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Glass Hammer - Culture Of Ascent CD (album) cover


Glass Hammer

Symphonic Prog

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4 stars Fans of Shadowlands need this album. If you were put off by Inc. Secret (I wasn't-thought it was a grower and very good with some weak spots on disc 2, 3.5 stars), GH are back and IMO opinion as good as ever. The big change is Walter Moore is no longer singing but instead Carl Groves of Salem Hill handles the male leads and his voice fits the music very well and I think I like him better than Moore in context of the GH sound. He isn't credited with playing any instruments, but you do get an SH feel from time to time.

The cover of the Yes classic South Side of the Sky starts off mellow with female vocals and then kicks in with that GH sound. A very well done cover that reworks the song while maintaining the framework of a great song. If you liked what GH did with Longer, you will be pleased here. GH ramps up the use of the guitar from previous albums and this really helps set off the constant keyboards. We aren't talking Rush levels of guitar but there are more solos than usual. When GH does feature guitar, it is always well done and I am glad they are moving toward more if it.

There really aren't any soft passages like we saw on side 2 of IS. They get their trademark bombastic parts out while keeping an ebb and flow. Judicious use of strings augment the many varied sounds they get out of their array of keyboards. And having the full time drummer now is also a plus from when Fred Schendel handled those duties. The highlight is probably Into Thin Air, clocking in at 19 minutes, but I find absolutely no filler or weak tracks. Jon Anderson sings on only a small portion of the album but when he does, it fits wonderfully.

I am strongly leaning to calling this GH's crowning achievement. It is a groove laden work with excellent production and shows them at the top of their game. If you are a fan of any of their past work, this is a no-brainer. Tough choice between 4 and 5 stars. We'll call it 4.5 but round down to 4.

Report this review (#145065)
Posted Tuesday, October 16, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Glass Hammer were on the verge of prog greatness with their last release (The Inconsolable Secret). A double concept CD with a Roger Dean cover, how could they go wrong? Unfortunately they didn't quite make it. The sword 'n' sorcery lyrics were perhaps too cheesy and the second CD didn't go down too well with some people. Personally I thought it was a brave experiment but again the production let them down a bit - it all sounded a bit sterile and the rhythm section didn't really lock together. This time thought I reckon they've cracked it - it's time for Glass Hammer to ascend to the top level of the prog league.

Much has been made of the presence of a certain J. Anderson on vocals but in truth he is only credited with "vocalizations" and isn't really a lead vocalist here. That job goes to Carl Groves from Salem Hill and a good job he does too. The band themselves sound a lot more like a band this time and the production is the best I've heard on a Glass Hammer CD. They start off with a brave attempt at Yes' "South Side of the Sky" with vocals from Susie Bogdanowicz and some of Mr Anderson's vocalizations. It sticks pretty close to the original, even down to the footsteps. It loses some of the power of the original but the middle vocal section works very well.

The other tracks are all GH originals, including a couple of longer epics and three slightly shorter tracks, so you get your money's worth here. The songs have an interconnecting theme of mountains, hence the title and the magnificent artwork.

Instrumentally the band is in top form - there are some shredding guitar solos as well as some unusual keyboard solos. The lyrics are an improvement - not a "Once upon a time" in sight! Musically this CD is nearer the first CD of The Inconsolable Secret than the second, but there is a subtle shift in style here, and I hear some hints of Salem Hill in the music. Criticisms? Well, the drummer needs to lay off the bass pedals a bit other than that I can only recommend this CD to all Glass Hammer fans and those who haven't checked them out yet.

Report this review (#146449)
Posted Monday, October 22, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Well you could erase an half star - after multiple listenings at least - but their imprinting is always particular and you can forgive them a few defects inside.. but - proceeding by order - first of all the vocalists Carl Groves and Susie Bogdanowicz perform the songs in a remarkable manner, even though it's difficult to compare their job to the tasteful vocalizations by a famous guest star like Mr Jon Anderson! In fact such a clever former Yes-vocalist - whose impact is excellent as usual- doesn't add anything new to this project ("South side of the sky" is a cover song); nevertheless his performance is settling here an important support to G.H.!! After all, if you regard of Steve Babb and Fred Schendel as true "master minds" - once again - of the present new work dated 2007, you can appreciate their epic numbers, this time being harder than usual...but certainly you have to forget the tepid vocal passages as well, even though in a few circumstances only, performed by Carl and Susie when their melodic touch is not inspiring...I mean, that sense of powerful harmonic solutions, a bit tough and closer to the sound of Dream Theatre, could represent a turn of their music career in the direction of such a prog metal, whose melodic and easier approach is often forbidden (the fans of classic prog know such a typical defect very well...), but the band is able to deserve a lot of surprising breaks through in the future, especially by regarding of fine works like "Lex Rex" and talking about their creative process as well!!
Report this review (#148020)
Posted Monday, October 29, 2007 | Review Permalink
erik neuteboom
4 stars This USA progrock formation delivers albums since the early Nineties, I have heard most of them and listening to this new album I notice a bit more laidback approach, less bombastic.

