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!

 

ODE TO ECHO: The Confidence of Glass Hammer

[A review of Glass Hammer, ODE TO ECHO (Sound Resources, 2014).  Please excuse any typos.  I composed this on my ipad while waiting for a very, very delayed flight at the Detroit airport.]

Image

For Glass Hammer, ODE TO ECHO means two things. First, and vitally, it’s a reference to a story of antiquity by Heroicus and dealing with the greatest of warriors, Achilles. Second, it’s a tribute to two decades of success as a band.

In every way, this album is packed with brilliance, beauty, and treats around every corner.

One of the most noticeable features of Glass Hammer’s latest, ODE TO ECHO, is its sheer diversity of styles and moods. Having four lead vocalists and three backup ones adds significantly to this, and it provides a wonderful listening experience. Over the course of eight songs, Babb and Schendel provide a journey into the fantastic and mythic. One could never find a dull moment here, even if one tried.

The second most noticeable aspect of the album is its self-assuredness. Progging since the early 1990s and rocking since the early 1980s, Babb and Schendel have every right to be confident. Creating Glass Hammer, a project that has always been self supporting, self sustaining, and impressively profitable, has proven significant not only for the history of American rock but, critically, for third-wave prog overall. These two geniuses emerged on the prog scene at the moment the genre was, almost certainly, at its nadir of popularity and influence. Through immense and never faltering talent, entrepreneurial initiative, and intense tenacity, Glass Hammer has reshaped much of the genre over the past two decades.

In almost every way, ODE TO ECHO, is a tribute and—musically—an autobiographical statement.

A third aspect of the album, and intimately connected to the second aspect, is Glass Hammer’s willingness to innovate as well as to borrow. Many reviewers have criticized the band for being too Yes-like. Babb and Schendel are nothing if not feisty, and such criticisms only fuel their desire to do whatever they want. If they want to reference Yes, they do so. If they want to reference Genesis, they do this as well. If they simply want to try something new, they do this, too! It’s endearing, frankly, contrarian, and very American. Hence, at a few points, this album references Yes from Going for the One as well as Yes from Magnification. At other points, it references Kansas (having David Ragsdale as a guest musician doesn’t hurt!). The Beatles creep in at points, too. Mostly, though, the album reveals the love Babb and Schendel bring to the art of music.

Frankly, I’m relieved Glass Hammer followed up their masterpiece, PERILOUS, with ODE TO ECHO. PERILOUS was so good and so mysterious as well as so profoundly moving that it would be most difficult for any band to follow. By moving away from a single story and embracing diversity of vocals and music styles, Babb and Schendel very successfully create a totally different kind of masterpiece.

While this is probably heresy in some circles, I find Jon Davison’s vocals fine but not glorious. I much prefer, for example, the vocals of a David Longdon, a Leah McHenry, a Sam Healy, a Jan-Henrik Ohme, or a Andy Tillison. Davison’s voice just comes across a little too fey at times. But, Susie Bogdanowicz? Be still my beating heart. She can sing, and she can sing with the absolute best of them. Indeed (and again I’m on possibly heretical ground), her version of Yes’s “South Side of the Sky” is better than the original. That she’s as gorgeous on the outside as she is in her vocals, of course, doesn’t hurt. But, once you’ve heard her vocals, you can’t imagine her as anything other than a truly beautiful person, nearly angelic.

Carl Groves and Walter Moore have much to offer as well, as do the backing vocalists.

No review of this album would be even close to complete without a reference to the actual playing. Babb and Schendel are certainly at their best. Indeed, their vast experience lends itself not to complacency but to the drive to perform better than ever. I have a feeling, these two do nothing half way. If a thing is to be done, it is to be done well. And, indeed, very, very well. I must also note the sonic excellence of the new drummer, Aaron Raulston. Sheesh, I’ve not heard anyone this good since Neil Peart and Nick D’Virgilio. Wow is all I can write. This guy will make his mark in the rock world, to be sure.

