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Glass Hammer - The Breaking Of The World CD (album) cover


Glass Hammer


Symphonic Prog

3.84 | 148 ratings

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Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars It's hard to believe that American symphonic prog band Glass Hammer are now sixteen studio releases into their career after forming in 1992, and with no signs of slowing down, it's even more impressive that they're still as exciting, inspired and creative as ever. 1995's `Perelandra' was the first to hint at true signs of great potential, and each album since then has shown the group and the various musicians that contribute to the core line up of bass player Steve Babb and keyboardist Fred Schendel becoming more ambitious, gradually growing in maturity and musical intelligence. `Chronometree', `Lex Rex' and the double CD `The Inconsolable Secret' (which just may be a true modern symphonic prog classic) were all big leaps forward for the band, and the addition of future Yes frontman Jon Davison for the trio of albums `If', `Cor Cordium' and `Perilous' certainly lifted the profile of the band. But with Jon busy with `the other fellas' and another reworked line-up of the band in place since previous album `Ode to Echo', 2015 brings one of Glass Hammer's most deceptively complex, lavish and sophisticated works to date with `The Breaking of the World'.

This current version of the band is now led vocally again by Carl Groves, making this his third contribution after fronting 2009's `Culture of Ascent' and returning with last year's `Ode to Echo'. Considering this might be Glass Hammer's most vocal dominated release to date, thankfully Carl remains the very natural and expressive singer he always was, and is more than up to the challenge of so many different kinds of vocal passages here. In addition to Steve Babb, simply one of the most distinctive and dynamic bass players in modern prog, Fred Schendel's variety of colourful keyboard flavours and Aaron Raulston's elaborate drumming, two other musicians help make this one of the most exotic Glass Hammer release to date. Guitarist Alan Shikoh is now six albums into his career with the band, and this time his warm acoustic guitars especially are given more prominence than ever before, and guest Steve Unruh of Willowglass and the Samurai of Prog offers crucial and exquisite flute and violin contributions that really help define the identity of this particular Hammer release (although the violin here shares similarities with Carl's first album with the group and its use of the string trio, the heavy guitar sound of that one is absent). Finally, of course, the sensual, compassionate and evocative voice of Susie Bogdanowicz made a very welcome comeback on `Echo', and in her few lead moments here she reminds in an instant why she has become one of the truly essential, defining elements that makes up the Glass Hammer sound.

`The Breaking of the World' is a continuation of the sound of the previous studio disc, and like all of their albums, listeners will find a strong collection of unpredictable symphonic vintage flavoured prog rock with wondrous melodies from soaring vocals and complex energetic instrumental displays, along with those couple of standout moments that go on to become something of classic Glass Hammer pieces. An energetic blast of spiralling keyboards, busy drumming, driving guitars and buoyant bass charge through the three-part opener `Mythopoeia', and an acoustic passage simply backing Carl's plaintive voice in the middle interlude is a thing of fragile beauty. Although it starts with prancing flute and regal organ pomp with a sprightly spring in its step, the lyrics of `Babylon' about the `stench of morality, real or imagined, reeking like burning hair' and `Pious Judases, let them all burn in the world they hold dear' takes things to darker and more confronting places.

Despite a cutting and biting lyric, energetic vibes race through the peppy and infectious `Bandwagon', the closest the band comes to a Yes-style piece here with some added frantic violin, and `Northwind' floats on mellow dreamy uplifting breezes. The band's quirky sense of humour is firmly on display on `A Bird When It Sneezes', a barely thirty second glimpse of an addictive instrumental jazz/fusion spasm! Come on, Fred and Steve, give us a full album of the Glass Hammer interpretation of jazz/fusion sometime in the future! Actually, the band come close anyway on the album closer `Nothing, Everything', which moves in and out of gently grooving jazzy instrumental runs in between Mellotron/Hammond flights of fancy and a very spirited joyful chorus.

But as for those classic Glass Hammer pieces that appear on every disc, `Third Floor' is already a bit of a firm favourite among GH fans, and with good reason! Endless symphonic instrumental passages jumping back and forth and a lovely variety of vocals from Susie, Fred and Carl convey a baffling fantastical story about a (wait for it!) sentient elevator and the man travelling inside her! It's oddly sadly romantic, slyly humorous and perhaps even a little darkly obsessive, lines such as `I feel you in my circuits, but it's fleeting, and now you're gone. Use me and complete me then just leave me all alone' and `All encompassing, I stand in the heart of her, she takes me higher and higher' are all delivered with tragic conviction!

While Prog bands, and Glass Hammer themselves, are certainly no stranger to fantastical lyrics, it's when they move beyond that and offer something more grounded that true magic can happen. `Sand', with a deeply personal and quietly reflective lyric written by Fred and mostly carried by his sparse warm piano, is one of the most genuinely heartfelt moments to appear yet on a Glass Hammer album, beautifully sung by Carl. Later in the disc, the sublime `Haunted' is a melancholic standout not only for Susie's voice, but it shows the band playing with careful restraint, knowing when to keep things simple and just deliver a piece with great taste. It feels like it could have easily fit in on the second disc of `The Inconsolable Secret', and is truly a very moving solo showcase for Susie.

Is this one of Glass Hammer's best albums to date, to place alongside those above mentioned standout titles from their back catalogue? As always with this band, it's a little too early to tell, but a few years and more releases from now will likely answer that question. Yet there is no doubt it's one of their most varied, intricate and joyful works, and is the embodiment of the sort of album that really needs time devoted to it, the kind that always ends up being the most rewarding in your collection. But for now, there's no denying `The Breaking of the World' is another superb release from one of modern prog's leading symphonic groups.

Four stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |


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