I am not pleased with the Yes cover South Side Of The Sky, to me it sounds a bit too mellow, only the final part contains some excitement because of a fiery and quite raw guitar solo. That guitar work is the instrument that manages to keep everybody awake, from fiery in Sun Song (electronic climate, a wonderful violin solo and a final part with church organ), blistering in the alternating Ember Without Name (exciting contrast between violin and electric guitar) to biting in the magnum opus Into Thin Air (strong echoes of early Kansas with a beautiful Grand piano intro and majestic church organ parts). The Mellotron fans can enjoy some wonderful choir-Mellotron in the final track Rest.

In my opinion Glass Hammer has succeeded to sound less predictable and more elaborate on this new album, to me it sounds as their most captivating effort!

Report this review (#150414)
Posted Monday, November 12, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Glass Hammer is your typical contrast-laden fantasy inspiring prog-rock moniker. The image evokes the fragile delicacy of glass and the sheer brute power of the hammer. The analogy inspires the two extrapolated limits of this strange form of rock music labeled progressive (a term unknown back in the 70s): gentle lyricism inspired by the baroque classical period and the Wagnerian "Sturm & Drang" of bass-drum Rock. Many have spiced their own recipes with their own dosages, mostly successfully or else this site wouldn't even exist. This Chattanooga Tennessee (not exactly what you would expect as hotbed of prog) band has been dishing out fine servings of Yes-inspired prog over the last 10 years or so, generally highlighting Steve Babb's Wakemanesque tendencies as well as Fred Schendel's "wide" rumbling bass inspired by the one & only Chris Squire. The albums kept getting better and better, with the previous "The Inconsolable Secret" particularly epic and grandiose with plenty of adventurous orchestrations. The "Live at the Belmont" DVD introduced two new members, finally addressing the two past weaknesses, firstly a fabulous Swiss guitarist named Daniel Walliman, who can wail, crunch and schmooze with anyone in Progland and Salem Hill's Carl Groves on lead vocals, a definite upgrade on past GH vocalists . Hence, "The Culture of Ascent" is the first completely successful Glass Hammer recording, mainly because all hands are now fully on deck. Drummer Matt Mendians is polyvalent in all facets of percussives, the female voice of Sue Bogdanovicz and the Adonia String Quartet complete the lush sound. Of course, the compositions are way more refined, less Yes and more GH than ever before which gives them the confidence to kick off the proceedings with a remake of Yes' South Side of the Sky featuring a cameo from Jon Anderson on backing "vocalizations". "Sun Song" really bulldozes nicely along, carving out some fine landscapes for the violin to soar and the guitar to shred. "Ember Without a Name" and "Into Thin Air" are extended epics that really liberate the band to search out new horizons successfully and "Rest" closes out the proceedings on a very high Choir-laden note. Very close to perfect with beautiful artwork to boot. 4.5 crystal mallets
Report this review (#153186)
Posted Thursday, November 29, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars I feel like a thanksgiving turkey.

I really want to get into Glass Hammer. For a brief period, Lex Rex was my own little secret and I cherished the DVD of the same name. I liked their sense of companionship, I really saw them as a little family making music together and enjoying being underdogs. Now, Glass Hammer made itself a (very good) name, and the band's creations are often praised as the new fangled way...

And I have to admit that the work is astonishingly professional, both with the music and the cover art. Glass Hammer is now in the bin of the good value/ money and doing things both with the old and new school (but mostly the old). After the Roger Dean cover in the past, they now hired their supreme guru: Jon Anderson. It's not mean, it's just that Glass Hammer needs Yes just like Triumvirat needed Emerson Lake and awsomely good delivery (and sometimes better) of something not quite their own.

The songs are rich, and I weight my words. There's a lot to chew on, so much keyboard and drum patterns...I got tired after a while. It's simply too hard for me to listen from cover to cover, I get dizzy and bored. And maybe there's a key to enjoy Glass Hammer: spoonfeeding.

Thankfully, there's some meaner moments but they are very, very few. Dear old Glass Hammer, still in La-La Land, light years away from suffering and gloomy lyrics...

In one word: STODGY!

Report this review (#154673)
Posted Friday, December 7, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars Since I enjoy reading all the reviews on this site, I thought it would be nice to start here goes...

