adapt it to the modern woes of the Ukraine war. Yet Anderson misses the common ground in both his lyrics and his connectives, instead writing a Cold War song and not showcasing where it could go next. Contemporary conflict may prove mouldable for singers hoping to reflect on the important historical events of their time, but a line must be drawn between them if there is any hope of connecting them.  

Nothing here suggests a link has been struck beyond the intention of Anderson, whose Hammer on Hammer is such a hodgepodge of missing links and shaky structures that it feels a tad lucid. Safely lucid, of course. This is still, somehow, Nordic Rock. Three singles in and he has already gotten sick of the sound that torpedoed Ginnungagap. His lyrics here recount the bloody battles of Ragnarök, the mythology not adapted or pushed on, but stared at, unlovingly. Anderson is the prompt but believes himself to be the conduit for a message that should come from a straight recount of Nordic mythology. His bridge over into Cold War wounds from a reference of Leninism is a shaky and miserable one, “Vlad, the bad,” following up from a swift and brushed-off “rebuild”. Confused ramblings at best, like visiting your grandparents and asking them about more than one topical news story in a half hour.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet


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