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Sign of the Hammer? - 100%

NightOfTheRealm, May 21st, 2004

The Metal-Rules staff lists for the 2003 top picks are not even posted as I write this review, but mine list is already incorrect. Why the hell did I not rank this album higher?

THE AUGUST ENGINE is the sophomore album from San Francisco’s Hammers of Misfortune, and although the band features John Cobbett and Mike Scalzi from The Lord Weird Slough Feg, their 2000 album, THE BASTARD launched Hammers of Misfortune to the forefront as more than a mere Slough Feg side project.

It’s progressive. It’s doom. It’s NWOBHM. It’s folk. It’s thrash. However one tries to describe the sound, Hammers of Misfortune is a band that defies classification, but one would not expect anything different from a band that contains former and current members of GWAR, L7, and The Lord Weird Slough Feg.

Whereas THE BASTARD was a concept album of many short songs and interludes pieced together into a concept album, the tunes on THE AUGUST ENGINE each stand alone as monumental pieces, each sharing a small piece of a larger, but looser theme. “The August Engine (part 1)” leads off the album with a chugging instrumental. While the riffs are nice, tight, and catchy, it is the awesome melodic lead that creeps in and out throughout the song. Dream Theater and Symphony X should take notes here on how to write a progressive metal song that is simultaneously heavy, technical, and all-around solidly written. Besides being a catchy and kickass song, an instrumental that is nearly 5 minutes long is an unconventional and eye-opening way to start the album. The transition to “Rainfall” is nearly seamless as the acoustic guitar takes over following some brief piano intro. The vocals of Lorraine Rath are ethereal and beguiling, perfectly complementing the theme and music of this song. “A Room and a Riddle” (sounds like a Skyclad title, heh) is up next. Those familiar with Hammers of Misfortune and The Lord Weird Slough Feg will find this one much like the work on THE BASTARD. This one is just a solid song all the way through, and the gallop and drum on this track will please all trad. metal fans. “The August Engine (part 2)” plays upon the main riff of part 1, taking it through a variety of twists and turns. This is not, however, the same chugging song we first heard on the opener. Rather, this takes a more psychedelic/doom theme, much like a Pink Floydian composition. This is a very powerful song, and Mike Scalzi’s harsh, but clean vocals are offset by some nice backing female chorus vocals. I love the lyrics here: “Within you live my manufactured dreams/Soon, we’ll be repackaging your quaint, rebellious schemes/Within this August Engine’s power/To vindicate or to devour/As armies march and temples tower. This is among my favourite songs on the album, with lots of builds, falls, and false climaxes. “Insect” starts off in a very folky fashion with an extended acoustic piece and the soft female vocals by bassist Janis Tanaka (who, interestingly, has played in L7, Pink, and Fireball Ministry) offsetting the harsh voice of Scalzi, building into a full power metal burner to carry through the song. By far, the best song on the album is “Doomed Parade.” This absolutely brilliant tune is what Hammers of Misfortune is all about: twisting and melodic progressions, robust leads, superb songwriting, intelligent lyrics, and a full realization of the brilliant duet between Tanaka and Scalzi. Incredible! Dooming out the end of the album is “The Trial and the Grave.” This 11-minute plodding epic winds down the brilliant duet that we’ve been hearing on the past couple songs as it transitions into a simple, melancholy outro. Some listeners may find this song to be a little too weighty, but I feel that it is complete and appropriate way to tie up the ends of the album in a manner that balances the six songs preceding it.

THE AUGUST ENGINE is one of the finest pieces of epic metal that I have ever heard. Hammers of Misfortune have exceeded every expectation that I had coming into this album, and there is something on this disc for fans of all types of metal. Fans of The Lord Weird Slough Feg, US Power Metal, Folk, and NWOBHM especially will want to check this album out. Myself? I’m now moving this one up a couple notches on my Best of 2003 list to at least position #4.

(originally written for www.metal-rules.com, January, 2004)

Masterful - 97%

coldblacksun, April 22nd, 2004

what a great band. The Bay Area (California) has produced some...ummm...shall we say....notable...bands. From the Metallica of old to the Impaled of now, the area has always been a source of great metal. Now we have Hammers of Misfortune. After the exceptional (if somewhat unrealized) vision that was "The Bastard", Hammers returns with this absolute masterpiece of an album. Do not listen to this if you want to be easily pleased. Do not listen to this if you only like music with blast beats. What we have hear is thoughtful, well constructed, warm sounding (thanks to the great old-school analog recording- take that ProTools!), and plain ROCKIN' slab o'metal that runs the gamut from Megadeth style frenetic thrash riffs (Room and a Riddle) to heavy, depressing doom (Doomed Parade, Trial and the Grave) to beautiful folk-ish acoustic passages (too numerous to count). Mike Scalzi, the unique and VERY strange sounding vocalist (and point of much contention among those who hear this group), is, in my humble opinion, one of the most refreshing and amazing singers out there. His deep voice glides over the material beautifully carrying the odd vocal lines with grace, and adding an awesome power to the heavier moments. Fans of Doom, heavy, power, and thrash metal will be damn pleased with this album. One of the best of 2003, if not the last few years. Now if only they'd play LA again.