Glass Hammer is one of the better bands I have heard in the symphonic prog category. Their albums always seem to progress, meaning they only get better with many multiple listens. Enter Carl Groves of Salem Hill adding a (much needed) helping hand with the vocals and Glass Hammer is back on track after the somewhat lackluster "Inconsolable Secret." With that said, I wanted to review their most recent release "Culture of Ascent." Here is a brief song by song analysis:

1) South Side of the Sky - The opener is well done and they re-created this Yes classic in their own style. Not much to add about this. Jon Anderson of Yes also contributed for a more inspired attempt. Not sure why they chose this song or even whey they chose to do a cover song for this album, but they did a respectable job. 7/10

2) Sun Song - The first few minutes of this song is very promising. Nice string and synth work along with strong vocals, but then you begin to lose interest. It could have been a few minutes shorter. At times Glass Hammer makes songs a bit long just for the sake of extending the track length. This is a prime example. What was over 9 minutes could have been shortened to 5 or 6. 6/10

3) Life by Light - Opens with light vocals and quiet and comforting instrumentals. The vocal arrangements through out the song seem very focused and are well done. But again, seems like this one drags after the 5 minute mark as there are no peaks or valleys within. Not bad, but nothing special either. 6/10

4) Ember Without Name - OK, this is where things start to pick up. Well constructed guitar sections along with Schendel's keyboard work really make this track stand out. They also incorporate some nice string work that really adds to the feel of this song. Towards the second half of the song, Babb's bass lines are on display and it clocks in at over 17 minutes, none of which seem forced. Nice flow to this one and I never lose interest. Well done. 8/10

5) Into Thin Air - The longest song of the album, over 19 minutes. Like the previous song, this one does not seem forced for the sake of making it long. Great acoustic guitar accompanied with more strings along with Groves' vocals make it very strong. It does, however, take repeated listens to really begin to appreciate this number. This is the most challenging track of the album which I enjoy. 8/10

6) Rest - Perfect example of less being more. Nothing fancy, nothing special, YET this song captures my attention with the beautiful melody and the simplicity. The focus is of the song is on the vocals, yet they create a very warm and inspiring atmosphere that captures me. Might be my favorite song. 9/10

Glass Hammer has managed to produce a very fine album this time around. If you are expecting another Lex Rex type of album, forget it. But if have enjoyed their other works such as Shadowlands and Inconsolable Secret, then you will indeed enjoy this one. Probably not the best introduction to this band, but solid nonetheless. Average of 7.5/10 per song....I will give it 3.5 stars but rounding it up to 4 seems a tad too generous. I will go with 3 stars for the sake of this format, good but non essential.

Report this review (#154817)
Posted Sunday, December 9, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars You can distinguish to musical parts in this album :

The three first songs and three last songs.

The 3 first songs are very Yes music and also but less Flower Kings music influenced (well there is participation of Yes musicians).

This first songs are as beautiful as the best Yes tunes.

The last songs(with two of them very long) show the unique GH. touch,with that mix of their special folk and eclectic symph. prog.

Lyrics and music beautiful.

Glass Hammer is doing each time better

Four stars

Report this review (#156710)
Posted Wednesday, December 26, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Another very fine release by this great American band. But how good is it ? If I go down the list of songs I can immediately start repeating my argument about covers (Shadowlands). This time though it's a more straightforward cover of the famous Yes-classic. This means I have less appreciation for this one than I had for Longer despite great vocals by Susie. I hope GH will not make a constant occurring habit of making covers. In this case I also wonder: is this a filler or did they want to make a very original cover ? This can only be answered by GH themselves but whichever it is I will never embrace this. With the next song they prove they don't need covers, really, and this is at the same time my very favourite of this release: Sun Song. This is a very special one because it's the first time I hear this band do some (almost) metal-like guitar playing. That could have to do with new band member David Wallmann. I don't know what made GH decide to take this man because it actually doesn't really suit their style but on the other hand I don't really care. It's a breath of fresh air to me and if this song is a prelude for a new Glass Hammer: I don't have a problem with it. It will take some getting used to but I will succeed at that. But this is not the only thing that makes Sun Song a very special one. After David's riffs we are treated with the Adonia string Trio of this band displaying great violin for a while before the song gets at ease towards the end. Really magnificent and very daring track, as I said: my highlight. Third song is Life by light a vocally orientated track sounding very nice. Then it's epic time: first Ember without name, another track that starts pretty heavy for GH standards but again it's ok as far as I'm concerned. This doesn't keep going throughout the entire song. The rest is average, more what we are used to by GH. The other epic is more quiet with some beautiful passages by the string trio again. I'm not sure yet but somehow the two epics don't get stuck in my mind too easily. Could be a matter of getting used to but I will judge about that in a later stage probably. Last song is called Rest and is indeed the rest of the album. Not that this album is that heavy but it is a versatile album with both beautiful, quiet parts as well as some rougher passages, more than we're used to by GH.

