Glass Hammer: Philosopher Kings of Prog

I’m relatively new to Glass Hammer’s music; 2012’s Perilous was the first album I heard. It’s a fine album, but it didn’t knock my socks off. So I wasn’t prepared to give their 2014 release, Ode To Echo, more than a cursory listen. Big mistake!

The release this week of Glass Hammer’s The Breaking Of The World led me to go back and give Ode To Echo another spin. Am I glad I did – in the words of our beloved editor-in-chief, “Holy Schnikees!” Ode is a shining example of how prog can be both sophisticated and fun. Even though Brad Birzer has already published an excellent review of it, I wanted to put my two cents in.

glass hammer ode to echo

Maybe it’s lead vocalist Carl Groves’ presence, but there’s real power in both the lyrics and the playing on this album. For example, take the first song, Garden of Hedon, which begins with a description of what sounds like Eden, but gradually introduces some disquieting details:

Sensory – the flies a constant choir for your ears

(In Hedon even bugs we hold dear!)

Taste, touch, see – the sky a vivid uncensored screen

Showing everyone’s deepest dreams

Sensory – as always there’s the fruit of the tree

No restrictions, everything’s free

Taste, touch, see – the Garden offers you everything

In Hedon you can always be king.

Sure, you could say this song is another warning against the temptations of the hedonistic side of the internet, along the lines of Fear Of A Blank Planet. But where Steven Wilson keeps his concerns on a relatively mundane level (the internet anesthetizes its users), Glass Hammer takes it to a whole new one:

When the end comes will we stand tall

Without any shame when we hear our name?

Misantrog is a wonderful musical offering of Trick of the Tail-era prog which paints a sympathetic portrait of a man in a hell of self-imposed isolation:

Leave me safe to be

In a place where there’s no need to see

Where the shadows are so real

And the coldness that I feel reminds me I’m alive.

Crowbone is an understated masterpiece which uses a few lines by Robert Low to impart the desperate nihilism of Viking raiders on a “black-glass sea”. They are mere “feathers on the breath of gods”, while the music progresses from a gorgeous acoustic backing to roaring, full-throated rock.

The centerpiece of Ode is I Am I , which features a dialogue between Echo and Narcissus. Echo tries to reach Narcissus, but he is too self-absorbed to even be aware of her. Susie Bogdanowicz’s vocals as Echo are flawless.

Lest the listener get a little down in the midst of all this hedonism, loneliness, and narcissism, the band resurrects the classic Monkees hit, Porpoise Song. A delightful slice of ’60s psychedelia, Glass Hammer outdo themselves in recreating that first era of prog. Their version is now the definitive one.

I could on and on; there isn’t a single weak track on Ode. It is an album of remarkable depth, both musically and lyrically. It is also a modern-day Book of Ecclesiastes – life is short, so don’t waste it in vain pursuits. It doesn’t hurt that this sobering theme is delivered with such extraordinarily good melodies.

A review of The Breaking Of The World is forthcoming, but I wanted to give Ode To Echo the praise it is due. 2014 was such a bountiful year for prog, I almost missed this one. Don’t make my mistake!

 

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