Gorgeous - 99%

ReverendMediocre, December 10th, 2003

Hammers of Misfortune, the brainchild of S.F. metal overlord John Cobbett released what was easily the greatest album of 2000 in this reviewers opinion with their progressive doom/thrash/power/folk opera The Bastard. After such a brilliant and perfectly sculpted debut it's hard to imagine how Hammers of Misfortune could follow this up. In the eyes of many casual fans when you debut yourself with a concept album, especially one of the pure quality of The Bastard, following it up will almost always lead to dissent amongst your fans. And I'm sure this has been true of The August Engine.

Recorded long ago but delayed to an absurd degree by lack of funds and a label who wanted to release a critically acclaimed but not exactly the most listener-friendly band. This is truely sophisticated, artistic progressive metal that has first listen-appeal but the real magic doesn't come out until repeated listens. While The August Engine isn't a concept album in the strictest sense of the term, it does have themes both musically and lyrically which weave in and out through many of the tracks, often hidden in the background. The lyrical thematics of The August Engine recall a gallery of woe, individual tales of people doomed to a fate not of their choosing. One thing I noticed while listening to this album is that before while Hammers kept their songs tight and concise and chiseled, on The August Engine the band is not afraid to take a song and expand it and twist it, the prog influences coming more to light.

Track by track breakdown:

1. The August Engine (Part 1) - The opener is a thrashy instrumental number which introduces us to several of the musical themes that recur throughout the rest of the album. It fades into the next track with many acoustic interludes that never seem forced or contrived.

2. Rainfall - A quiet piano-acoustic guitar song with guest vocals from Lorraine Rath, very flow-y like the subject of the song (water), this song never speeds up or gets electric but it's a good yin to the previous tracks yang.

3. A Room And A Riddle - If the previous track is water then this is fire. Easily the balls-out rocker of the bunch. Almost Slough Feg-ish in it's riffery and thunder. Mike Scalzi's rocking tenor work is in full effect here. If you are more a fan of their traditional side then this would probably be your favorite track.

4. The August Engine (Part 2) - The counterpart to Part 1 of course, this track closes out the first side of the vinyl. This is a mid-paced song that rolls along with some virulent lyrics spat out in Scalzi's throaty howl. The ending of the song was the most suprising part for me as it repeats a theme and turns it inside out and twists it into oblivion in ways they never have before. Very progressive.

5. Insect - This tracks starts of with a finger picked acoustic introduction showcasing John Cobbetts unmistakable flair for melody with dual vocals between bassist Janis Tanaka (now playing for P!nk's band) and Scalzi until it builds into a thrashing churn and more scarred chanting from Scalzi. Truely one of the most unique voices in metal. This song contains some of the more obvious musical thematics as the riff from The August Engine (Part 1) is blatently repeated. Other moments of intertwining the songs are typically much more subtle throughout the album.

6. Doomed Parade - Probably my favorite track of the album, it almost sounds as though this song was composed on an acoustic guitar and translated into a more metal context. The track is rife with gorgeous melancholy melody, Scalzi and Tanaka duet and solo alternately perfectly on this track. Some of the most painful lyrics on the record are to be heard here with Scalzi crying "The night moves like a glacier slow and cold/yet rage takes over as I see the plan unfold/so that's your game to take away/the only friend I've ever made". If this album had a single, this would probably be it.

7. The Trial And The Grave - Easily the biggest suprise of the album. This is a doom sludge dirge that creeps along at the pace of a death crawl. But in the slowness Cobbett's guitar work gets to shine more then any other track. The other highlight of the track is the vocals of Janis Tanaka who coos this tale like the crone sitting by her sunken hovel painting pictures in the air with a staff and her words. This song never fails to suprise with it's twists and turns in how Tanaka handles the vocals in such a slow song without resorting to gutterals like so many other sludge bands. The tracks ends with one of the saddest themes composed by Cobbett to date, an epic doom duel of guitarists that would threaten to destroy the realm in which this album exists.