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Glass Hammer - The Inconsolable Secret CD (album) cover

THE INCONSOLABLE SECRET

Glass Hammer

 

Symphonic Prog

3.40 | 194 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

csglinux
5 stars I left a pretty scathing review of Valkyrie on progarchives a few weeks ago, which prompted a response questioning where my positive reviews of my favorite Glass Hammer albums were. Whoops. My bad. I do seem to have more of a tendency to complain than praise and I realized I don't have any positive reviews of GH on this site. So let me try and make amends, starting with my favorite GH album, The Inconsolable Secret.

The Inconsolable Secret doesn't seem to be well-known enough to garner the reputation it deserves. Curiously, it's not had much attention on Progarchives, but it's currently rated 4.5 stars on Amazon. I consider this a masterpiece and one of my all-time favorite albums. The effort that went into producing TIS is evident from the Tolkien-like backstory by Babb (available as a separate CD/book - 'The Lay of Lirazel'), Roger Dean album artwork, packaging - and then re- packaging with updated re-recordings featuring Davison/Shikoh. The original version of TIS comes as a double album (13 tracks) and runs over 95 minutes of music. I'm usually wary of double albums, as they tend to get diluted or stretched a bit thin (The Wall?, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway? Tales from Topographic Oceans?). That's not the case here. Almost every track is a classic - and each forms part of the story, which is quite epic in its own right. (I've always felt TIS would make a great movie!) One small point of confusion for me is that the tracks appear to be, chronologically, slightly out of order. For example, the album opens with "A Maker of Crowns", but it's really "Long and Long Ago" that sets the scene. I presume tracks were re-ordered to fit more easily on the LPs/CDs? In any case, the structure is that disc 1 contains the two longest tracks, "A Maker of Crowns" and "The Knight of the North". These are both prog masterpieces. A Maker of Crowns starts out with piano, but Fred switches up his keyboard sounds throughout, so they never sound dull or repetitive. I love the tone of the synth keyboard solo at 10:00. Schendel's keyboards are second to none. He has the technical virtuosity of the likes of Rick Wakeman or Lyle Mays, but is also able to play in a way that touches your soul. There's an emotion in his playing that I've never heard that consistently in any other keyboard player. Next up, "The Knight of the North" starts with perhaps a slightly unconventional sound of bass playing over a string section. This is one of the finest moments of symphonic rock I've ever heard. It's not terribly complex musically, but it just works. The same track also finishes with a pretty loop of all instruments covered by choral vocals - one of the most epic-sounding pieces since Yes' Awaken.

"Long and Long Ago" introduces the main theme which eventually gets reprised at the end of the album. One of the best tracks on the album with great instrumental solos and outstanding vocals, particularly from Flo Paris. (BTW, try to name the Yes track at 7:00!) "The Morning She Woke" is a shorter track that picks up the narrative of the story, with Susie taking the role of the King's daughter. "Lirazel" is another shorter track that expands on that main keyboard theme, before Susie picks up more of the narrative. "The High Place" has some of the most beautiful, gentle instrumentation and choral work. Very atmospheric. "Morrigan's Song" has a slightly Celtic sound. I think Fred would call this an interstitial piece, but it's very cute in its own right. "Walking Towards Doom" is an atmospheric instrumental with some spooky choral work which sets a scene of foreboding. You know something bad is going to happen... Mog Ruith picks up the tempo with some up-beat keyboards, which is a bit ironic, because from my recollection of the story, Mog Ruith is where our heroine meets her nemesis. "Through a Glass Darkly" seems to be a fan favorite, and rightly so. It's one of the prettiest pieces on the album with gorgeous harp, strings and vocals from Susie. (Without ruining the story for you, things aren't going too well for the heroine at this point.) "The Lady Waits" is a tasteful string piece that continues the slightly sombre mood, but with some really pretty classical music in the middle. This leads to "The Mirror Cracks" - a brass/harp/string choral lead in to some very tense, doom-laden, dramatic-sounding music which is basically a prelude to the (eventual) happier ending of "Having Caught a Glimpse". This final track is the highlight of the album for me. The build-up and vocals are stunning and the keyboard re-cap of the melody from "Long and Long Ago" with the added choral vocals is just stunning. One of the best endings to one of the best albums I've ever heard. An easy 5 stars.

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P.S. TIS is now available in a deluxe version which has re-recordings of Long and Long Ago, The Morning She Woke, A Maker of Crowns, The Knight of the North and Having Caught a Glimpse. These are all great new recordings with additions from Kamran Alan Shikoh and Jon Davison - totally worth having, but I still prefer the originals. As good as JD is, Walter Moore's and particularly Flo Paris' original vocals are some of the most haunting I've ever heard. Thankfully, with the deluxe version, you get both versions :-)

csglinux | 5/5 |

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