Engine Down – A Sign of Breath EP

Engine Down
A Sign of Breath EP

There’s no doubt about it. Engine Down has come a long way since their 1996 beginning and their first full-length, Under the Pretense of the Present Tense. That album showed a band at the forefront of hardcore music, blasting out with screams and driving guitars and multiple vocalists. While last year’s stellar To Bury Within the Sound was a band changed, forsaking screams for a more urgent melodicism and a focus on intricate rhythms.
Now, with three new songs recorded with J. Robbins and one remix from their second album, Engine Down show they’re still changing as a band. Gone are the multiple vocalists and spoken/shouted vocals. Instead, layers of guitars come over a very powerful, much more complex rhythm. The vocals and tone of the music still create a kind of moody urgency that the band is known for.
“Second of February” is one of the band’s best songs yet. The rhythm is all over the place as the vocals seem to hover in that area between singing and the verge of shouting. Layers of guitars provide the song’s assault. A bit looser, “In on the Kill” feels like it should be a louder song than it is. Here, the vocals keep the song in check while the guitars blast away like a toned-down Fugazi. The high-pitched, quieter vocals near the end show a band more confident in their abilities. “Your Suit” begins about as quiet as the band has ever been, slow and melodic, but when the guitars really kick in, the song packs a powerful punch. “Retone” is a remix of “Two Tone” from To Bury Within the Sound. Quieter and dreamier, it’s an interesting song, sounding more atmospheric and not quite as good as the original. But few bands take the time to re-work their own songs, and you have to admire Engine Down for trying something new.
Most of the best hardcore bands of the mid- to late-90’s have burnt out and disappeared, their members either gone or in mediocre emo bands. Yet Engine Down is still here and still maturing as a band, getting even better as their style of music changes. They may be recording their best songs ever now, and how many six-year-old bands can you say that about? Fans of the band’s amazing 2000 album will not be disappointed by this Czech release, but they may have trouble finding it. Seek it out. It’s worth it.