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Hammers of Misfortune - "The August Engine" (CD)

Hammers of Misfortune - "The August Engine" CD cover image

"The August Engine" track listing:

1. The August Engine Part I (4:52)
2. Rainfall (3:11)
3. A Room and a Riddle (5:12)
4. The August Engine Part II (8:56)
5. Insect (5:19)
6. Doomed Parade (5:40)
7. The Trial and the Grave (11:12)

Reviewed by on August 2, 2010

"Heavy metal tropes never failed Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, or Iron Maiden, and they don’t fail Hammers of Misfortune on 'The August Engine' either."

Hammers of Misfortune is mostly known for being the other band for John Cobbett (Ludicra, others). Formed with a goal of quality songwriting - led by Cobbett - instead of consistent membership, the band has combined prog, doom, folk, traditional metal, and even some power and black metal over the years into a mixture that is sometimes challenging but always interesting. Metal Blade, which recently signed the band, is re-issuing Hammer of Misfortune’s four previously released full-length studio albums in anticipation of the band’s fifth full-length coming in 2011. Metal Underground will be reviewing all four albums, “The Bastard” (2001), “The August Engine” (2003), “The Locust Years” (2005) and “Fields/Church of Broken Glass” (2008), over the next few weeks in a retrospective of sorts. We recommend you take a look through all the reviews as they are posted, preferably in chronological order, as over their career Hammers of Misfortune has undergone quite a transformation, and the story is a good one.

“The August Engine” is the second full-length from Hammers of Misfortune, and is strikingly different from debut album “The Bastard.” The leadoff track, “The August Engine Part I,” is almost five minutes of Iron Maiden-style instrumental riffing and soloing with only slight hints of the folk music that much of “The Bastard” was based on. “Rainfall” takes some of those slight folk elements and expands them into a gentle croon, with quiet vocals over gentle piano notes leaving the dual guitar bombast behind. But the thrown gauntlet of a style shift has clearly hit the floor.

Much more focused than its predecessor, “The August Engine” displays the canny sense of album arrangement that “The Bastard” lacked. After “Rainfall,” Hammers of Misfortune is back at the banging, as “Room and a Riddle” has distinct hooks, recurring melodies, layered guitar solos, and all the other trappings of good ‘ole traditional style heavy metal. But the swells and recesses, like the movements on the first three tracks, rather than the move to more tradition metal alone, are what give “The August Engine” more life.

Stripped down to only seven tracks, “The August Engine” is only a couple minutes shorter than “The Bastard,” yet seems to pack much more material, as each song has heft and weight and none flit by like a dying firefly. Hammers of Misfortune has an agenda and the band pounds it out one guitar line after another. Cobbett really takes to the center here, as his lithe riffing and more understated solos drive much of the emotion that the vocals and rapidly shifting styles used to. “The August Engine Part II” is a full blown prog-metal maze, with thrash riffs melding into contemplative acoustic lullabies and back to searing solos again.

While most of the black metal elements are gone - blast beats, tremolo and short song times are all stripped away - some folk remains. The aforementioned “Rainfall” combines with the intro of “Insect” to be a set of almost 1960s-style folk ballads instead of anything related to heavy metal. “Insect,” however, does eventually morph into a heavy driving jam that would be pretty good as a soundtrack to a motorcycle ride. And aside from the wholly folk parts, Hammers of Misfortune mix in acoustic guitar here and wind instruments there under the guitar crush, probably for themselves more than anything as they avoid being another traditional metal copycat.

The musical jam in the middle of “Doomed Parade” sums it all up – Hammers of Misfortune is in no hurry. Instead of flitting from style to style, they sound comfortable with what they have created on “Doomed Parade” and repeat the theme of the song over and over, each time rocking it a bit harder. When the song moves to the acoustic bridge they dedicate fully to that section, making it tough and full of conviction, and thus setting off the following solo that much better. Heavy metal tropes never failed Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, or Iron Maiden, and they don’t fail Hammers of Misfortune on “The August Engine” either.

Highs: “Doomed Paradise” twists and turns with thrilling results.

Lows: The one real big doom element – “The Trial and the Grave” mostly drones.

Bottom line: Traditional metal with heavy touches of folk and prog makes for a fantastic listen.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)