Hammers of Misfortune – The August Engine

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Reviewed: January 2004
Released: 2003, Cruz Del Sur Music
Rating: 5.0/5
Reviewer: Night of the Realm

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.


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Track Listing:
1. The August Engine (Part 1)
2. Rainfall
3. A Room And A Riddle
4. The August Engine (Part 2)
5. Insect
6. Doomed Parade
7. The Trial And The Grave

John Cobbett – Acoustic and Electric Guitars, Lead and Backing Vocals
Mike Scalzi – Guitars, Lead and Backing Vocals
Chewy – Drums
Jamie Myers – Bass
Sigrid Sheie – Keyboards

Janis Tanaka: Bass/vocals
Lorraine Rath: vocals on “Rainfall”
Kris Force: violin on “Rainfall”
Sitara Kapoor: cello on “Rainfall”