Well before they established themselves as one of the noughties' finer art-metal cult bands, San Francisco's Hammers of Misfortune laid the groundwork for their future endeavors under a different, even less subtle moniker: Unholy Cadaver. Founded around 1995, Unholy Cadaver produced a three-song, 26-minute demo three years later and performed quite regularly in and around its hometown until adopting the Hammers moniker in 2000, so the recordings reissued here in expanded form by the Shadow Kingdom label all date from 1996-1997. By then, Unholy Cadaver already counted future HoM members John Cobbett (guitars, vocals), Mike Scalzi (guitars, vocals), Chewy Marzolo (drums), and Janis Tanaka (bass, vocals) among its members, as well as the eccentric blend of traditional heavy metal, black metal, Celtic music, and progressive rock they'd later become renowned for. For example, Cookie Monster-style death metal vocals that never made it into the HoM architecture are cast liberally into the mix here (see multi-faceted opening epic "On this Final Night," the spectacularly appointed "Unsheathe the Sword of Blasphemy," etc.); yet the acoustic guitar focus found on The Bastard has yet to rise to prominence (though rare instances can be heard in "The Waif with Sunken Eyes" and elsewhere). Have no doubt, though, the central songwriting team of Cobbett and Scalzi was already firing on all cylinders and the musical diversity herein shows it: "F**k the Galactic Police" is all raging, quirky black metal with little room for artifice; "Speed Demon" vintage, blackened thrash in the Venom/Vulcano mold; "Skeletal Hands" tenebrous doom (there's another subgenre rarely revisited by HoM in years to come, or at least not this directly); "Kloven Septum" a complex sound collage seemingly inspired by Frank Zappa's "Return of the Son of Monster Magnet" that encapsulates howling guitar riffs, pulsing synthesizer effects, copious feedback, cryptic whispers, a drum solo, shortwave radio static, and more. And as you can tell from their titles, imaginative fantasy lyrics are also very much in place, yet without the thematic connection that would characterize all subsequent HoM LPs. Finally, there's a 14-minute opus named "Hammers of Misfortune" that boasts a typical balance of sheer metallic violence and thoughtful art metal sophistication, and covers many of the aforementioned sonic traits plus colorful B-movie dialog and operatic vocals, essentially summing up Unholy Cadaver's astoundingly broad and brash creativity. As reissues that scrape the proverbial bottom of the barrel go, this collection is of the rarest stripe — bordering on essential — and is highly recommended for open-minded heavy metal fans everywhere.