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Glass Hammer - Ode To Echo CD (album) cover


Glass Hammer

Symphonic Prog

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3 stars My initial impression of 'Ode to Echo' was that I was a bit disappointed. There seemed to be less melody, less beauty and less passion than previous albums, and more what sounds to me as progginess just for the sake of sounding proggy rather than clear compositional direction. However, the album was new and like other GH albums, the music opened up to me with repeated listens. Yet the feeling of satisfaction that swept me with previous albums isn't quite there with me on this one, save for the glorious first two songs, 'Garden of Hedon', and 'Misantrog'. These tracks are fantastic, and I thought would set the stage for another near masterpiece. But then tracks like 'I Am I' just don't do it for me. To be fair, I do like most of the songs, and the fact that the band seems to break new ground on this album. Songs such as 'Pangegyric', and the albums closer, 'Ozymandias' are pretty cool, as well. I guess I expected more than pretty cool from the albums closer though. I also much prefer Jon Davison's vocals, and he mostly takes a backseat to Carl Groves, whose vocals to me are pretty good, but somewhat forgettable. So overall a solid 3 and a half stars at this time.
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Posted Tuesday, March 11, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars Ode to Echo finds Glass Hammer back in their stride. It harkens back to their pre-"IF" era but at the same time this release expands their sound while keeping it new and fresh. To me they've never sounded so tight. Ode to Echo is their best release to date which is saying a lot compared to what's come before it. This album is solid from beginning to end and for the first time in a long time on any album I'm not skipping tracks to get to the better song.

Glass Hammer took a lot of heat from prog fans over IF and then Cor Cordium as the band tipped their hat to Yes in admiration. (I personally love those two albums) It wasn't for lack of excellent musicianship but the debate revolved around originality and not being "progressive" enough as opposed to being more retro. Ode to Echo should silence the naysayers. This is Glass Hammer centering themselves on who they are as a band and creating some fantastic new prog music in the process.

As much of a fan of Jon Davison as I am, I love, and after listening to this release, prefer the blend of vocalists Ode to Echo uses. The band uses the strengths of each to paint their picture. Carl Groves takes the lead and has never sounded so good. Jon Davison adds his unique voice and style while Susie Bogdanowicz parts are perfectly placed as the voice of "Echo" in "I Am I" and the hauntingly beautiful "Panegyric". Add Fred, Steve, Kamran and Aaron's mastery of their instruments and you have a "must have" prog album.

I personally find a lot more direction and intentionality and less prog wandering for the sake of a longer song. Ode to Echo is a mix of shorter and longer tracks that are all strongly tied into the theme of Narcissus and Echo and their love for themselves. While not a pure concept album that tells a single story, every song speaks to the theme of the album.

Ode to Echo captures what this band is all about and I highly recommend it to any prog fan looking for some of the best new prog music being put out today.

Report this review (#1149540)
Posted Monday, March 17, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars Ode To Echo is the latest offering from Glass Hammer. Personally, I think it's their best album since If. Their last 2 albums, Cor Cordium and Perilous took some time to digest. Not Ode To Echo. This album had me hooked on the first listen. For those who say "oh, they're just a Yes clone", I say check this album out. This is Glass Hammer sounding like Glass Hammer. There are some beautiful passages on this record (Crowbone and Panegyric), but this is also one of the heavier albums they've put out. This is a solid addition to the Glass Hammer canon. Standout tracks include Crowbone, I Am I and Ozymandias. Very recommended.
Report this review (#1151848)
Posted Friday, March 21, 2014 | Review Permalink
2 stars Mmm...the consensus appears to be that this marks yet another step forward for Glass Hammer, with a freshness and new-found accessibility that altogether forms a winning combination. I just don't see this at all, I'm afraid. After the splendid heights attained by "If" and "Perilous" (with "Cor Cordium" not far beneath them), this is a real let-down. After persevering over many listens, I conclude that there is not a single track that stands comparison with any of the true gems that have been delivered by the band in its many guises over its 20 years' existence. Here we have just a succession of discordant, instantly- forgettable tunes (with nothing very "tuneful" at all, as I see it), with no particular melody or discernible sense of structure - just an aimless procession of tracks travelling under the generic "prog" label, where "prog" is measured solely by the yardsticks of musical cleverness and intricacy. We've been down this route before, and we don't need to repeat history. I don't doubt that what follows is near-sacrilegious for the wider prog community to read, but anyone who saw Gentle Giant in their prime, as I did, will know that, whilst they were absolutely mesmerising in their versatility and artistry - and this, of course, could only be wildly appreciated and applauded - their concerts were extremely difficult to "enjoy" because the sheer complexity of the music was so distracting that it became overwhelming.

The time is ripe for Glass Hammer to re-examine the way ahead. They have proved over many years that they can do so much better than this. This is, IMO, by far their poorest offering to date, worse even than either "Lex Rex" or "Culture of Ascent", which is really saying something....

