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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.