HardReviews 3
by Martin Popoff

Black 'n Blue - Black 'n Blue, Without Love, Nasty Nasty, In Heat
(Majestic Rock)

The four record Black 'n Blue catalogue gets the reissue treatment courtesy of small British label Majestic. There are no bonus tracks included, but the liner notes are somewhat pumped up and the sound quality is good. Black 'n Blue were one of the hyped, big-sounding, bigshot-produced bands from the LA scene (actually they were from Portland) that, to everyone's surprise, never smashed through the middle class, despite some video foreplay early on, despite a fetching cover of Sweet's Action. Perhaps it was the fact that the band's last two albums sounded cold, forced, riddled with empty boasts (Gene Simmons produced one of them), sort of tired before their time. But the self-titled debut was a tough n' rumble treat, containing all the excitement found within the first two Def Leppard albums, all that hard-hearted melody and ambition, all that arena rock without too much fluff. Yet it's the second album that might be called a masterpiece, Without Love being the poppiest of the bunch, but pop with class. The sound is round, the choruses emotional and sweet, the playing simple and truly charming. If the budget's tight, grab the first two, which together paint the portrait of a band that was sorta too late to be dragged along by the initial blush shared between MTV and metal, and too early to capitalize on the hair metal's platinum years, roughly '89 to '91.
Rating 8, 9, 6, 6

Hammers Of Misfortune - The August Engine
(Cruz Del Sur)

A San Francisco band with a complicated web of pasts, Hammers Of Misfortune have one album (The Bastard) to their name, before recording this masterpiece of unexplored metal dementia through '01 and '02. The band's alien yet olden vibe pulls you in right from the start, The August Engine sounding like a cross between the NWOBHM and Jasonic-era Voivod, with melodies, acoustic respites and suspensions of belief right out of the curmudgeonly Animals album by Pink Floyd. Hell, throw in old school doom and accessible Death Angel to that arcane mix as well. Tracks rock hard and importantly, with a deft percentage of Nicko-frantic chaos to render them organic, live-like and unpredictable. All the vocals are slightly eccentric, and dual female and male voices are used to sumptuous effect, upon lyrics that are enigmatic like the mystical penetrations from Chris Goss. The end result is a singularly unique sound that is in effect a psychedelic version of the most golden moments from Maiden; epic yes, but completely and firmly at a high artistic level that never evokes the cheese of power metal. Entirely something new, and entirely something creatively masterful.
Rating 10

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