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Glass Hammer

The Inconsolable Secret

Review by Steve Alspach

I admired Glass Hammer's previous work, "Shadowlands" - heck, anyone who would do a prog reworking of Dan Fogelberg's "Longer" has my vote - well enough to check out their latest offering, and I'm glad I did. "The Inconsolable Secret" pretty much monopolized the CD player on a recent trip to SF over the other 5 or 6 CDs I brought, and here at home nothing's changed. "The Inconsolable Secret" is a major piece of work involving 2 CDs, one of which includes a film documentary on the making of the album, lyrics, and some of Roger Dean's artwork. (Hey, if Yes isn't gonna record anything, whaddya expect the guy to do?). Fred Schendel and Steve Babb contribute the lion's share of musicianship, and Matt Mendians handles the drums. Walter Moore and Susie Bogdanowicz round out the vocal duties. If you're a fan of 70s keyboard-based progressive, this album is a must-have.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1 - The Knights
A Maker of Crowns
After a four-minute intro, the vocals come in, and the first half of this piece sounds like early Spock's Beard, especially with the riffs used on the vocal lines that are so reminiscent of Neal Morse's melodic technique. The piece then goes into an ELP-like section with a rapid-fire solo on the Hammond B3. Schendel then gets off a tasty electric guitar solo, one of few sporadic-but-well-placed solos on the album. After the second section the song goes back to its original melody, but more deliberate with piano and Mendians' cymbal swells. A Genesis-like section follows with Schendel's soaring guitar lines and a rapid-fire arpeggio pattern reminiscent of early Tony Banks before the final verse.
The Knight of the North
The Adonia String Trio (Rebecca James, Susan Hawkins, and Rachel Hackenberger) begin this piece and the rest of the band kicks in to give the intro a Kansas-style feel. The vocals appear in a cappella fashion sounding for all the world like Chris Squire did the vocal arrangement. There is a bridge section reminiscent of some of Emerson's work on "Tarkus." The section that follows next calls for a vocalist who may have more powerful chops - given that the entire piece is a fantasy-type epic of knights, armies, arrows, warriors, and all the rest ("It's just a flesh wound"), a vocalist is needed to give the section more oomph. Anyway - the piece then goes to a place where the Hammond organ is the main rhythmic instrument a la ELP or Triumvirat. Then comes the wrap-up of the first "half" where, like early King Crimson, the mellotron deftly accompanies the melodic line. Then, of all things, a keyboard line comes in that reminded me of Gentle Giant's "shuffle boogie" in the mid-late 70s. The final movement is quite impressive with Mendians' powerful drumming and the gothic choir - singing in Latin, even - to send "The Knight of the North" to its glorious conclusion.
Disc 2 - The Lady

Steve Babb wrote what is arguably the longest poem adjoining a conceptual piece, "The Lay of Lirazel," that runs in length somewhere between "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and "John Brown's Body." (Hell, the Foreward alone is over three pages.) Influenced by the work of Tennyson and the painting of John William Waterhouse on "The Lady of Shallot," along with a nod to C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, Babb penned an epic poem that he and Fred Schendel set to music, and this concept takes the second CD of this album. Babb, to his credit, unabashedly wears his affinity for fantasy tales on his sleeve, and if you're willing to go the mile, you'll be richly rewarded.
Long and Long Ago
The first part of this is a mid-tempo rock tune that is textbook orchestral progressive rock with its Yes-like counterpoint vocals, touches of church organ, and high-register slide guitar fills. The piece then moves back a bit with a relaxed feel, then a section very much like Renaissance's neo-romantic arrangements, interspersed with some impressive fretwork from David Carter on guitar. The coda is a powerful and complex arrangement between the melody and the accompanying chordal arrangement.
The Morning She Woke
This song has distinct Yes flavors with the vocals, accompanying organ chords, and Wakeman-like synth fills. There is a brief interlude with piano and Bogdanowicz's vocals, and then the piece picks up where it left off. The ending serves as a bridge to the next piece.
Lirazel
There is a delicate, neo-Renaissance (the band or the era, take your pick) tone as Bogdanowicz, as the title woman of this piece, sings in this lament. The use of percussive sounds of tambourine and bodhran add to the feel of this.
The High Place
Glass Hammer take a step further into the ambient on "The High Place." The band deserves kudos for being able to explore softer tonalities and arrangements, and the vocals, set to Stephanie Rumpza's "elvish" lyrics (sounding a bit like Gaelic) are rich and dramatic.
Morrigan's Song:
The"olde-with-an-e" English flavor continues with recorders, harpsichord, and Bogdanowicz's vocals. There is a bit of a cockeyed ascending riff at the end, however, that was probably never heard in the madrigals of the 17th Century.
Walking Toward Doom
With a more dramatic tone, this march has some lower-register brass and Wagnerian vocals.
Mog Ruith
Back to the rock vein, "Mog Ruith" barrels along in a brisk 6/8 while the Hammond organ carries the load. Mendians' drumming is at its liveliest here.
Through A Glass Darkly
The intro has an interesting combination of flute and hammered dulcimer (or samples thereof). "Through a Glass Darkly" is a nice combination of Renaissance and some of Spock's Beard's softer work, or something from Karnataka's earlier work. Not exactly a power ballad, this hits the right level of emphasis and avoids falling into melodrama.
The Lady Waits
"The Lady Waits" is very similar to Steve Hackett's forays into classical, or is something that Ravel or Debussy may have conjured up. Towards the end, however, the track takes a darker tone and segues seamlessly into the next piece.
The Mirror Cracks
The drama continues. After what you might think will be a light piece (think the opening to Vaughn Williams' "London Symphony"), "The Mirror Cracks" quickly dives into Gothic tension, bordering on a Hammer horror film soundtrack, but at 2.11, the effect is not overdone.
Having Caught A Glimpse
After an intro section and opening vocal segment that reminds me of some of Procol Harum's heavier stuff, there is a section where the piano lays a hypnotic chordal pattern, syncopated but in 4, and the bass introduces a new theme. The drums and synths kick in, and the story reaches its happy resolution. But we still have 4.45 left, enough for a well-deserved postlude. After a soft section featuring harp and cello, Glass Hammer goes through a series of short movements before building to the inevitable climax.
 
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