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


Glass Hammer


Symphonic Prog

3.85 | 147 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'The Breaking of the World' - Glass Hammer (72/100)

I will assume the majority of people reading this had the legends of symphonic prog-- you know, Yes, Genesis, et al.-- soundtrack some (if not most) of their youth. The intelligent warmth of some of those masterpieces has followed me well into adulthood, and I don't think anyone forgets the first time they listened to Close to the Edge. Even with the sort of timeless warmth I think is inherent to the symph-prog formula, the genre's fallen upon sobering times in recent years. Some of the best modern symphonic groups, like Wobbler and Monarch Trail seem to fall on deaf ears, while overblown trash like Transatlantic gets all the attention; and even then, it's only from a niche market.

While I wouldn't exactly call Glass Hammer a mainstream band by any means, they are one of the few quality acts that have managed to carry the present torch beyond obscurity. With a discography now bigger than a lot of the first wave bands that inspired them, these guys are probably the best name I think of when the current state of symphonic prog comes to mind. Between the epic scope of 2005's The Inconsolable Secret to recent strokes of excellence in 2010's If and Cor Cordium from the following year, Glass Hammer have maintained an impressive frequency of output. Although I was a little disappointed by their last album Ode to Echo, 2015's The Breaking of the World is, in many ways, a return to the things I've liked most about Glass Hammer. They may not necessarily be pushing their genre's boundaries here, but they've certainly reconfigured the sound of the legends as best suits their means.

I have sometimes struggled with the concept of originality in traditional prog, but given that timeless quality I was talking about, it's not like the techniques Glass Hammer are using have a shelf life. Although the warm, optimistic sound on this record isn't far from Ode to Echo or earlier works, The Breaking of the World stands out through its diversity. While the band have been considered (by fans and detractors alike) as closely following the Yes-formula (for whom their old vocalist Jon Davison now fronts!) there's much more going on here than I might have expected after the last album. "Mythopoeia" has a clear affinity for the twangy rhythm guitars of Rush, while "A Bird When It Sneezes" and "Nothing, Everything" favour the angular complexity of Gentle Giant. Others, of course, favour the traditional warmth of Yes and Genesis.

To a prog rock newcomer, the aforementioned influences would probably all seem to fit under one category. Of course, those who know will should understand the sort of scope Glass Hammer are covering with this album. I don't think this is the sort of album that's trying to cater to anyone but lifelong fans of symphonic prog either. That's not a bad thing. The Breaking of the World has an immediately familiar sound, but unlike Ode to Echo, it fuels this familiarity with a renewed sense of wonder. Listening to "Third Floor" for the first time, I remember being moved by the sudden switch from clustered ambiance to a dreamy motif with acoustic backing. So too was I surprised when Glass Hammer amped their technique to max with "A Bird When It Sneezes". The sound there may have been derived from Gentle Giant come Octopus, sure, but it takes a certain kind of passion to make the discovery feel knew again.

While I grieve the loss of Jon Davison as the band's vocalist, Carl Groves and Susie Bogdanowicz have always done a fantastic job on fronting Glass Hammer. The same's obviously true on The Breaking of the World. With that said, it should be taken as a positive that this is arguably Glass Hammer's most vocal-driven album to date. The band's impregnable sense of do-good optimism can feel predictable by album's end, but there's nothing stale about the warm tone here. If anything impresses me most about their performance on this record, it's the fact that they're able to focus most of these compositions on the vocals without giving up the sophisticated instrumental chops. I've found many bands of their ilk switch between technical passages and the more conventional song bits, but Glass Hammer keep their art consistent through and through.

The Breaking of the World is easily more ambitious-sounding than Ode to Echo. It's also distinctly less modern. I remember nods to Porcupine Tree on songs like "Crowbone" off the last one. There's nothing of that sort here. Glass Hammer have hunkered down on their vintage influences here, and I don't think that's going to disappoint anyone that considers themselves a fan of this band. Though potentially a bit long for its own good, I'd say Glass Hammer have bolstered their discography with yet another in a long line of successes.

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |


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