As I said, not a problem for me, I'm a prog metal fan, but not every Glass Hammer fan will feel the same way I'm afraid. Time will tell but for me this is another 4 star effort by this band (3,8).

Report this review (#158146)
Posted Wednesday, January 9, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is perhaps the album we have all been waiting for from Glass Hammer. With Culture of Ascent, the group has shored up its previous areas of weakness-mainly vocals and guitar. This is a huge step up from their last record, The Inconsolable Secret. While I'm not ready to say that this is their best album (since I have a soft spot in my heart for Lex Rex), it is most certainly their most mature, well-rounded effort. There is a very strong retro (dare I say, derivative?) sound which is evident throughout, which can be attributed to the subtle vocal sounds provided by Jon Anderson and the opening track cover of "Southside of the Sky". This really does like Yes. Now don't get me wrong, I say this as a sincere compliment to the music that exists on this new record.

As I said, the opening track is a cover of Yes' "Southside of the Sky". This works out very well in my opinion. Not only is that just a good song, but Glass Hammer does a wonderful rendition of it with Susie Bogdanowicz providing the lead vocals with Mr. Jon Anderson provided some backing sounds. Sure, it's not an original song, but this version just sounds great, in my opinion. Susie continues to shine when given the opportunity to carry the vocals for the group.

Yes (and/or Jon Anderson) fans will also like "Life by Light" as Anderson does the most singing on this song. Lots of good stuff going on here as the guitars, keyboards and bass all have nice moments.

My favorite songs though are the two big epics, "Ember Without Name" and "Into Thin Air", both clocking in at over 16 minutes. The first of these (Ember) is vintage Glass Hammer and will remind some of disc 1 of The Inconsolable Secret. "Into Thin Air" fleshes out the album's theme which is about a mountain climber's quest to climb Mt. Everest. This theme is based upon the book of the same name: Culture of Ascent.

Lastly, the artwork for this album is fantastic. Dark, majestic, eerie and awe-inspiring are the words that come to mind when describing the visual cover art. I highly recommend this for fans of Glass Hammer, Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. For the rest of you prog lovers, I also would recommend Culture of Ascent as a wonderful introduction to this talented group of musicians.

Report this review (#159636)
Posted Thursday, January 24, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is the group that I have not been familiar yet with the music as I only had "Shadowsland" album prior to this one. So when my colleague prog head, Hardiansyah Rizal, offered me the new album "Culture of Ascent" I was not quite interested. It's not that because of like or dislike, it's rather more on the priority in purchasing new CDs and I did not think that this album deserve to be put on my top of wish-list. But when he told me that Jon Anderson guest singing here in two songs, I was then inclined to purchase the CD, especially with quite reasonable price.

I was impressed with the opening track, a cover of Yes' "South Side of The Sky" (Fragile), where Jon Anderson (Yes) did the vocalization work. Please do not imagine that you can find full blast of Jon Anderson's voice like you heard from "Fragile" album. In here, the lead vocal sounds like Susie Bogdanowicz, while Jon does some choirs and background vocals. That's why, I believe that the band has carefully selected the vague wording on Jon's credit: "vocalization" which can mean that Jon was the one who conceptualized the vocal line and NOT necessarily singing the song in its entirety. The result is an excellent new musical arrangement that for me personally is a good alternative in addition to the original arrangement. In here, Glass Hammer puts some more ambient and eastern music style at the opening. Jon Anderson's "voice" contribution is on backing vocals in the vein of his solo album "Olias of Sunhillow". I remember that couple of years ago I purchased "Tales from Yesterday" tribute album where I found some songs of Yes were arranged differently (especially "Don't Kill The Whale" by Magellan). This version of Glass Hammer still takes the original tagline melody with different nuance.

All the remaining own tracks of this album consisting excellent tracks as well, demonstrating great guitar solo, keyboard solo and beautiful violin / cello (string section) work. "Sun Song" gives that good impression especially its solid and natural music flow, great usages of keyboard, violin, guitar and tight bass lines. "Life By Light" (7:29) starts nicely with an acapella using single vocal line with no choirs followed with soft music and Jon Anderson backing vocal. The strength point of this thirds track is on the nice flow from one segment to another in mellow style.

"Ember Without Name" (16:33) is basically an epic with multi-structure, great opening part using soft guitar riffs. The overall music of this track reminds me to Spock's Beard's music. Again, the guitar solo work during opening part is really stunning and inspiring. Drumming is also dynamic in nature, combined with complex keyboard work / effects. The addition of string section makes this song quite comprehensive. Another epic "Into Thin Air" (19:14) is also another excellent musical journey which starts with nice piano solo. There are quite balanced sounds of mellotron, piano, keyboard and string section. "Rest" concludes the album nicely.

