Glass Hammer – IF

January 01, 1970

(Arion
Records/Sound Resources)

 

www.soundresources.net

 

For almost
two decades now, Glass Hammer has pursued a classicist progressive rock sound
from the unlikely rock ‘n’ roll enclave of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Since
multi-instrumentalists Fred Schendel and Steve Babb started the band back in
1992 they’ve done it their way, recording in their own studio and releasing CDs
through their independent record label, connecting directly to listeners using
the communication possibilities of the Internet. Still, outside of the growing
legions of prog-rock fans, Glass Hammer is virtually unknown to the greater world
of music.

 

It’s
unlikely that the band’s latest, IF,
is going to change Glass Hammer’s commercial fortunes a whit, although it
should. The album’s whimsical blend of virtuoso instrumentation and poetic,
fantasia-colored lyrics make for an invigorating and exciting listening
experience. The band’s follow-up to Three
Cheers For The Broken-Hearted
, released earlier this year, IF is the light to its predecessor’s
darkness…whereas Three Cheers often
stood on the edge of Dream Theater’s prog-metal abyss peering in, IF represents a return to Glass Hammer’s
original prog-rock attitude and sound.

 

IF opens with the Yes/Gentle Giant styled amalgam
“Beyond, Within,” an eleven-minute-plus journey through the cosmos,
with psychedelic-tinged lyrics matched by a frolicsome arrangement that relies
heavily on pianos and synthesizers to create its bedrock rhythms. A little over
seven minutes into your musical sojourn, however, the song descends into
momentary blackness before emerging on the other side to Jon Davison’s lofty
vocals, sounding eerily like Jon Anderson of Yes, and a pastoral instrumental
backdrop woven by Schendel and Babb, guitarist Alan Shikoh, and drummer Randall
Williams.

 

The other
five songs on IF don’t stray far from
the benchmark set by “Beyond, Within,” with only one – “Grace
The Skies” – falling in at a radio-friendly 4 minutes, 29 seconds. While
the weeping fretwork, syncopated rhythms, vocal harmonies, and overall magical
tapestry of “Grace The Skies” would make for one of the most dynamic
broadcast experience that radio listeners have heard since the FM-dominated,
classic rock era of the 1970s, IF is
not an album constructed for easy access…you gotta want it if you’re going to
listen to this stuff. The nine-minute opus “Behold, The Zither”
offers up an odd, jarring intro that cleverly mixes guitars, synths, and echoed
distant voices leading into a wonderfully diverse tapestry of sounds and
textures. Obscure lyrics are delivered pin-perfect by Davison, while the gauzy
background is kind of like an opaque bathroom window where you can’t quite make
out anything but shadows behind it, the instruments sometimes flying into your
vision like some crazed bird attacking its own reflection…listen to the song,
you’ll get what I mean.

 

The heart
of IF, though, is the ten-minute
interstellar romp “If The Stars.” Opening with a deceptively subdued
and altogether mesmerizing instrumental into, Davison’s nonsensical chanting
appears on the horizon, and Shikoh’s elegant fretwork creeps in around the
edges. At the guitar takes flight, Williams’ drums rumble and thunder against
an entirely pastoral wall-of-sound created by washes of keyboards and
synthesizers. The song changes directions constantly, driven by instrumentation
that ranges from scraps of Spanish-styled guitar, to squalls of wiry notes, to
Sun Ra-inspired improvisational riffing. Vocals fly about as in zero-gravity,
and amidst the thick and enchanting mix you can pick out cut-and-paste
pastiches of mandolin, bass, piano, chimes, and who-knows-what. It’s a
magnificently-created and produced composition, an exhilarating ride that
perfectly defines the progressive rock aesthetic of musical freedom.

 

Lyricists
Schendel, Babb, and Davison spend a lot of time looking towards the stars with IF, the album’s half-dozen
carefully-crafted songs collectively displaying an emotional longing and a
message of hope and faith. For those with open minds and a willingness to take
the journey, IF delivers in spades,
Glass Hammer managing to walk that fine line between entertainment and art with
an album that is at once both thought-provoking and musically-challenging. Take
it from the Rev, it’s worth taking the ride…. 

 

DOWNLOAD: “Grace The Skies,” “If The
Stars,” “Beyond, Within” REV. KEITH A. GORDON

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