Someone call the police. The FBI. The NSA. The Army. The Navy. The Marines. The Coast Guard. Those evil meter maids. Call anyone and everyone, and spread the word: Keith Emerson has been kidnapped! He's being held at gunpoint in a tiny studio somewhere, and is being forced to play for Glass Hammer!
At least, that's what was running through my mind when I listened to the first track of Chronometree. Indeed, the band's keyboardist (Fred Schendel) has his Emerson impression down pat. As I continued to listen, I discovered that the entire band is ready and able to doppelgang classic prog bands at will. But, just as joke impersonations tend not to make for great comedy, these musical impressions leave much to be desired.
Billed as a "throwback to the '70s", this album plays like a pasticcio of ELP, Yes, Pink Floyd, et. all, while displaying little originality on Glass Hammer's own part. The album will probably appeal the most to old ELP and Yes fans, especially ones that stared at Roger Dean artwork while spinning Relayer for hours on end. Given that I was born in 1981 and thus lack any such nostalgia, this disc does little to move me. Chronometree has its moments (my favorite being the bass and drum-heavy middle section of "The Waiting"), but the album on the whole suffers from prog cliché overdose.
This is a concept album about a prog fan named Tom. When listening to his favorite prog albums, Tom begins to hear things in the music that other people don't hear. He hears voices... alien voices... trying to reach him. Tom starts to understand these messages, and through them the aliens instruct him "... in the science called Chronometree". I swear to you, I am not making any of this up. Luckily, most of this album is instrumental, but every time the vocals do kick in, the listener is reminded of the cheesy storyline behind this album. While the story wasn't really meant to be taken seriously, it doesn't succeed at being good parody, either.
The band certainly contains some capable players. In addition to playing the keyboards, Fred Schendel plays the drums on all tracks except for "Chronos Deliver" (which is handled by the band's live drummer, Walter Moore). The band outsourced the lead guitar duties to guests Terry Clouse (of Somnambulist) and Arjen Lucassen (of Ayreon). Along with bassist Steve Babb, the group forms a solid playing unit. Vocals are a problem area, though. Brad Marler's voice often seems strained, sometimes creating an overdramatic effect even when he's not trying to.
If you *really* like the old 70s prog dinosaurs, and you don't mind music that's incredibly derivative, then you are Glass Hammer's target audience. Still, you might get more out of just re-listening to those old classic albums that Chronometree draws so heavily from.
2000, Arion Records
Fred Schendel - keyboards, drums, harp, recorders, additional guitar,
All In Good Time, Part One
|Dan Casey||25-March-2001||Journey Of The Dunadan|
Glass Hammer - "Journey Of The Dunadan" (Arion 7690511111120, 1993, CD)
This debut album from a Chatanooga TN duo of multi-instrumentalists leaves a host of unanswered questions. First, after the 90's have already proven to be a prolific breeding ground for new and original talent (e.g., Il Berlione, Anglagard, Deus Ex Machina, etc..), of what value is an entirely Tolkien-based fantasy/concept album? Glass Hammer offers us just that, complete with in-character voice-overs, narration and sound effects. At only 30 seconds in to the album, the memories of Spinal Tap's "Stonehenge" come racing back. Admittedly, it gets better than that (but not too much) with a few instrumental passages that sparkle with tasteful organ licks. The overall sound is made up of organ, synth, electronic drums, bass, and vocals (which are dull, lackluster, and over-used as a rule). Fans of modern Kansas might like the music here, and if you're familiar with the short-lived Cinema label from the late '80's, this has a lot in common with that sound as well. But because Journey... fails at such a fundamental level, it's difficult to swallow even the better moments, and it's certainly not worth having to weed through the tired clichés to find them. History has shown that originality is key in propelling the most artistic bands, but according to the liner notes Glass Hammer considers this album a success if only they spark an interest in the Tolkein novels. So what we're left with, then, is basically propaganda for some classic literature which has proven over time it needs none. Hopefully Glass Hammer will find better, more inventive ways to spend their time and energy in the future.
(Originally published in Exposé #3, p. 10, Edited for Gnosis 3/24/01)
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