(All Album Reviews by Dragonflame713)
The double album: I am not speaking of the many double live albums out there, nor do I speak of the countless anthologies or greatest hits releases out there. I speak of an epic length release, which more times than not, are an attempt by an artist to make a strong musical statement. At times it can be a sprawling self-indulgent mess and at other times, it can be the achievement of a lifetime. Strong double length musical statements that have come over the years have borne names such as The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, Tommy, and The Wall.
The career of Glass Hammer has contained a great deal of concept albums, a live album and DVD, and even a venture into medieval folk with The Middle Earth Album. Due to all of the concept albums Glass Hammer has created over the years, one would think a epic double length album would be a natural for them. At the same time creating something that goes beyond what they have already done on an epic length such as this is certainly a great challenge. A challenge that GH’s Steve Babb was certainly up for…
The story on this album is based 20,000 word poem entitled “The Lay Of Lirazel” written by Steve. A painting called “The Lady Of Shallot”, an image that Steve literally fell in love with, initially inspired this epic poem. In the text preceding the poem (the poem can be found on a PDF document included on CD1, more on the enhanced CD features later in this review) Steve asks, “What brave knight would not wish to save her?” From this inspiration, a whole world of adventure was born in Steve’s mind as his creativity went into overdrive. The music accompanying this adventure had be grand and epic as well, and Steve, keyboard wizard Fred Schendel and the rest of the NEARfest 2003 Glass Hammer lineup were more than up to the task!
As was proven on Glass Hammer’s Live At NEARfest, this particular lineup was a definitely a force to contend with. Many must have wondered in their minds how this lineup would fare recording a studio album. This album wastes no time answering this question. On disc one entitled “The Knights” (which opens with a nice piano intro, which slightly brings to mind Tony Banks “The Cinema Show”) we see the epic prog side of Glass Hammer. Fred leads the charge musically with dazzling performances on the Hammond Organ, synthesizers, and piano and beneath it all the contributions of drummer Matt Mendians are monstrous! He fills the bottom end of Glass Hammer’s sound like it never has been before, with the skill of a Mike Portnoy with an almost Bill Bruford like touch at times. During the epic arrangements, Fred, Steve and Matt take advantage of great opportunity to stretch their musical muscles and they really are cookin’ musically! While still using multiple vocalists on this album, the lion’s share of the vocals are handled by Walter Moore and Susie Bogdanowicz. The musical responsibilities of each are more clearly defined than ever on this release, and the results are a really tight and focused attack on all fronts.
CD 2 is entitled “The Lady” and much like the beautiful lady; the music contained here is simply gorgeous and exhibits the more layered and symphonic side of Glass Hammer. With “The Knights” side providing the bold and adventurous nature of a brave knight, “The Lady” provides a nice contrast. Through it all, the story is told and both music and story flow seamlessly and beautifully.
The CD’s multimedia is contained on CD 1 and includes “The Lay Of Lirazel” that I spoke of earlier in the review, as well as the complete lyrics on another PDF file, a Quicktime “The Inconsolable Sessions” video, and a Roger Dean wallpaper of the album’s beautiful artwork.
Have Glass Hammer made that strong musical statement of their career with this release? Has The Inconsolable Secret gone beyond where they have ever gone before both musically and concept wise? I would say a definite yes! In my opinion calling this “prog album of 2005” would certainly be an understatement! I feel this could well be the prog album of the decade!! Yes I feel it’s THAT good and now that certainly is no Secret!
Glass Hammer's latest offering, The Inconsolable Secret, is a 2-CD progressive rock album that eclipses their previous concept album masterpiece Lex Rex in nearly every aspect.
Musically, the sound of both Lex Rex and Shadowlands are represented and built upon exponentially, and the addition of Matt Mendians (Live at Nearfest and Lex Live) as GH's studio drummer will simply shut up the long time grumblings of fans and reviewers alike. The band experiments with styles never heard before on previous albums, and the wide range of sound benefits the overall feel of both discs and highlights Babb and Schendel's growing maturity in songwriting that comes with their eighth major release. The production work is crisp and pristine, with a balanced sound. No instrument is ever too loud for need of overpowering the others, and having heard the album on a variety of systems, it seems to play well without much tweaking.
Lyrically the album centers around a 60+ page epic poem by Steve Babb entitled "The Lay of Lirazel" which in its own right is an incredible work, and is included with other goodies on the digipack-enhanced first CD.
Disc One, entitled "The Knight" contains two songs that are very much done in the fantastic "stripped down" sound of lush vocal harmonies, organ, mellotron, synth, bass, and guitar that made Glass Hammer famous. It opens with “A Maker of Crowns” a powerful song that has a piano, organ, and a synth riff running throughout that harkens back to Camel’s work. The 25+ minute epic “The Knight of The North” has many sections and moods that work together as a whole- you never realize that you listened to near a half-hour of one song. At 7:50 into this track, there is a blaze of inspired synth and Hammond work, but there are simply too many highlights to mention; the piece closes strongly with warm choir and orchestra.
Disc Two, or “The Lady,” is a cohesive set of songs that tell a story just as Lex Rex had, book ended by two tracks over 10 minutes in length. The beautiful female vocals get to take center stage multiple times, showing the incredible talents of both old and new girls. “Lirazel” remains a favorite of mine; although I wish it was longer! Many of the instrumental and symphonic pieces in the middle of CD two evoke a very “movie score” feel to them- you are taken along for the ride, like something out of The Lord of The Rings. “Mog Ruith” is an explosion of drums and keyboards fit for a battle scene. The soft ballad “Through a Glass Darkly” evokes emotions that run deep, and fits nicely within the set. “Having Caught a Glimpse” has soaring vocals and melody, and culminates in an incredible way, bringing themes and cues from other songs on the album to bring disc two to a close, which sent shivers through my whole body.
