Ransom-ed Prog: Glass Hammer

Glass Hammer-Birzer Collection
Progarchist Birzer doesn’t like doing ANY thing half way–his love for GH is tangible. He also owns the t-shirt.

Feel free to call me a “Glass Hammer Junkie.”  Steve and Fred might not approve, but it is the truth.  Ever since my great friend, Amy Sturgis, introduced me to their music, days or so before LEX REX appeared in 2002, I’ve been hooked.  As you can see by the accompanying photograph, I’m pretty much a completist as well.  After all, why like anything halfway?  Besides, Glass Hammer isn’t a “half-way” kind of love.  You either love them completely, or you don’t know them.

Some reviewers have–in an almost obligatory way–compared their music to that produced during the first decade of Yes.  As Babb has joked, GH admires Jon Anderson and Yes deeply, but he’s merely acknowledging the debt in his own music, not mimicking it.  And, frankly, from my perspective, GH has much more of a “Leftoverature” feel than a Yes one.  Regardless, Babb and Schendel are artists, pure and simple, indebted and original all at once.

There is so much I could write about GH, a book really.  But, for now, let me state that there will be more much about GH at progarchy, as well as an extensive analysis and history of the band over at Carl Olson’s brilliant, Catholic World Report.  Additionally, we’ll have a long interview with GH co-founder, Steve Babb.

As many of you know, I’m not a huge fan of labels, as they tend to narrow the beauty of a thing.  If you forced me to label Glass Hammer’s music, though, I’d probably claim it as “Ransom Prog,” the kind of music Elwin Ransom would’ve written while on Malacandra.  For one (or three, really) of the things to love about GH is the “voice” of the band.  And, I don’t mean the vocalists.  There are lots of vocalists for GH, and there have been since the band’s beginning, the release of their first cd back in 1993, twenty years ago.  There quite good.  I’m especially fond of Susie Bogdanowicz.  Phew, can she sing or what?  Her rendition of Yes’s “South Side of the Sky” is simply breathtaking.  The vocal equivalent would be Dawn Upshaw singing Gorecki’s Third Symphony.  Yes, Bogdanowicz is THAT good.

The real voice of the band, however, can be found in three very different things.  Second and third, the distinctiveness of the bass and keyboards, a profound mixture of the punctuated, the soaring, and the lush.  But, first and foremost, are the lyrics.  Glass Hammer contains some of the best lyrics in rock history.  No exaggeration.  Last year, just as 2012 was winding down, I was utterly blown away by Perilous.  I even held up my “best of” because of the album.  It went from not being on my radar in October to being one of the top releases of the year by early December.   The music is, certainly, excellent.  But, the lyrics are top notch–meaningful, imagist, and philosophical.

IMGI think the lack of recognition of excellent lyric writing is one of the great faults in reviewing and assessing this third wave of prog (as our own Brian Watson labels it).  After all, look at the lyrics of Spawton, Longdon, and Tillison, the lyrics of the Tin Spirits, of Gazpacho, or Ayreon (the plot of Ayreon is also mind boggling–but this is for another post), and others.  The lyrics for GH are at this top.  They are as good as the music, and the two–lyrics and music–serve one another.  The lyrics are at once mythic and deeply moving.  Here’s just one example from Inconsolable Secret:

This is where we draw the line
And here is where we make our stand
You’ll gather all our forces here for
Here we stand on hallowed ground
And here the foe will surely fall
We’ll send his army scattering for
This is where we draw the line
And here is where we make our stand
Now sound the trumpets, form the battle line
Hold the line

Babb’s lyrics reflect those of the Beowulf poet as well as the poet of the Battle of Maldon.  Certainly, Babb is drawing upon these medieval sources, and, probably, a bit of Chesterton’ s Everlasting Man.

There’s a really nice review of the rereleased and remixed version of Glass Hammer’s masterful, Inconsolable Secret, over at http://www.progrocket.com.  Sadly, I can’t figure out who the author is, or I’d give her or him explicit credit.

One of the quintessential modern-day symphonic progressive rock bands, Glass Hammer recently re-released their 2005 album The Inconsolable Secret. The new “deluxe edition” contains all the original material from the two-disc album, as well as a third disc featuring remixes of several of the songs, two with new vocal tracks from present lead singer Jon Davison, who is currently the lead singer for Yes. Glass Hammer is led by multi-instrumentalists Steve Babb and Fred Schendel.–Progrocket.

To keep reading this excellent review, click here.

For Glass Hammer’s official website, click here.