(All Album Reviews by Dragonflame713)
Glass Hammer has taken their listeners on many amazing journeys throughout their career. Drawing inspiration from the golden age of progressive rock, they have taken us to Middle Earth, we listened as someone built a Chronometree, and were at the side of the Roman centurion at Golgotha as well as many other magical adventures. Each album had it’s own personality, and it’s own sound to go with it. Lex Rex the previous album was in my opinion their magnum opus, spinning the tale of the Roman centurion at the foot of the cross at the crucifixtion of Christ and presented it as a play, wrapped in glorious music and atmosphere!
Now it’s 2004, and the follow up to this masterpiece is called Shadowlands. This time around, each song has it’s own personality. The first thing that hits the listener immediately is the sound quality of the album. Everything is full bodied and clear, and considering the grand multitextured arrangements of Glass Hammer’s music this is a huge plus. They have never sounded better than this! Every last instrument and voice is perfectly audible, and makes this listening experience a pure joy!
Musically this album is kind of in the vein of Lex Rex. With Glass Hammer, you know you can count on the sounds that proggers know and love such as the Hammond organ, the mellotron, and the synthesizer. The first track “So Close, So Far” immediately gets to work serving up a hefty batch of this, under the acoustic guitar. For the first time listener, this track is an excellent example of what this band is all about! The unique multi vocalist attack of Glass Hammer works to perfection on this album, and Flo Paris turns in an excellent performance in her lead vocal section of the song.
“Run Lisette” is destined to be a fan favorite, and not to mention a prog classic. Quite simply, one of the best songs they have ever written! Despite this album not being a concept album, as past albums have, they haven’t abandoned their storytelling prowess one single bit! This is the first track on the album, which utilizes the pipe organ they recorded at the First United Methodist Church in Waynesville, North Carolina. The song’s first section features this over a really nice bouncy rhythm. The Adonia String Trio utilized on this album, comes into play midway through the song and the section takes on a sort of a Kansas feel. The story of this song deals with a horse, and quite an evil horse at that! A horse that gores its victims and it is set in France in the 1800’s.
The following track is “Farewell To Shadowlands”, and features some incredible keyboard work and textures from the progressive dynamic duo of Fred Schendel and Steve Babb. Some slide guitar in here as well, and the song has a really intricate arrangement (and the beloved pipe organ makes an appearance here as well!). Lyrically the song is very positive, with a spiritual overtone dealing with walking in darkness and shadows and by sending up a prayer being able to step out from the shadows and being lifted on high…
“Longer” is a song originally done by Dan Fogelberg, but in Babb and Schendel’s hands, the song gets a serious progging up! Musically it almost has the atmosphere of Nursery Cryme era Genesis. Yes progged up “America”, so why not GH prog up a Dan Fogelberg song!
The closer on this album of what I like to think of as “epic symphonic progressive rock”, is a real epic clocking in at 20:27 and is called “Behind The Great Beyond”. The string trio and the piano begin this song dealing with asking oneself questions and the Still Small Voice within. This track flows beautifully throughout and features some excellent guitar and keyboard arrangements and textures. The string trio also makes another apperence here as well. A grand and majestic way to close yet another fantastic album by this band.
The album’s beautiful artwork is the finishing touch, and here we see the horse Lisette with wings and running through fire. On the tray image, we see a side of the horses’ head, with a horn like that of a unicorn.
With the classic sounds of the golden age of prog, beautiful arrangements, and the ability to take the listener on a fantastic musical voyage again and again, 2004 kicks off with a true winner! Say farewell to the shadowlands and step into the magical worlds Babb and Schendel create for the fans of progressive rock!
(All Album Reviews by Jonathan Pine)
This is the 8th release of Glass Hammer and my first experience with the band’s music. The first but not the last. Having been enchanted by Shadowlands I am going to discover the remaining 7 albums too... Rarely can a CD seize my soul like this one. Perhaps it is the excellent musicianship or the wealth of harmony vocals (Walter Moore, Fred Schendel, Steve Babb, Susie Bogdanowicz, Sarah Snyder, Flo Paris and Bethany Warren) or the performance of the Adonia String Trio (Rebecca James - violin, Susan Hawkins - viola and Rachel Hackenburger – cello) or the stunningly majestic sound of pipe organ of the First United Methodist Church of Waynesville, North Carolina? I do not know. All I know is that I can't refrain from playing this album over and over again. Listening to it everyday each time I find out new nuances. A great advantage of this record is also perfect production preserving its delightful musical atmosphere and making all instruments and vocal lines extremely clear.
Let’s take a quick look at the 5 great compositions on this release.
The opening ”So Close, So Far” is very well balanced between superb instrumental passages (revealing influence of Yes) and classy vocal performance of the singers. The mood here reminds me of King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King” – this comparison is caused by the work of the drums department.