Overall, this is an excellent addition to any prog music collection with the musical roots on symphonic progressive rock. The music is not as complex as Yes but the overall composition does not create any sense of getting bored. I recommend this album to those of you who adore symphonic progressive rock music. Keep on proggin'..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#163141)
Posted Tuesday, March 4, 2008 | Review Permalink
2 stars Before hearing any notes from this album, I was extremely skeptical.

They finally made it. After so many "Yes" oriented albums and the use of Roger Dean to design the cover of their previous album, this US band adds even more "fun" to their game.

A cover of a very old "YesSong" which is dramatically poor and doesn't add a ? cent to the original. The band was also highly promoting the fact that Jon took some vocal parts on this album.

This album is extremely lengthy (almost seventy minutes), and frankly, song writing is fairly average. Few to none highlights, poor solo, weak vocals (I'm not talking about the short backings from Jon). And if some might consider "Ember Without Name" as an "epic", I just consider this one as a long and painful experience.

And honestly, the second one is not better either. Almost twenty minutes of heavy and boring stuff is what characterizes Into Thin Air. One of the few bearable moments is the closing number Rest even if it is on the mellowish side.

Two stars for this average album. The only good news, as far as I'm concerned, is that I have now finished the review of their albums.

Two stars.

Report this review (#173951)
Posted Saturday, June 14, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Culture of Ascent has all the hallmarks of a great Symphonic Prog album, the sweeping majestic keyboards, excellent musicianship to handle the complex arrangements, long tracks with one just seconds short of 20 minutes and an album cover that just screams out Progressive Rock. I was hoping for great things with this album but while it's far from bad it just leaves me a little underwhelmed.

Jon Anderson from Yes guests on a couple of tracks, Life By Light and a cover of the Yes classic South Side of the Sky. He doesn't add particularly to the music and you can't help thinking he's there more to help boost sales rather than for any creative reason. Hardly surprising then that there's many Yes influences in Glass Hammer's music. Their cover of South Side of the Sky is passable but lacks the greatness and energy of the Yes original. A nice idea to use Susie Bogdanowicz on lead vocals though, who I wish was used a little more than she is throughout the album, most of the vocals going to Carl Groves of Salem Hill fame.

Of their own material I enjoyed the 16 minute Ember Without Name the best which held my interest more than most the album. As already mentioned the musicianship is top notch complimented by a good production but much of the material lacks strong melodies and that killer punch to keep me hooked. Longest track Into Thin Air has some good mainly instrumental moments but they're in short supply for a track of this length. In particular the last 5 minutes are very good and there's an instrumental section with powerfully majestic sweeping keyboards and an excellent guitar solo that frustratingly makes me long for more moments like this.

Don't write off Glass Hammer though but if you want to check them out I'd recommend listening to their Shadowlands album which is far superior in my opinion and though I wasn't blown away by Culture of Ascent I'll certainly want to hear their next release in the future. For now though I'll give this one 2 ˝ stars.

Report this review (#176460)
Posted Thursday, July 10, 2008 | Review Permalink
2 stars Yep the Ninth GH studio effort and their last to date. Er... they've suddenly produced a TURKEY! The cover of a Yes track which is on one of the worst yes albums and one of the worst tracks on that album is not ideal and they make it even worse! oh well, the rest of the CD is FAR TO BUSY and CLUTTERED, yes it's good muscianship, but with so much going on it's really a cacophony and it seems to me that each track is four tracks in one all trying to compete with each other. Suddenly they employ a metal guitarist (perhaps to get Dream theater/Shadow Gallery fans interested) and although some of his work is good, it just doesn't work (for me), perhaps they intend to go the whole hog and produce a prog metal cd next, who knows? This gets a TWO star because it's awful compared to Shadowlands and Lex Rex and Chronometree. Get rid of the metal guitar licks and leave that to prog/metal bands, lets hope that GH return to retro Symphonic prog next, because it;s what I expect from them and I suppose a lot of other people like me will be of the same opinion! Oh and cacophony? I'll bet God Speed fans would like this CD!
Report this review (#176608)
Posted Saturday, July 12, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars In My Not So Humble Opinion:

"Culture of Ascent" by Glass Hammer leaves me kind of dry.

So in the fall of last year, the bands for this year's Three River's Prog Festival were being announced, and among the big announcements was Glass Hammer. I was pretty excited, I hadn't made a point to seek their music out and this was the perfect opportunity. I'd been seeing the ads for "Cluture of Ascent" flash across the top of the Prog Archives for a while and it seemed like it was time to investigate Glass Hammer.

After twenty listens, the CD still isn't clicking with me. There are parts of parts, but all in all, it's a meandering CD with very little to take root in. "Glass Hammer" is very heavily influenced by Yes, almost like a modern sounding version of the iconic proggers.

The overall sound quality of the CD is good, though the bass is lacking at times, flat at other times. Bassist Steve Babb is obviously of the Chris Squire School of Bass, which is good if you like that kind of thing. "Ember Without Name" in particular shows why one shouldn't bend the strings on their bass, the last half of the song is hard for me to listen to.

I feel bad saying this, but I don't think Carl Groves vocal tone is strong enough to carry the band either. At times, he can also drift off a little bit and when he is on key the tone of his voice is somewhat dull. "Life by Light" is started off with an a cappella bit in which every other verse sounds slightly off key.

On the bright side, the strings are brilliantly orchestrated and Fred Schendel's keyboard work is very good as well. "Into Thin Air", my favorite song on the album and the only one that I actively listen to when I'm not trying to get into this album, shows some of Schendel's work coupled with the string section. The first two minutes of this song can give me the proverbial goosebumps.

In addition to the strings, Susie Bogdanowicz does a great job with her vocals, most notably the cover of Yes' "South Side of the Sky". Again, the strings are orchestrated beautifully in this song.

The string work in "Sun Song" is the only real saving factor for this song. "Rest" is a decent enough closer and one of the better songs on the album as well. As with the rest of the CD, the highlight in this one is the strings.

Sadly this CD didn't do much for me, as much as I want to give it more, I can only give two stars. They sound too much like a slightly off key version of Yes. They are saved by a rating of one by the string section and "Into Thin Air". If you like yes imitators, then you may enjoy this CD more than I did, other wise, I don't recommend it.

Report this review (#229457)
Posted Saturday, August 1, 2009 | Review Permalink
Eclectic Prog Team
5 stars Saturated with lengthy and satisfying compositions as this album is, it's a shame this band does not get the attention it deserves. This album combines modern electronic and technical sensibilities with the powerful and tight compositions of the 1970s symphonic progressive rock scene. The arrangement and composition of the music leave nothing to be desired, and the performance of every instrument is essentially flawless. Culture of Ascent is a spectacular album that rivals Shadowlands in majesty and splendor.

"South Side of the Sky" A Yes favorite gets a makeover and a feminine touch. It blends exotic sounds with modern electronic tones and assumes a powerfully tight rock transformation. The vocals of the lovely Susie Bogdanowicz bend the melody in subtle and unsettling ways. The lack of bass in some parts (like after the middle bit) lets the piece breathe. The full instrumentation, background vocals, and dazzling effects make the verses dark and rich. The piano section and vocal harmonies that follow are relatively unchanged, if only modernized. And it's encouraging to hear at the outset Jon Anderson's esoteric vocalizations. I honestly prefer this version to the original- it's just so?cool.

"Sun Song" More electronic sensibilities are joined by violin, viola, cello and gentle vocal harmonies. Carl Groves has a "matte" voice (compared to Walter Moore's "gloss," meaning that Groves does not have even a trace of Moore's squeal, sounding less dynamic but also less annoying). The synthesizer, violin, and guitar each have a solo in the middle, and this is the highlight of the piece- each lead instrument's part is expertly crafted and perfectly executed. Pleasant vocals, strings, and heavy electric guitar follow to bring the piece to its conclusion.

"Life by Light" Gentle vocal begins this piece, soon accompanied by piano, strings, acoustic guitar, and gentle clean electric. Anderson's beatifically soft voice drifts in and out. This song is like a thousand delicate pieces of fabric woven together to make a strong cloth- each elegant layer of instrument or voice would be fragile on its own, but its unity makes it mighty. Ultimately, this is a cornucopia of harmonic voices- lovely for its entire duration.

"Ember Without a Name" Dark and heavy riffs work over blasts of Mellotron as a gritty electric guitar solo enters. The vocal section is not as grave, with less instrumentation and the addition of those sweet strings. For those enthralled with guitar shredding, there's an amazing guitar solo tucked away in here, that gives way to a more subdued keyboard excursion. A glistening piano, all alone, leads to perhaps the strangest moment on the album, but once this passes, the vocals reenter, as do the skillfully orchestrated music of the whole band.

"Into Thin Air" Lone piano begins the epic of the album. Acoustic guitar and violin come into play after the vocal, and with clean electric guitar, once more create a rich tapestry of music over a bed of placid drumming. Mellotron is another constant is this gorgeous piece. This almost twenty-minute song is loaded with graceful yet dynamic music, maintaining a full yet not busy arrangement. The vocal melodies and themes are memorable- something always important when dealing with lengthy tracks.

"Rest" The last venture opens with a sinister atmospheric bit before yielding to gorgeous strings, subdued keyboards, and calm vocals. The melody is striking, especially as it works alongside the beautiful violin.

