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Glass Hammer - Chronomonaut CD (album) cover

CHRONOMONAUT

Glass Hammer

 

Symphonic Prog

3.91 | 99 ratings

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csglinux
4 stars I'm wary of early band/fan/reviewer comments that always proclaim "This is the BEST album this band has ever made!". What are the odds that's true of every album the band has ever made? Glass Hammer's official website highlights this quote from Progradar: "Without a doubt their best album yet." Is it really?!? Well, actually, it almost might be. It's certainly up there with Glass Hammer's best albums, and a huge step-up from what was (for me) a disappointing effort from their previous album (Valkyrie).

I'm still feeling a little bit guilty that I left such a scathing review here for Valkyrie. I'm sure GH have enough confidence, artistic integrity and independence that they'd totally ignore anything I'd say, but the complaints I had about Valkyrie (dirgy sound-effects, total lack of melody, choice of lead vocalist, etc.) have all been addressed and fixed here :-) Chronomonaut is packed full of wonderful tunes; Susie takes a more prominent role in both lead vocal, backing vocal and vocalizations, and the result is a shift from an album that had barely one listenable track on it to an album that doesn't have a weak spot anywhere. The imagination and creativity behind the concept makes the album a lot of fun too (a follow-on to the story of Tom from Chronomotree), but there are also parts that are much more haunting and tug on the heart-strings way more than anything on Valkyrie (which was supposed to have had the more poignant theme). It's not that I don't want Steve or Fred to sing ever again - it's just that I feel their strongest talents lie elsewhere. I didn't mind their lead vocal roles on albums like Lex Rex, but that material was so strong that it would probably have sounded amazing even if I'd taken lead vocals. The songs on Valkyrie just weren't up to that level. Chronomonaut is a much stronger album than Valkyrie, but I like the Glass Hammer flavor that comes through with Steve and Fred on backing vocals.

Musically, the only part of Chronomonaut that reminds me of Chromonotree is the first few opening bars of the piano, in "The Land of Lost Content". Clever title, which I guess we're supposed to be able to read in one of two ways? From the piano introduction, this breaks into some organ chords, pretty lyric-less vocalizations from Susie and some wonderful proggy guitar overlays. This is one of many highlights on this album.

"Roll for Initiative" starts off with the classic Glass Hammer bass/keyboard, with another lead vocalist added to the Glass Hammer collection. (I believe this is Patton Lock here.) He sounds fine. But I still miss Flo Paris (dang, she was awesome). And Jon Davison (surely he's now regretting leaving Glass Hammer? It's quite depressing to hear what has become of his "new" band). In any case, this track sets the narrative for the story, with a good amount of classic Glass Hammer instrumentation supporting the vocals.

"Twilight of the Godz" is one of my favorite tracks. Just gorgeous guitars, vocals, beautifully recorded and performed. There are stand-out, atmospheric performances from Susie all over this track. Just awesome.

"The Past is Past" is a heavily jazz-influenced track. Wonderful saxophone and brass sections make for an interesting diversion from the more typical prog-rock sound. Matthew Parmenter takes lead vocals on this one and hijacks the narrative with an interesting and expressive twist. It's quite a long track, with some curious keyboard and vocal diversions around the 7 minute mark. Lots of imaginative writing here.

"1980 Something" - another cool track title! This one takes a turn for the mellower with acoustic guitar and Susie singing (initially through some kind of vocoder?). Again, Susie does a fantastic job even when she doesn't actually have any words to sing. Look out for the nice spacey keyboards and guitar solo, plus more lyric-less Susie around 3:40. Another great track.

"A Hole in the Sky" is more of a pop/rock-sounding track, with Susie taking a back-seat on vocals.

"Clockwork" is the most amazing instrumental that Alan Parsons Project never wrote. I love the super-atmospheric keyboards. It's only a short track, but it's awesome.

"Melancholy Holiday" seems to have been the one track GH decided to make into a video. I think this was the first track I saw as a teaser for the album. It's a slower track that appears to be featuring Susie on both lead and backing vocals, with a sort of spooky keyboard sound in the background. Very pretty.

"It Always Burns Sideways" is another of my favorite tracks. It's an instrumental featuring heavier guitar riffs that remind me of Porcupine Tree on a good day. Then half-way through, it starts to sound like Camel (also on a good day), before the introduction of some wonderful keyboard tones. This may be a minor point, but if there's one thing I'd change on this album, I'd like to have heard a little more like this from Fred's keyboards. I feel like the heart of Glass Hammer has always been the combination of Steve's bass with those amazing overlaid keyboard tones and tunes. Schendel is one of my all-time favorite keyboard players. He has the technicality of players like Lyle Mays, but also an ability to create amazing tunes and amazing keyboard tones. (As much as I love Rick Wakeman, this is a talent he never had.) Schendel could literally break your heart with the emotional impact he puts into playing one note. What a great track this is.

"Blinding Light" again starts with that jazz influence and (I think) Patton Locke's return to lead vocals. It sounds like a part 2/sequel to "The Past is Past". The brass (trumpet) backing in this track is a highlight for me. (Big Big Train regularly do an awesome job of melding brass band sounds with prog rock. It's something that just really works.)

"Tangerine Meme" is an obvious nod to another famous band. Brilliantly done, very atmospheric with all the sound effects, and surprisingly original, yet clearly in the style of somebody other than Glass Hammer :-) (I recently heard the new Cosmograf album and the last track on that album - Goodbye To All Illusions- has a similar electronica-type vibe. Both Cosmograf and, here, Glass Hammer make it work remarkably well.)

"Fade Away" is the highlight of the album for me. Amazing, epic-sounding track with so much emotion in it. It's built up through several sections, each of which is fantastic. I especially love the symphonic prog sections and the keyboards. All the vocalists are absolutely on top form here. This is as strong as any track Glass Hammer have ever written.

This is definitely a return to form and if not their best album, then certainly the best album they've released in many, many years. Congrats Glass Hammer! :-)

csglinux | 4/5 |

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