All this incredible orchestration, especially at the end of “Having Caught a Glimpse” almost worries the keyboard fan in me slightly. Fans need to make sure GH never forgets the sound that Lex Rex and Chronometree made famous.
That small reservation aside, which in no way detracts from this work as a whole, this is a must buy for any fan of Yes, Kansas, Echolyn, or keyboard-driven symphonic prog as a whole. Special mention must be made of the wonderful cover art and new logo created by famed artist Roger Dean.
One wonders how they might top this album, for Glass Hammer once again has taken a myriad of musical influences and made it completely their own: 5/5.
To all those who may be trying to convince you that all is not well in the world of symphonic progressive rock I’m happy to tell you nothing could be further from the truth. They may suggest that it’s a tired genre with nothing new to offer. I don’t buy that and one listen to the brand new double CD release from Glass Hammer entitled The Inconsolable Secret provides ample proof that the symphonic genre is not only alive and well but is bristling with new and inventive sounds.
Steve Babb and Fred Schendel along with band mates Susie Bogdanowicz, Matt Mendians and Walter Moore have really out done themselves this time. This two CD package comes with an epic story composed in epic fashion. Compositions that run as short as two-minutes and as long as twenty-four minutes with lots in between. Disc one has two tracks, one – 15:21 and the other – 24:39 and also comes with bonus material including PDF files for the lyrics and the story behind the story as well as a QuickTime video of some of the sessions. There’s even a Roger Dean desktop image of the amazing artwork he’s created for this release. As always Dean’s artwork and font creation fit so marvelously well with the progressive rock genre. Disc two has a total of eleven tracks completing the story.
Speaking of the story, the concept behind these compositions revolves around a series of events in Steve Babb’s life involving his coming into possession of a number of paintings showing a young woman painted in medieval times. More than simply portraits these paintings reflected moments captured in time and conveyed all the emotions of her life. Inspired by these images, Babb created an epic poem which then became the lyrics for The Inconsolable Secret.
Musically there is so much here that it’s virtually impossible to describe it all. Suffice to say there are musical elements from their previous work such as Lex Rex and Chronometree but then there is a lot more. You’ll hear the expected Glass Hammer prog style, there are also some medieval or Celtic influences, and then there’s the full-blown classical orchestration. The first disc tends to stick a little closer to their previous styles with loads of Hammond and mellotron all layered against an ever moving bass line. It’s a style that Glass Hammer has perfected with its recurring themes and musical motifs. But it’s on disc two where things get really interesting with the inclusion of the female vocalists and a full orchestra backed with an amazing choir. The sound here is anthemic, full and lush and integrated seamlessly into the more traditional prog rock elements.
In some ways The Inconsolable Secret plays like a soundtrack to a movie. This is especially true of the compositions on the second disc, where orchestral instrumentals create mystery, suspense and even fear in the theatre of the mind. You owe it to yourself to read the lyrics to get the full impact of the drama in this work. With over an hour and a half of music this is truly a masterpiece that culminates in the 13-minute “Having Caught a Glimpse” with some of the most majestic emotionally charged music I’ve ever experienced. Glass Hammer’s Inconsolable Secret is going to be a tough act to follow. This is symphonic progressive rock of the highest order and gets my highest recommendation.
They are beautiful, they are incredibly talented, I love them....no, no, it’s not my grandchildren I’m talking about (though they fit the bill!) I’m talking about the new Glasshammer album! I’m absolutely amazed, stunned if you will! This HAS to be the prog album of the year! The Inconsolable Secret by Glasshammer is this years superb brilliant exuberant album of prog music that will make you speechless. I dare all of you, hardheaded/obnoxious/conservative prog freaks to not like this superb outing of an album (and a double at that.) Glasshammer really have outdone themselves this time. First of all, you get 2 epic tunes: "A maker of crowns" 15:21 minutes of sheer brilliance. Next up: "The knight of the north" even more superb prog music clocking in at 24:39 min.
Let me begin by telling you, that my first encounter with Glasshammer was earlier, say 2-3 years from now. I think it was Lex rex, a brilliant album and I was and still am very fond of this outing. But this time these fabulous guys really are a knockout. As mentioned, the first CD carries those great epics where you are carried away in an amazing world of prog tunes. There are hints of Flower Kings and The Tangent but the overall sound picture is Glasshammer!
The keyboards fill the themes and the arrangements are out of this world. Schendel and Babb are the superb masters of this prog masterpiece although Walther Moore & Susie Bogdanovicz on splendid vocals are once again supreme! Mind you, these are not the only musicians on this extremely splendid album, there are guests superb on several instruments.
Yes, I can hear you sigh....no, no this fine album has a part 2. Glasshammer and crew have just about made an album that fits the bill: "The best prog album of year 2005" and the appendix being the second CD, of this fine 2 CD album where Glashammer explores the fine and elegant sides of folk/prog music and whoa, this is about as good as it gets. You get the feelings of Trees and the emotions of Fairport blended with the ever excellent Glasshammer special blend of power prog and folk prog! I absolutely LOVE this album. There are hints of Flower kings and The Tangent (and the mentioned folk groups) but the overall sound / superb songwriting and delivery are, well, the one and the only Glasshammer!
Now the prog society must wake up and realize this band as one of the first and foremost 1st class prog bands in the world today! I am totally amazed by this outing! What’s that? Rating? Well, here goes: 6 out of 5 stars. How’s that for rating??!!