Album Review: Glass Hammer – Chronomonaut



OK, full disclosure. I’m a big fan. So much so I  jumped on a plane a while back to see the band play live in Nashville. And got a tattoo to boot. Albeit not a Glass Hammer one. But that’s another story for another time. The core Glass Hammer line-up now seems to be:

Susie Bogdanowicz  on lead & backing vocals, Fred Schendel on guitars, keyboards and backing vocals, bassist extraordinaire Steve Babb on, er, bass but also keyboards and backing vocals and Aaron Raulston  on the drums. A somewhat different lineup to the one I saw in Nashville, for sure.

Chronomonaut sees the band carrying on Tom’s story from their 2000 album Chronomotree (remastered and only available in a pre-order bundle).

When I reviewed Cor Cordium way back when, I wrote “(A)fter so many top quality albums…then the discerning Glass Hammer fan will have a fair idea of what to expect, and they won’t be disappointed” but that doesn’t quite work here, because, in all seriousness this is a quantum leap forward for the band and, remember, I was a huge fan before. But this is no mere fanboy talk because Glass Hammer have to my mind released one of the finest pieces of American progressive rock music that these hairy old ears have heard in a long, long time. And not just because Matthew Parmenter and Chris Herin of Discipline guest on the record.

Jon Davison has been gone for a while and, as much as I loved the albums featuring his vocals, you couldn’t really counter the criticisms of ‘Yes-Lite’ from people who, for example, weren’t that familiar with the mighty body of work the band released before Jon came on board.

If ever a band were truly ‘progressive’ then it is, to my mind, Glass Hammer. And the only evidence I need is this album. It is so assured, so confident, varied and as such so different from 1993’s Journey of The Dunadan or 1995’s follow-up Perelandra. And it’s so vastly different from their recent work with Jon Davison as to almost be unrecognisable. Although everything you loved about ‘old’ Glass Hammer is still there: the symphonic grandeur, the conceptually dense themes (although for a more paired down experience, and one that foreshadowed this current incarnation do check out 2009’s ‘Three Cheers For The Broken Hearted’).  It is American progressive rock music for the 21st Century. Production-wise it is a masterpiece of restraint compared to the histrionics of earlier work and throughout there’s the inspired bass playing of Steve Babb. Really. You have to listen to this on headphones although to be fair Fred Schendel is no slouch on the piano either.

Things start off all quiet and piano-y, showcasing the talent that is Fred Schendel before it gets all proggy, sweeping guitar riffs courtesy of Chris Herin of Tiles fame. And we’re singing of Elf Kings. Albeit with lovely harmonies and more than a Buck Dharma vibe to Babb’s singing. There’s a groovy, big swing daddio vibe to the track eventually  with horns and synth washes before Mr Babb repays my faith in the bass department.

In case you were in any doubt that Glass Hammer have drawn a line in the sand and staked their claim as one of the finest progressive rock bands not just in America there’s even a track called ‘The Past is Past’ (of which more below) so if you were expecting songs about hobbits and whatnot step away now. Favourite tracks include ‘It Always Burns Sideways’, and not just because it reminds me of Mike’s urinary tract infection. No, but because it’s a joyous piece of symphonic power prog. Blinding Light has trumpets. Which is nice. Epic ‘The Past is Past’ (10 minutes give or take) caresses with warm jazzy vibes and Hammond loveliness before descending into Parmenter-infused melancholy and saxophonic discordance.

The other epic track, if you will,  is album closer ‘Fade Away’, at 10 minutes give or take it’s a cinematic masterpiece and a primer on how to pace, orchestrate and produce modern progressive rock music. American or otherwise. The always wonderful Susie Bogdanowicz shares vocal duties with Matthew Parmenter and as such it’s an unalloyed delight, with Banksian keyboard flourishes from Schendel and wonderful guitar phrasing from Chris Herin. As might be expected from the album closer it all builds to a magnificent climax. It’s Supper’s Ready with better vocal harmonies, and I’ve already set fire to the curtains and set off the smoke detector raising my lighter in the air.

So yes. I’m a fan. And I’ve been one for a long time. That notwithstanding I think this is easily as good as Chronometree. Perhaps a tad better, given the wonderful production and guest artistes. So it’s fair to say, I think, that Chronomonaut is the best album Glass Hammer have ever made. So I’ll say that.

Track list:

1. The Land of Lost Content (1:54)
2. Roll for Initiative (7:43)
3. Twilight of the Godz (8:13)
4. The Past is Past (9:56)
5. 1980 Something (5:51)
6. A Hole in the Sky (4:49)
7. Clockwork (2:17)
8. Melancholy Holiday (4:27)
9. It Always Burns Sideways (5:49)
10. Blinding Light (6:01)
11. Tangerine Meme (3:05)
12. Fade Away (10:27)