2014 has already proven to be a year every bit as good as 2012 and 2013, though we’re only in the fourth month. Whatever you do, do NOT bypass this album. ODE TO ECHO is not just great prog, it’s brilliant and shimmering Glass Hammer. Considering Glass Hammer never does anything that is not at the highest of standards, this is saying something.

The Unbreakable Glass Hammer

My copy of Lex Rex, signed by Steve Babb.
My copy of Lex Rex, signed by Steve Babb.

Ode to Echo comes out in two days.  I have yet to hear it, but I love everything Glass Hammer has done thus far.  My words and thoughts regarding one of my favorite bands at Catholic World Report.

A scratchy LP, probably on a phonograph player from the 1930s or so, begins playing and a man clears his throat. Horns and woodwinds slowly swell and unveil, coming into tune in the background, finding a place in the rotating spheres.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this evening’s performance, Babb and Schendel’s musical extravaganza, Lex Rex, a tale of the ancient world. The conductor is ready.  The actors and actresses are all assembled. So, without further ado, Lex Rex.

A gorgeous organ, something straight out of an early Genesis album, is followed by soaring Yes-like guitars. The two syncopate. Drums, voices, and bass join in. So, it begins, and the spheres rotate quickly now.

To keep reading, please go here: http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/2988/the_music_of_glass_hammer_an_appreciation.aspx

Pre-Order Glass Hammer’s ODE TO ECHO

glasshammer ode to echoJust received the following from Steve Babb the Mighty.

Pre-ordering for autographed copies of Glass Hammer’s Ode To Echo and Limited Edition T-Shirts has begun at The Glass Hammer Store. (Now accepting PayPal)

 “Ode To Echo” represents the most powerful ensemble of Glass Hammer members ever assembled on one recording.  Featuring co-founders Steve Babb and Fred Schendel joined by guitarist  Kamran Shikoh, drummer Aaron Raulston, vocalist Jon Davison and fan-favorites Carl Groves and Susie Bogdanowicz.  The fourteenth studio album by America’s top-prog group also features cameo performances by past GH members Walter Moore and Michelle Young with cameos by Randy Jackson of Zebra, Rob Reed of Magenta and David Ragsdale of Kansas. 

Artwork by Michal Xaay Loranc, mastered by Bob Katz of Digital Domain, “Ode To Echo” is a must for fans of symphonic-prog!  Reserve your autographed copy today!

A Feast for the Ears: Glass Hammer Trailer for ODE TO ECHO

The fine members of Glass Hammer have just posted a five-plus minute trailer for the forthcoming album, ODE TO ECHO.  Need a break from a long day–break here!  This is amazing and amazing and then some.  Thank you, Steve and Fred and everyone else at Glass Hammer.  This will be one of the finest releases of the year, to be sure.

PROG Magazine Celebrates the Forthcoming Glass Hammer CD

glasshammer ode to echo
Imagine taken from the PROG magazine website.

Really nice to see PROG magazine and editor Jerry Ewing giving Glass Hammer their just due!  Thank you, PROG.

Jon Davison, who also fronts Yes, has laid down vocal tracks alongside returned live singer Carl Groves and former member Susie Bogdanowicz. Guest musicians include Rob Reed of Magenta, David Ragsdale of Kansas and Randy Jackson of Zebra.

And the album marks Glass Hammer’s first-ever collaboration with an outside lyricist in the track Crowbone, penned by British historical fiction novelist Robert Low.

Babb tells Prog: “We turned a corner last year when Carl rejoined to fill in for Jon, who was touring with what we call ‘the other band.’ We knew it wasn’t a good thing to have Carl only front us on stage, but we’d always said how much we would love to have him in the studio, as well as Susie – so, back she came as well In our minds, they’d never really left.

To keep reading (and you should!), go here: http://www.progrockmag.com/news/glass-hammer-unveil-ode-to-echo/