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Glass Hammer


Review by Gary Hill

You can always count on quality progressive rock from Glass Hammer, so they have set the bar high leading into this album. Well, they have set a new world record as this thing easily surpasses anything that's come before from them. The field is filling up fast, but this will almost certainly make my "best of 2018" list.  If you have liked this band in the past, waste no time getting this one. If you haven't heard them, but have been curious, I can't imagine a better place to start.

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Track by Track Review
The Land of Lost Content
Piano leads the disc out of the gate. In fact, piano holds a bit more than 30 seconds of the opening number by itself. The rest of the group joins and we're out into a killer prog rock jam that feels like something that could have been lifted from 1974. There are some non-lyrical vocals, but otherwise this short introductory piece is an instrumental. It's so classic in style, too.
Roll for Initiative
A killer prog rock jam with hints of both Kansas and Yes enters here. The vocals have a rocking edge to them and the cut has some great shifts and turns. The hooks are catchy and the instrumental work is so tasty. Horns (and even some of the musical progressions) at times bring comparisons to things like early Chicago. I love the bass sound on this piece, particularly when it leads the way for a while in a couple places. As it approaches the six and a half minute mark the bass really shows off for a short time. They take it out into an almost Beatles-like section from there before working back into something more like the song proper. I love the vocal layers on this powerful section. This is a killer progressive rock number that just works so well.
Twilight of the Godz
Coming in with a mellower prelude, this drops to something that makes me think of Pink Floyd just a bit. The lead vocals on this tune are of the female variety. The cut does feel like something Roger Waters would have written for Pink Floyd in the early 1970s, but it's flavored with more trademark Glass Hammer sounds. Around the five minute mark they take this out into a dropped back, but incredibly dramatic prog jam. Some killer melodic guitar soloing comes over the top as this grows outward. This eventually makes its way to more trademark prog rock jamming that really soars.
The Past Is Past
Another killer prog rock jam opens this. Saxophone provides more of those jazzy tendencies as it drives forward. It drops after the minute and a half mark and a more stripped back, rocking, jam emerges to serve as the backdrop for the vocals. Kansas is a valid reference here again. More of a balladic prog section emerges after that for a chorus section. The keys bring some space rock tendencies to it. It twists to a dramatic rocking movement from there. This is one of the most dynamic and unusual tracks here. Yet, it's also so effective. There are killer vocal parts that bring some almost theatrical elements to the table. The instrumental work is both classic and timeless, while still bringing new twists and unexpected things. The jazz jam after the five and a half minute mark has some dramatic twists and turns. It turns to some particularly crazed territory that's among the coolest musical passages of the set before it drops away. Given some of the competition here, that says a lot. A false ending gives way to an almost creepy keyboard texture that brings it back in from there. Theatrical vocals come in over the top of that before the band launch out into a full treatment of this new concept. More jazzy elements emerge in a soaring kind of jam that ensues. This section is off-kilter in tasty way and so cool. They keep shifting and altering things as they drive it forward.
1980 Something
Acoustic guitar brings this in tentatively. It gradually works forward from there with a spoken sound bite over the top. I'm reminded a bit of Dream Theater for some reason. As the female voice joins that comparison vanishes. This runs through in this rather balladic way for the first set of vocals, but it powers up from there to an augmented version of itself. Some of the bass work on this makes me think of Chris Squire's Tormato/Drama era stuff. The whole band puts in some killer performances as this arrangement builds on its base to continue.
A Hole in the Sky
This still has plenty of progressive rock built into it, but it's a much more mainstream hard rocker than we've heard to this point. In fact, I'm reminded of a song I've always loved a bit at times on this ("Steppin' Stone" as recorded by The Monkees). It definitely has a 1960s vibe to it in some ways, but there is also an edge here that's almost heavy metal. While this is less complex and "proggy" than some of the rest, it's a strong tune and represents some great variety for the set.
The keyboard textures that open this make me think of the Alan Parsons Project's classic period. In fact, this whole instrumental feels like it would have fit well on one of their first few albums.
Melancholy Holiday
Space elements bring this into being. It builds gradually from there, and as the female vocals come over the top this becomes incredibly powerful. This is a slow moving slab of spacey prog that is actually among the strongest pieces here. The vocals truly sell it, but everything about this is just about perfect. There are more of those APP leanings here, too.
It Always Burns Sideways
Weird noisy keyboard sounds start this cut and hold it for a bit. As other instruments join this becomes one of the heaviest sections of the disc. This one is another leans toward heavy metal. Yet, it's still decidedly progressive rock oriented. It's really a powerhouse jam. It works through some variants before shifting toward more melodic a bit like a crunchier version of Kansas. This extended introduction holds the track for more than two minutes. Then it works to a melodic guitar section. They bring more of a classic progressive rock exploration built upon that bedrock. This extensive instrumental is quite a potent workout.
Blinding Light
This is such a cool jam at the start. It has a shifting this way and that vibe to it. It's very jazz oriented. In fact, I'd call it fusion. It works to a more traditional progressive rock arrangement for the vocals. It continues to drive forward and evolve from there. The jam around the two minute mark takes us in to some more killer jazz based territory. When it works back into the vocal section from there it's with a rather intensified arrangement of the earlier ones. I love how the horns augment this as it continues. There are some killer musical explorations further down the road with some real classic progressive rock elements at play.
Tangerine Meme
Atmospheric keyboards with the sound of a storm begin this. It gradually starts to move forward from there. Again Alan Parsons is a valid reference point. This continues to build in a decidedly APP way. This instrumental makes for a classic interlude section. The piece technically ends, and then a symphonic bit emerges and carries into the start of the next CD track.
Fade Away
The symphonic flourish section that ended the last piece begins this. It drops away leaving a bit of silence before a keyboard section with a distant vocal line emerges. Piano takes command after a while and a more traditional vocal arrangement takes over as it does. This has a balladic vibe to it, and the cut works on that motif, adding emotion and emphasis to it. As it works outward from there Kansas comes to mind a bit again. As the track works onward it has more of a mainstream AOR prog feeling to it. Around the four and a half minute mark (at about ten and a half minutes, this is the epic of the set), it shifts to some almost Beatles-like stuff for a short time. They take into more melodic and powered up progressive rock from there. It works through some variants and then drops to just piano. Harder edged and triumphant prog screams up from there for the next vocal section. That resolves and leads to another piano section as it approaches the eight minute mark. It builds upward again gradually from there as they continue. This section continues to intensify until it finally ends the album in a very satisfying way.
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