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Glass Hammer - Chronomonaut CD (album) cover

CHRONOMONAUT

Glass Hammer

 

Symphonic Prog

3.79 | 133 ratings

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Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars Eighteen albums in and showing no signs of slowing down and/or lacking inspiration, American prog-rockers Glass Hammer return in 2018 with `Chronomonaut', something of a sequel to an album in their discography that has become a cult favourite among their fans, 2000's `Chronometree'. It's always welcome when a prog band has a sense of humour about themselves and can laugh at the stereotypes associated with our favourite genre (this latest CD even arrived with a free coupon that states `The bearer of this card is entitled to multiple prog-rock induced time travel excursions'!), and the disc tells the tale of Tom, the `ultimate prog-rock fan' who hears subliminal messages in the lyrics of his favourite Seventies prog-rock band and seeks to travel back to the golden era of the genre! There's much more to it than that, but it's all really just a cue for another colourful and eclectic symphonic-edged album from one of the modern masters of the style, and it's full of all the first-rate musicianship and strong singing that the group always deliver.

There's plenty of changes in Hammer land for this effort, some of which takes a bit of getting used to! Founding members, bassist Steve Babb and keyboard player Fred Schendel, are still the core of the group alongside frequent leading lady Susie Bogdanowicz and powerhouse drummer Aaron Raulston, but with guitarist Kamran Alan Shikoh exiting the band, several guests have offered guitar contributions for the album, and stepping in for vocals here is Discipline's lead singer Matthew Parmenter, as well as a local acquaintance of the group, Patton Locke. The band are also determined to avoid repeating themselves, and while much of `Chronomonaut' is instantly recognisable as them, orchestration and brass instruments feature this time around, along with touches of blues, progressive-electronic, ambient and psych rock, making `Chronomonaut' a highly distinctive GH album all its own.

After `The Land of Lost Content's introduction of pretty piano, announcing organ and sighing voice, the strident `Roll for Initiative' kicks in with Steve's chunky upfront bass rumbling, Aaron's punchy n' purposeful drumming and Fred's emerging synth gloss. It's quickly blasted with funky horn blasts, a swaggering lead vocal from Patton carrying a catchy tune and soaring group harmonies that rapidly twist the track in endless directions with buoyant infectiousness. `Twilight of the Godz' initially appears on the surface to be a ballad, but some treated effects on Susie's first lead vocal on the disc brings a lightly psychedelic twist (and listen to the way her voice moves between soft and raw!), there's a tastily shambling drowsiness to much of the instrumental second half and plenty of sun-kissed ragged guitar soloing from guest Brian Brewer that flirts with some reaching Steve Howe-like touches here and there that weaves in and out of the entire piece.

Van der Graaf Generator fans will dig the heck out of `The Past is Past', a ten minute epic in the classic storytelling/character- driven approach of many a vintage prog album. Jamison Smeltz's saxophone that darts through the track reminds of how effectively the instrument was incorporated into Seventies rock albums, the vocal chameleon that is Matthew Parmenter moves through everything from everything from bluesy raspy croon to deranged Peter Hammill-esque theatrical snarl, and Fred's mischievously devilish keyboard runs carry a wink in their eye! `1980 Something' is an reflective Susie-led acoustic ballad that wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Mostly Autumn album, `A Hole in the Sky' is a playful pop-rocker with a punchy chorus, and `Clockwork' is a short atmospheric electronic interlude of shimmering synth programming that could pass for a `Force Majeure'-era Tangerine Dream outtake - more in this manner later too!

The gloomy `Melancholy Holiday' conveys a heavy mood thanks to Susie's impeccably haunting delivery, but light slowly infiltrates with humming keyboard ambiance and ethereal guitar strains that lift the piece to soaring heavens of beauty. Schizophrenic two-part instrumental `It Always Burns Sideways' initially rumbles with grumbling guitar menace, mud-thick distorted bass and plodding aggressive drumming, but trickles of Hammond organ and whirring keyboards quickly turn inviting and dazzling, and there's some tasty Yes-like licks flitting in and out as well.

`Blinding Light' is a rocking Patton-sung saunter powered by energetic pumping horns, the song frequently splintering off into delicious jazz-fusion-esque electric-piano laced runs and Hammond organ soloing that reminds of everything from Atomic Rooster, Uriah Heep and Deep Purple and probably could have shown up of any of the last few Neal Morse discs, and `Tangerine Meme' (you'd never guess which group inspired this one!) starts as a stark ambient synth/organ drift before slinking into moody electronica. Ten-plus minute epic `Fade Away' works sweeping orchestration, delicate piano passages, spiralling Moog solos and regal organ pomp into an unhurried and perfectly executed dramatic closer, with Matthew, Susie and Patton all sharing striking lead vocal moments to close the album in sophisticated fashion.

While it's a shame that Fred and Steve don't handle any of the proper lead vocals this time around (as they're such a strong part of the GH identity overall) and it will remain to be seen if Discipline's Matthew returns for more, Glass Hammer here again nail a vintage symphonic approach that still experiments and always remains contemporary. `Chronomonaut's true strengths won't reveal themselves on a single listen, instead - like all the best prog albums - it takes multiple spins to truly reveal just what makes it so impressive. Take the time to listen to the words of the clever song-writing, marvel at the diverse range of styles the band tackle, enjoy the confident singing, take in the sly humour and appreciate this love-letter to prog's golden era that isn't a mere retro throwback, and you'll be rewarded with a superb album from an ever-talented band.

Equal parts fun and dramatic, vibrant and diverse, `Chronomonaut' is another winner from Glass Hammer, and absolutely one of the prog-rock highlights of 2018.

Four and a half stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |

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