Hammers of Misfortune's first effort, 2000's The Bastard, was a concept album as bold in its strangeness as it was impeccable in its execution, so much so that even when the music didn't always stand up under scrutiny, one was still guaranteed to be thoroughly entertained by the overall end result. Such is also oddly the case -- after reversing the success rates of music and words -- with its 2001 follow-up, The August Engine, whose stunning black and silver artwork scheme alone leads to heightened expectations, which its actual contents can only partly satisfy. A clear-cut case of two halves, the first is inaugurated in pounding metal fashion by an instrumental overture positively teeming with incredible riffs and unexpected twists; segues into a gentle amalgam of acoustic guitar, stark piano, and the crystalline vocals from guest Lorraine Rath called "Rainfall"; resumes thrashing intensity with the cryptic "A Room and a Riddle"; and finally concludes via the title track's frankly dazzling, nearly nine-minute display of labyrinthine rhythm and lead guitar work. So far, so good, as the above come complemented by Hammers of Misfortune's typically imaginative and evocative lyrics, detailing a dreamlike voyage to parallel dimensions marked by visions at once medieval and industrial in nature, and leaving one riveted for what the album's second half might reveal. Unfortunately, the wheels start coming off the wagon instead, as ensuing numbers "Insect" and "Doomed Parade," while only slightly inferior to their predecessors in terms of musical daring, are marred by lyrics which, reliably poetic or not, quickly move from challenging to impenetrable. By the time the album heads toward a confusing and less than convincing finale with the needlessly protracted doom stylings of "The Trial and the Grave," the plot is utterly lost, and one can only wonder if the final product wasn't perhaps rushed by imminent personnel changes on the horizon -- bassist and vocalist Janis Tanaka being given her marching papers. Whatever the cause, the meticulously thought-out story line of their debut remains unchallenged while The August Engine's instrumental portions arguably show a general improvement, indicating at best a draw. Having said all that, however, the fact remains that Hammers of Misfortune's records are still quirky and original enough to merit the attention of open-minded metal fans.
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia