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Glass Hammer - Cor Cordium CD (album) cover


Glass Hammer


Symphonic Prog

3.74 | 227 ratings

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4 stars Excellent Second Release of the Jon Davison Era

To get this out of the way, if you don't like bands that have strong similarities to other legendary prog bands, in this case Yes, you can probably stop reading now and move on. I'm not going to dwell on this point much in this review.

I am a huge fan of If. I think the addition of Jon Davison (vocals), Alan Shikoh (guitar) and and Randall Williams (drums) rejuvenated the band after 2009's Three Cheers, which many consider their weakest effort, certainly the least in keeping with their ongoing prog stylings. Of course, the addition of Davison took them firmly into the realm of sounding a whole lot like that other aforementioned band, but as you'll see I don't view that as imitation or a negative. If they've taken on the Yes torch, they've certainly carried it further and to other interesting places.

From the opening notes of Nothing Box, it's very clear this is a symphonic prog album of epic proportions. If I had any questions of whether they would continue the trends of If, the first two tracks definitively removed any doubts there. But Cor Cordium isn't simply If, part two. Here we find this group coming together with a stronger band personality. Although Glass Hammer remains anchored by Fred Schendel and Steve Babb, both Davison and Shikoh seem stronger contributors than on If.

The compositions on Cor Cordium are very rooted in the classic symphonic prog style, with the layering of instruments, complex passages, nifty time signatures and epic themes aficionados will love. I find the balance to be more even on Cor Cordium, where If may have favored the keys and bass a bit. Here it seems every instrument and the vocals all contribute equally to the compositions. Songwriting credits are listed for all four of Babb, Schendel, Davison and Shikoh, and I'm guessing the mutual contributions are a key element of the evolution we hear between If and Cor Cordium.

But there are a few pleasant surprises as well. Salvation Station brings us a more serious social statement than the dominant ethereal peace, universal love and small infinities of If. And Dear Daddy is a very poignant expression of a difficult father-son relationship, sung so powerfully by Davison that I suspect it is his own personal story. Both of these tracks incorporate a more folky acoustic guitar-driven feel, in a proggy way of course. Dear Daddy adds some jazzier voicings to the guitar chords that give it a very intimate nightclub feel in places.

Overall, these are really good compositions, and after a dozen listenings they keep getting better as I discover more nuances and interplay in the songs. Every song goes somewhere and evolves, with all of the tracks over 5 minutes and four of the six tracks 10+ minute epics.

For the performances, we get the awesome keyboard work from Fred Schendel that we've come to expect. It's very worth it to take the time to listen to all the layers of keys in headphones, and to appreciate the intricacy of Fred's solos and rhythmic keyboard work as well. Fans of mellotrons will find some tasty tron work woven into the cuts (not sure if it's sampled or the real MkIV, but who cares?), as well as other vintage keys. Steve Babb remains an absolute monster on bass. He has a wonderful melodic style, not just anchoring the compositions, but driving them with strong themes. His bass sound will peel the paint off walls, with a huge bottom end and that trebly Rickenbacker element we all love (although I believe Steve primarily plays a Yamaha).

As I mentioned, I feel the addition of Jon Davison really transformed the band. I know he sounds uncannily like the other Jon. While he's obviously influenced by Anderson, and he admits being a huge Yes fan, I don't thinks he's being imitative. The tone and timber is his natural voice, and jeez, this guy can sing! His pitch is spot on, his range is excellent, and he brings inspiring emotion to the lyrics. Alan Shikoh also seems to have upped his contribution on Cor Cordium. His guitar work on If was outstanding, and that continues here. But where on If it sounded like he was asked to play like Steve Howe, on Cor Cordium we find a much wider variety of guitar voicings and patches including some more contemporary sounds. His technical skills are on full display, and impressive. From the credits, it looks like several of the musicians contribute to the excellent acoustic guitar work found throughout.

Randall Williams rejoins on drums, although from the credits it looks like he's considered more of a hired gun. Nevertheless, his contribution seems foundational to the sound of both Cor Cordium and If. Very solid and technically skilled, with lots of great flourishes. Jeffrey Sick and Ed Davis add violin and viola on Dear Daddy.

The engineering and production quality of Cor Cordium continue the excellence of If. Every track is crystal clear, with full frequency response and dynamic range. This is definitely an album for audiophile headphones. I have to give a huge appreciation for the mastering. Where most CDs these days are mastered way too loud, over-compressed and often clipped to the point of distortion, Cor Cordium seems only mildly peak limited by a couple of db, which lets the awesome production and engineering shine through. Play this loudly and enjoy!

As you can tell, I love this album. I think, along with If, it's one of the best Glass Hammer albums. If you like If, I think you will also love Cor Cordium. If you like Glass Hammer, this is one to get. If you like symphonic prog in general, you really should check this out, especially if you're cool with bands like Starcastle that have strong similarities to Yes.

Excellent stuff! Although I'm tempted to give Cor Cordium a 5 stars rating, it's really too early to tell if it will stand the ultimate test of time and become a true masterpiece. At this point, I think something like 4.5 stars is more appropriate, and I give it 4 stars here. I suspect the Yes-imitator detractors will pull the rating of Cor Cordium down like they did with If, but considering it on its own merit, it's hard to conceive that Cor Cordium deserves to end up less than 4.0 when all the reviews are added up.

PaulH | 4/5 |


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