”Run Lisette” slightly reminds me of Emerson, Lake and Palmer in their best years, containing a huge amount of great music. The pipe organ soundscapes play the vital part in this track. Experience and sheer beauty come through lots of harmony vocals while melodic keyboard work complete the atmosphere perfectly.
The next song is “Farewell to Shadowlands” which features the excellent performance of Susie Bogdanowicz. She is one of those few vocalists who sings with all her heart and soul. I must add that during this song the musicians do not rest on their laurels.
The fourth track which is the inventive adaptation of Dan Fogelberg’s ”Longer” has redefined my opinion on covers of rock classics (I had never been fond of them !).
Finally, there's the over 20-minute progressive marathon called ”Behind The Great Beyond,” beginning with innocent piano and string intro. Apart from spectacular Adonia Trio performance, a wide range of instruments is played in this epic: piano, classical guitar, electric guitar, keyboards, pipe organ and… MELLOTRON. The result is just breath taking… Lyrically, the closer focuses on the big question concerning the sense of our lives. The dilemma of man torn apart between being and nothingness, described once by Poscal*: “We burn with the desire to find solid ground and an ultimate sure foundation whereon to build a tower reaching to the Infinite. But our whole groundwork cracks, and the earth opens to abysses.” Avoiding any form of dogmatism, Glass Hammer leave the question unanswered:
Who needs an answer
Who needs the pressure
Blinders are better
Silence is safer
Deafness can’t hurt you
Nothing can touch you ….
They do not know where the path ends, being sure that it leads somewhere…
There are also other interesting lyrics on Shadowlands, perhaps the most original “Run Lisette” (I don’t want to be repetitive, however, please see the lyrics’ description in the review of Dragonflame 713).
Overall, not only is Shadowlands one of the most important releases of 2004 but it is also a very strong candidate for the album of the year. Needless to add: Highly recommendable for All Progressive Rock Admirers.
*Blaise Pascal (1623-1662): French mathematician, physicist, religious philosopher, precursor of the modern theory of probabilities, and master of prose. His religious doctrine taught the experience of God through the heart rather than through reason.
While not as good as Lex rex, the latest Glasshammer is quite a fine piece of work. The 5 pieces herein are put together with finesse and grace and the vocal parts (though sparse) are brilliant...but for me it’s the music that shines. The many layers and the complexity are well thought out (and written) and the keyboard work of Schendel (and Babb) is excellent...as are the guitars of Schendel. I can hear hints of Echolyn/
Yes/ Kansas and if you can imagine, a soft version of Magellan!?? But overall this is Glass Hammer...and I really think that these fabulous guys are much underrated in the progcommunion.
The vocal duties (yes there are some) are shared by Schendel and Babb with the addition of the wonderful vocal trimmings of Walther Moore & Susie Bogdanovitz....great stuff! So...5 tracks which all clock in at 7 minutes plus. The epic track "Behind the great beyond" reaches 20:26 min.!!
So..dear proggers, this has it all; great songs, great compositions, plenty of keyboards, great guitars and add to that viola, cello, steel guitar, pipe organ, violin and taurus pedals. This outing is very much worth your hard earned money...actually I think it’s a MUST in every prog freaks collection!! So...go get it....and be sure to listen to other Glass Hammer albums. They have something in common....brilliant stuff!! Oh, and by the way - nice cover art!!!
(All Album Reviews by 3LockBox)
I want very badly to like this band, being from the same state as they're from (Tennessee). I've had this CD for well over two years now, but I just can't settle in with this band. I've never been bowled over by anything they've done. I am a prog fan of both old school and neo-prog, but this album sits on the fence twix the two. The writing is OK; the singing is understated. The musicianship, while competent, is pedestrian. If the band is perhaps passionate about what they're doing, then it’s a very restrained passion, without any edge, or any bite. People compare them to Yes; well maybe some of Yes' later albums (you know...Yes is in their 50s & 60s), but early Yes had bite! Some have said its because they're just not a bunch of show-offs. To hell with that, this is prog! And the type of prog they're attempting to play is symphonic prog...cut loose! The church organ was a great idea, ala Going For The One, but once again, the execution is just too pedestrian.
Just way too polite for me. I'm sure they're just the nicest of people. But the execution here is just too church social, and I want to hear prog rock. The way they play reminds me of the backing band for Name That Tune; I wonder if any of these guys performed with or sang with, Up With People?
Hey, if you're going to cover a well known pop song like Dan Fogelberg's “Longer”, the way YES covered Paul Simon's “America”, then you need to "hit it outta the park", the way YES did. GH didn't; it wasn't even a double. Just another example of milk toast execution. I could only recommend this to someone who might be looking for prog lite.