Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sundays of Misfortune 3: The August Engine

By Andy Osborn. There are a handful of albums that are really special to me. Albums that transcend the descriptor of “great music” and represent something more meaningful. I will always remember exactly what I was doing when I first heard The August Engine.
By Andy Osborn.

Early this year Hammers of Misfortune made their discography available on Bandcamp (everything except for 2011's 17th Street). In the Sundays of Misfortune series Andy Osborn takes a look at each of the albums, continuing here with 2003's The August Engine.

Cover drawing by John Cobbett

There are a handful of albums that are really special to me. Albums that transcend the descriptor of “great music” and represent something more meaningful. I will always remember exactly what I was doing when I first heard The August Engine. Setting up a tent during a camping trip on the Olympic Peninsula, I felt like listening to something new and exciting, hoping it would strike a chord. I had just graduated from college and landed my first real job; the sun was shining, the beer flowing, and I hit play. So many chords were hit that I will never forget that moment, one of the rare occurrences where the music you’re hearing describes your thoughts and emotions better than any other medium ever could. It’s what music was meant to do: act as a translation of the human experience.

The experiences begins with the fiery “The August Engine Pt. I,” the ultimate in epic instrumental intros. Where most metal bands will throw something together with a couple synth effects half-baked orchestrations, Hammers lay the foundation for the entire sound of the album over the next five minutes. They tease out the melodies and ideas that are going to be explored en masse throughout the rest of the work. Keep in mind what you hear, because it’s coming back when you least expect it. This taste is captivating and fun with it’s buttery smooth chugging riffs and flowing tempo changes. It even ends perfectly as a transition into “Rainfall” where acoustic guitars take charge to mimic the pattern of the song’s title.

John Cobbet 2011. Photo by Taylor Keahey.

The band is playing with longer, more epic tracks than on The Bastard and they’re hitting their stride. Their cross-genre experimentation is in full effect but they never hide their love of NWOBHM in their tasty licks and dazzling vocal harmonies. Scalzi and Cobbett’s leads are world class, endlessly building atop each other to create a fucking majestic attack. The first album with Sigrid Sheie, her subtle piano is the perfect addition to this crisply produced classic. But it’s not just the individual performances that astound, it’s the effect of a perfect group of musicians firing on all cylinders from every direction that pushes The August Engine into the realm of revelation.

Sigrid Sheie 2011. Photo by Taylor Keahey.

Aforementioned patterns become more clear on “The August Engine Part II” with its entrancing second half, another block of dizzying instrumental play. “Insect” as a single track is the best representation of the album as a whole. Every singer is contributing their voice over another beautiful acoustic ballad that then explodes into a familiar chug that’s one of the most satisfying transitions in metaldom. Finally, “The Trial and the Grave” sees the two women again contributing their vocal skills on a slower track, but this one is more heavy than playful, an experiment in somber doom that provides a perfect end to a perfect album.

When I first heard it, The August Engine clicked with me in a way I still can’t adequately describe. I was at once excited, anxious, prone to reckless experimentation. And without even diving into the lyrics I knew, deep in my bones, that this is what this album represents, despite what its true intent may be. And after all these years it evokes the same flood of emotions. I long to call this a masterpiece, but that’s just too ineffective a term; one simply cannot categorize a work of art this transcendental.


Tagged with 2003, Andy Osborn, Hammers of Misfortune, progressive metal, Sundays of Misfortune, Taylor Keahey
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