Report this review (#1224489)
Posted Saturday, July 26, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars I'm surprised at the minimal amount of reviews. And at the same time the new YES album gets myriads of (very strong and mostly negative) opinions! This thought came to my mind for the fact that Jon Davison sings on both albums. Surely Yes is on the very top in the entire prog history for me too, but when it comes to the prog of this Millennium, I'm much more interested to listen to newer bands, including those who draw their influence from the greats. GLASS HAMMER (US) belongs to the same generation with The Flower Kings and Spock's Beard, but seems to be notably less recognized (for example here in Finland I haven't seen their albums in libraries). I'm only vaguely familiar with their releases; Ode To Echo is actually my first complete GH experience.

I think this is a noteworthy slice of finely crafted modern symphonic prog. Also the art work from the worlds of Greek mythology and the classic art history is more fascinating than yet another Roger Dean landscape... The music is loaded with retro-oriented keyboards of Fred Schendel - and vocal harmonies, which is a typical feature in the US prog. Jon Davison is only one of three "lead vocals" here (others are Carl Growes and Susie Bogdanowicz) and there are many more vocals too, both from the core members and guests. Steve Babb's bass playing is a pleasure to spot throughout the album. Guitars perhaps remain too secondary on the long run.

The 52-minute album is a safe and pleasing, almost surpriseless, listening experience. Not much sticks to one's memory, but it feels natural to give it another spin right away. By listening the fine 10- minute 'Misantrog' you'd get a pretty good picture of the whole album; to some point it feels rather samey and lacks truly memorable moments. Tracks such as 'I Am I' - a dialogue between Echo and Narcissus - features plenty of complexity, but also the feeling of flying near the ground. The GENESIS epic 'Fountain of Salmacis' wipes floors with this music when it comes to the drama power and dynamics. Hey, now I figure out what's the problem: this music is too even, lacking of strong contrasts. Someone wrote "progginess just for the sake of sounding proggy" and I have to agree. As a background listening it works marvellously.

I don't know the origins of Gerry Coffin / Carole King -penned 'Porpoise Song' but I dislike the 60's psychedelic flavour in this version. Easily the worst track. Highlights include 'Crowbone' with a cool guest appearance of violin, cal and chamber music flavoured 'Panegyric' for Susie's voice, and perhaps the closing track 'Ozymandias' as a good example of the use of vocal harmonies and a colourful keyboard arsenal. Warm organ and electric piano are the most heard ones I guess; Wakemanesque melodic brightness is mostly mising.

As you can see, I'm not sure whether I'm fond of this album or do I find it slightly boring. Probably both. You better try yourself. 3˝ stars.

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Posted Wednesday, October 1, 2014 | Review Permalink
3 stars I became curious to hear Glass Hammer when I read the newest review of their newest record earlier today. Glass hammer is an American prog band which has been around for more than twenty years and "Ode to Echo" from 2014 is their fifteenth studio album released two years after "Perilous". First it should be said that the cover is beautiful. It is an ancient looking motive with beautifuk peoples and colours so only that makes you wanna listen. The band is Carl Groves(vocals), Jon Davison(vocals), Susie Bogdanowicz(vocals), Alan Shikoh(guitars, sitar), Fred Schendel(keyboards, guitars), Steve Babb(bass,keyboards) and Aaron Raulston(drums).

The eight tracks are in different quality according to my taste. Glass hammer has a symphonic touch but not in particular. It is also quite straight rock but filled with progressive parts. It doesn't really fit my taste of music so I can't give it very much credit. I am more into the seventies' prog actually. This though contains a lot of high standard. The longest track "Misantrog" is also the most interesting, very progressive and not too explossive(7/10). I also like the instrumental parts of "Panegryic"(7/10) very much and the Beatles feeling of "Porpoise song"(6/10) aren't wrong at all as well as the "Garden of Hedon"(6/10) makes you feel quite satisfied. The other songs aren't so interesting and sometimes I thought it almost was hard to enjoy it at all. Especially "The grey hills"(4/10) was problematic.

Glass Hammar's "Ode to Echo" contains a lot in music, different instruments and prog aspects. But I had hard to get any interest for it. I will give it three weak stars.

Report this review (#1286565)
Posted Wednesday, October 1, 2014 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
3 stars 'Ode to Echo' - Glass Hammer (62/100)

I had the pleasure earlier this year to interview Glass Hammer upon the release of Ode to Echo for Prog Sphere Magazine. Among other insights, one thing that really served to elucidate the way I interpreted their music was the way they explained their band name. Originally inspired by a K.W. Jeter novel, the name Glass Hammer has gone on to represent a supposed paradox, something supposedly fragile and simultaneously powerful. Indeed, you can hear this navigation between the 'glass' and 'hammer' in a lot of the symphonic prog that preceded, and subsequently inspired Glass Hammer's sound; the same is doubly true for the classical repertoire that, in turn, inspired symphonic prog rock to begin with. The most impressive examples of the genre (including some of Glass Hammer's material, most notably 2010's If) feature conventionally beautiful timbres and instrumental pyrotechnics uplifting one another beautifully. The resulting feeling of warmth is one I've been hard-pressed to find in any other style of music.

