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Glass Hammer - Ode To Echo CD (album) cover


Glass Hammer


Symphonic Prog

3.47 | 144 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
3 stars 'Ode to Echo' - Glass Hammer (62/100)

I had the pleasure earlier this year to interview Glass Hammer upon the release of Ode to Echo for Prog Sphere Magazine. Among other insights, one thing that really served to elucidate the way I interpreted their music was the way they explained their band name. Originally inspired by a K.W. Jeter novel, the name Glass Hammer has gone on to represent a supposed paradox, something supposedly fragile and simultaneously powerful. Indeed, you can hear this navigation between the 'glass' and 'hammer' in a lot of the symphonic prog that preceded, and subsequently inspired Glass Hammer's sound; the same is doubly true for the classical repertoire that, in turn, inspired symphonic prog rock to begin with. The most impressive examples of the genre (including some of Glass Hammer's material, most notably 2010's If) feature conventionally beautiful timbres and instrumental pyrotechnics uplifting one another beautifully. The resulting feeling of warmth is one I've been hard-pressed to find in any other style of music.

With Glass Hammer's 15th (!!!) full-length Ode to Echo, it feels like that dichotomy- having veered moreso towards the 'fragile'- is a bit off. Normally I should be jumping at the sound of a philosophical concept album surrounding the myth of Narcissus, but the album surprisingly doesn't grip me the way I may have been hoping for. The warm, symphonic palette is here to bask in, but for all of their obvious skill and tightness as a band, Glass Hammer aren't all that exciting of a listen this time around. What we essentially have here is a well-performed, intriguingly conceptual piece that doesn't quite make its ends meet.

While detractors of Glass Hammer have attempted to label them as a Yes clone, I think even they would have a hard time pegging that association on Glass Hammer's more streamlined approach this time around. Most symphonic prog (with Yes in particular) have a tendency to favour instrumental fireworks and wild dynamics (once again, speaking of the fragile/power dichotomy). That was true for some of the band's earlier work, but with Ode to Echo, they're remarkably modest in their displays of technique. Perhaps it ties in with the album's concept (more on that later); as it practically affects the music, Glass Hammer seem to be playing below their instrumental capability. For an album that nearly reaches an hour in length, Ode to Echo feels scarce of passages that test the band to their limits.

Being that Ode to Echo generally underwhelms me on the technical end, it's surprising how sophisticated they've made some of these vocal harmonies. With three principal vocalists and most of the rest of Glass Hammer offering backup support, the voice takes a much greater space here than what I'm used to hearing in progressive rock. From the multiple overlapping parts on "Misantrog" alone, it's obvious that Glass Hammer have invested a lot of thought into the way the vocals work on the album. Given how rich in concept Ode to Echo is meant to be, this isn't particularly surprising.

For its subdued approach, Ode to Echo takes at least a few listens to properly warm up to it. While I'm partial to the gorgeous Porcupine Tree-sounding finish on "Crowbone" and the tense build in "Panegyric", "Garden of Hedon" probably stands out as the most consistent and well-composed piece of the lot. In terms of its songwriting, Ode to Echo stands as one of those albums that benefits more from individually strong ideas moreso than the way they're strung together in songs. The would-be epic "Misantrog" for example, carries solid firepower courtesy of its byzantine vocal parts, but the way the passages flow from one to another sounds rushed. The same goes for "Panegyric", which begins for two minutes like the start of some album-defining epic, only to dwindle down to another soft vocal passage. Most of the times Glass Hammer heightens my anticipation of Ode to Echo, I feel disappointed with the result. Once again, this might have been averted if their balance of power and fragility had been just a little more even.

I feel one day I will write a full-blown essay about the American symphonic prog scene; while the United States is hardly the first place I'd think of when talking about most styles of progressive rock, there is a vocal stable of symphonic rockers with predominantly Christian beliefs. While some (most notably Neal Morse, and his Testimony series) espouse their religious leanings bluntly, Glass Hammer have conducted their narrative exploration of Christian virtue and humility in a pretty intellectually engaging way; consequently, it's the concept of Ode to Echo itself that stands as its strongest ingredient. It's clear from the onset that Glass Hammer condemn Narcissus' all-consuming selfishness and the effect it has on the lovestruck Echo. Keeping Glass Hammer's religious sentiment in mind, there's a near-certain similarity between the "Garden of Hedon" Glass Hammer introduces us to at the album's beginning, and the Garden of Eden, itself defined by a fateful meeting of man and woman. Beyond Ode to Echo's mythical inspirations, Glass Hammer's concept is rooted in reality, and like all great myth, it shines light on aspects of real life. Ode to Echo explores the pains caused by the real-life Narcissists and psychopaths of the world; more than that, it is a tribute to those who have felt those pains firsthand, as well as a warning to all who may bear them in the future. As Glass Hammer beautifully summarize in the album's final lyric: "We folk with empathy must ever be on guard for those without."

If that final line of the album doesn't already conjure to mind the names and faces of people to whom it certainly applies, you eventually will. It's rare that I ever find myself more interested in an album's concept than the music itself, but that Ode to Echo touches upon a corner of philosophy that can affect (and in some cases, ruin) real lives makes it feel essential to the album's appreciation. With their critical zenith having been recent in the forms of If and Cor Cordium (not to mention Jon Davison's recent tenure as the new frontman for Yes), it seems Glass Hammer are enjoying a hype shared by few in the avenues of 'traditional' progressive rock. I may hesitate to call Ode to Echo a great album, but it's certainly enough to underline Glass Hammer as a potentially fantastic band. I may have been resistant a few years back when I was first alerted to a symphonic prog revival, but when Glass Hammer remind me here almost as much of Porcupine Tree as your typical Yeses and Genesises, it's clear- if nothing else- that the style can feel modern and fresh in the right hands.

Conor Fynes | 3/5 |


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