Report this review (#241425)
Posted Friday, September 25, 2009 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
3 stars Glass Hammer, I heard a lot about this banda and seemed to be one of those cases of instant liking: they have the right influences and the musicians were more than capable to live up to their biggest influence, the mighty Yes of the 70´s. Unfortunatly they never had the songwriting skills to match their obviously great technique. The lack of a strong singer and the mediocre productions of some of their CDs didn´t help matters either. They released a lot of stuff, but this was clearly the case of quantity over quality.

I woudn´t had bother to get this CD if there wasn´t for some glowing reviews on PA I happened to read. Since I´m always trying to be open minded I decided to give this band another shot. And I must say, after repeated listenings, that, yes, they are getting better. Culture of Ascent won´t be the CD that will set the prog world afire, but it´s a step forward towards the right direction. The tunes are stronger than the one´s I´ve heard before, more convincing and the arrangements are also better done. The inclusion fo the violin in some tracks is a plus, giving a nice 70´s had Kansas-like feeling here and there.

The CD starts very well with a good cover of Yes´s South Side Of The Sky. Here they prove how accomplished musicians they are. It´s a respectiful cover with some extras touches that add to the song without distorting its original beauty and structure. Their original stuff is nice enough. Nothing extraordinaire or too exciting but nothing like the frustrating tunes I found on some of their earlier CDs. There are no highlights but there arlso no fillers either. Production here is also much better and fitting to their sound than before. Not really perfect, but adequate.

All in all I found Culture Of Ascent a pleasant CD. If you like 70´s symphonic prog influenced music, and don´t care much for originality, this may be a good pick. Ratinhg: something between 2,5 and 3 stars, that I will round up to a full 3 stars because they are indeed improving.

Report this review (#241550)
Posted Saturday, September 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars Glass Hammer create a soundscape of mesmirising virtuoso prog!

Glass Hammer's "Culture of Ascent" is my first exposure to the band and was a pleasant surprise. I absolutely got lost in this ambient music from beginning to end. The way that the songs are structured and flow lucidly makes for a relaxing journey.

It begins so brilliantly with a comparable cover version of the Yes classic 'South Side of the Sky'. The female vocals work well and enhance the quality of the original, along with some virtuoso instrumentation including mesmirising violin, and sparkling piano; a concerto of radiant tranquillity. The heavier side of the band comes from the guitars but it is never overbearing. The riffs are well executed and become part of the soundscape rather than dominating. The guitar solo at the end is a fantastic touch. The harmonies are beautiful on this opening track in particular. I was stunned by the way in which the cover version sounded so innovative, fresh and appealing.

It is perhaps unnecessary to pin down any other track individually as the tracks wash over the listener like waves crashing on a beach. There are some lengthy epic such as the last two tracks and they are journeys themselves to immerse the listener. The harmonies on 'Sun Song' are worth mentioning and there is a scorching lead solo to savour. The singing is always very well undertaken. The sound is often a wall of instruments with a voice repeating in a chant like fashion.

The influences are apparent when hearing this music, at times I am reminded of Transatlantic, Spock's Beard, Yes or IQ. Of note is that Jon Anderson appears on 'South Side of the Sky' and 'Life By Light', and his voice is easily recognisable and enhances the atmospheres.

This is a thoroughly recommendable album. There are no filler tracks, the music is virtuoso and the structure is compelling. Glass Hammer are an amazing creative collaboration; progressive, innovative and totally satisfying music.

Report this review (#308953)
Posted Monday, November 8, 2010 | Review Permalink
Prog Sothoth
Prog Metal Team
4 stars Here Glass Hammer display their main influences like a streaker displays his groin at an internationally televised sporting event by opening the album with a cover of South Side Of The Sky. Thing is, this is one fine cover! It begins with a bit of new-age sitar flair, which flows unsurprisingly seamlessly into Jon Anderson's lyrics, here sung by Susie Bogdanowicz. She may not be a technically gifted singer, but sometimes the tone itself is just as important, as in this case. Her voice is smooth and pleasant, adding character to the song while not taking anything away from the epic nature of the cover. Another interesting aspect of this opener is the appearance of a shredding guitar solo towards the tune's climax. It somehow fit in, but it was still somewhat unexpected. Distorted guitar rhythm playing should also be noted, as it is heavy yet buried in the mix while the keyboards and string sections are mixed more to the front.

These solos would find their way into some of the other tracks here as well, particularly in Sun Song. They're fine, but lack in melody and restraint at times, as if the soloist is merely trying to impress by ripping through scales as fast as possible that coordinate with the rhythm track. Vocals for the remainder of the tracks are performed mainly by Carl Groves, whose voice is competent, although neutered in a sense. His voice does work decently overdubbed within vocal harmonies.