With Glass Hammer's 15th (!!!) full-length Ode to Echo, it feels like that dichotomy- having veered moreso towards the 'fragile'- is a bit off. Normally I should be jumping at the sound of a philosophical concept album surrounding the myth of Narcissus, but the album surprisingly doesn't grip me the way I may have been hoping for. The warm, symphonic palette is here to bask in, but for all of their obvious skill and tightness as a band, Glass Hammer aren't all that exciting of a listen this time around. What we essentially have here is a well-performed, intriguingly conceptual piece that doesn't quite make its ends meet.

While detractors of Glass Hammer have attempted to label them as a Yes clone, I think even they would have a hard time pegging that association on Glass Hammer's more streamlined approach this time around. Most symphonic prog (with Yes in particular) have a tendency to favour instrumental fireworks and wild dynamics (once again, speaking of the fragile/power dichotomy). That was true for some of the band's earlier work, but with Ode to Echo, they're remarkably modest in their displays of technique. Perhaps it ties in with the album's concept (more on that later); as it practically affects the music, Glass Hammer seem to be playing below their instrumental capability. For an album that nearly reaches an hour in length, Ode to Echo feels scarce of passages that test the band to their limits.

Being that Ode to Echo generally underwhelms me on the technical end, it's surprising how sophisticated they've made some of these vocal harmonies. With three principal vocalists and most of the rest of Glass Hammer offering backup support, the voice takes a much greater space here than what I'm used to hearing in progressive rock. From the multiple overlapping parts on "Misantrog" alone, it's obvious that Glass Hammer have invested a lot of thought into the way the vocals work on the album. Given how rich in concept Ode to Echo is meant to be, this isn't particularly surprising.

For its subdued approach, Ode to Echo takes at least a few listens to properly warm up to it. While I'm partial to the gorgeous Porcupine Tree-sounding finish on "Crowbone" and the tense build in "Panegyric", "Garden of Hedon" probably stands out as the most consistent and well-composed piece of the lot. In terms of its songwriting, Ode to Echo stands as one of those albums that benefits more from individually strong ideas moreso than the way they're strung together in songs. The would-be epic "Misantrog" for example, carries solid firepower courtesy of its byzantine vocal parts, but the way the passages flow from one to another sounds rushed. The same goes for "Panegyric", which begins for two minutes like the start of some album-defining epic, only to dwindle down to another soft vocal passage. Most of the times Glass Hammer heightens my anticipation of Ode to Echo, I feel disappointed with the result. Once again, this might have been averted if their balance of power and fragility had been just a little more even.

I feel one day I will write a full-blown essay about the American symphonic prog scene; while the United States is hardly the first place I'd think of when talking about most styles of progressive rock, there is a vocal stable of symphonic rockers with predominantly Christian beliefs. While some (most notably Neal Morse, and his Testimony series) espouse their religious leanings bluntly, Glass Hammer have conducted their narrative exploration of Christian virtue and humility in a pretty intellectually engaging way; consequently, it's the concept of Ode to Echo itself that stands as its strongest ingredient. It's clear from the onset that Glass Hammer condemn Narcissus' all-consuming selfishness and the effect it has on the lovestruck Echo. Keeping Glass Hammer's religious sentiment in mind, there's a near-certain similarity between the "Garden of Hedon" Glass Hammer introduces us to at the album's beginning, and the Garden of Eden, itself defined by a fateful meeting of man and woman. Beyond Ode to Echo's mythical inspirations, Glass Hammer's concept is rooted in reality, and like all great myth, it shines light on aspects of real life. Ode to Echo explores the pains caused by the real-life Narcissists and psychopaths of the world; more than that, it is a tribute to those who have felt those pains firsthand, as well as a warning to all who may bear them in the future. As Glass Hammer beautifully summarize in the album's final lyric: "We folk with empathy must ever be on guard for those without."

If that final line of the album doesn't already conjure to mind the names and faces of people to whom it certainly applies, you eventually will. It's rare that I ever find myself more interested in an album's concept than the music itself, but that Ode to Echo touches upon a corner of philosophy that can affect (and in some cases, ruin) real lives makes it feel essential to the album's appreciation. With their critical zenith having been recent in the forms of If and Cor Cordium (not to mention Jon Davison's recent tenure as the new frontman for Yes), it seems Glass Hammer are enjoying a hype shared by few in the avenues of 'traditional' progressive rock. I may hesitate to call Ode to Echo a great album, but it's certainly enough to underline Glass Hammer as a potentially fantastic band. I may have been resistant a few years back when I was first alerted to a symphonic prog revival, but when Glass Hammer remind me here almost as much of Porcupine Tree as your typical Yeses and Genesises, it's clear- if nothing else- that the style can feel modern and fresh in the right hands.

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Posted Monday, December 15, 2014 | Review Permalink

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