The two long epics have their merits, with Into Thin Air being the superior of the two, with some excellent and creative melodies that don't wear out their welcome despite the monstrous running time. Ember Without Name has a slight tinge of progressive metal squirreling its way into the mix, mostly noticeable by the copious usage of double bass drum battering, but the production of the bass drums on this track sterilizes the low end of the drum beat and renders the bass drum pedals sounding almost like a snare with its "click-click" sound. This is the only song in which the drums were mixed in this fashion, in which the reasoning would be to emphasize the speed and precision of the drummer at the expense of an actual strong aural bass presence.

This album was a slow grower, the opening track being an immediate attraction to my ears, but the rest of the collection seemed to meander, possibly due to the male singer's rather indistinctive vocals causing me to zone out at times. However, after multiple listening, eventually certain tracks do emerge as quite remarkable, with Into Thin Air being the highpoint. Glass Hammer were right to bring Susie to the forefront for their next album, but shot themselves in the foot, hand and buttocks by almost completely ditching the musical style they had developed by this album.

Report this review (#528703)
Posted Wednesday, September 21, 2011 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars After many albums of songs featuring imitations of Yes stylings, Glass Hammer released this album with a Yes cover (South Side Of The Sky) and even had Yes' own Jon Anderson adding some background vocals on the album. What is surprising, however, is that after the cover song, Fred Schendel and Steve Babb finally find their own style, play very few imitation licks, and come up with a winner of an album.

The South Side Of The Sky cover is not bad. The first and final verse are played in an electronic/Eastern style, and work well. The middle section is fair, but stays too close to the original.

The remainder of the album is where the value comes in. The songs are very strong modern prog, with a heavy guitar style, and strong keyboards. There are a few guitar passages and bass lines that still sound a bit like Yes, but the comparison ends there. This is much closer to a great Spock's Beard or Transatlantic album than an ancient classic.

Jon Anderson's part is low key. The only place he's noticable is on the backing parts of Life By Light. He probably showed up near the end of production, and they found a few places to add his voice.

Still, this is a great album.

Report this review (#733185)
Posted Thursday, April 19, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars This one of those albums that would have been better with one track less, that track being the slightly lame cover of Yes - South Side Of The Sky. The error is compounded by its inclusion as the opener rather than a bonus track where it should have been. Once you get past that you have a well crafted modern symphonic prog album. GH have been accused of being 'Yes clones' but the addition of violin (as well as viola and cello) for the first time actually makes them sound more like Kansas if anything. There is always a retro prog thing going with Glass Hammer and it makes the music very accessible. They know how to write a good melody and rarely does the music become really 'dark' so that puts them a little out of step with modern prog. For that reason they are possibly ignored by some but I like the warmth of their music.

There is some nice chunky stuff to get your teeth into here. The opening track proper (in my personal version) 'The Sun Song' chugs along nicely,a feature being the nice multi harmony vocals. It all works fine.The next track 'Life By Light' is the most Yes sounding track (bar South Side) as Jon Anderson adds some nice backing vocals. This could be Yes circa 1977 quite easily and wouldn't be out of place on Going For The One (thats a compliment btw). Strings are again a feature as they all throughout. Lovely.

'Ember Without Name' is the first really long track clocking in at 16 minutes.Starts with some unusual (for Fred Schendel) keyboard effects and an almost prog metal feel. Matt Mendians shows why he was at this point one of the best drummers in prog. Great lead guitar as well from David Wallimann before the girls on Violin, Viola and Cello do their thing.I do like this track. Very interesting almost having a live studio jam feel about it and is about a million miles away from being Yes or Kansas or anyone else. Fred throws in some great little piano licks along the way.This is definitely Glass Hammer music of the most excellent variety.

The album is largely dominated by male vocals although of the more higher range variety. Apart from the Yes cover Susie Bogdanowicz can hardly be heard but its not a problem as the vocals are good. The longest track 'Into Thin Air' (19.14) is my favourite. Matt Mendians is again the star. Sad that this was his last album with GH (I don't know the story there) as he raises GH's music to another level much like Andy Edwards did on IQ's Frequency.As you would expect this is the most complex track and valid comparisons could be made to Kansas circa 1974/5. Its a bit lazy of me to keep referencing old bands as the music is still uniquely Glass Hammer but if you like Kansas's long symphonic work outs such as Song For America then I think you will enjoy this.

The closer is the nice little song 'Rest' ,...well its sort of short for Glass Hammer at 6 minutes!

Overall I like this album a lot. Slightly puzzled that they had to do the Yes cover and include it as the opening track. Nevertheless you still have just shy of 60 minutes of excellent GH original music featuring some very talented musicians. Its beautifully produced (as all their albums are). Not quite as good as The Inconsolable Secret but not far off in my opinion.

Report this review (#787908)
Posted Sunday, July 15, 2012 | Review Permalink

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