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Culture of Ascent
Artist: Glass Hammer
Label: Arion Records/Sound Resources
Length: 8 Tracks/69.08 Minutes
Even in your solitude I still taste your breathStrap on your climbing gear folks and prepare to join Chattanooga Tennessee’s Glass Hammer on a scintillating musical ascension on Culture of Ascent. Steve Babb and Fred Schendel have assembled an expedition crew that brings a wealth of musical strengths and tools to the already formidable Glass Hammer arsenal of progressive rock sounds on their tenth(!) release. Joining GH founders & multi-instrumentalists Babb and Schendel on this scenic adventure are Carl Groves of (highly recommended) prog-band Salem Hill, new member (and aptly named) guitarist David “Shreddy” Wallimann, vocalist Susie Bogdanowicz, drummer Matt Mendians, the Adonai String Trio, and other returning friends. Oh, and the cherry on the top of the mountain are “vocalizations” by Yes lead-man Jon Anderson on the excellent lead-off cover of the Yes classic “South Side of the Sky,” and “Life by Light.” The end result of this titanic team-up of talent is a powerful, dynamic work of progressive rock that is a mighty leap upward for Glass Hammer.
While Ascent features the trademark sounds (deep, rich bass and keyboards, synths, and moogs galore) Glass Hammer is known for, the band opted to add some additional weapons to their already impressive sonic arsenal. The opening version of “South Side of the Sky” adds layers of techno/hip-hip rhythmic coating—a technique also used nicely in the intro to “Sun Song”. The Adonai String Trio contributes memorable orchestral touches, adding beauty and depth to Ascent. Matt Mendians contributes fine proggy/near metallic drumming that reminiscent of Keith Moon at times (high praise indeed, but the closest comparison I can think of). Mendian’s timing is unique, and his style veers wildly up the sonic heights of Ascent. “Shreddy” Wallimann adds virtuoso guitar prowess to the mix. The vocals are top-notch as well: new member Carl Groves contributes solid melodic vocal chops, Susie Bogdanowicz conveys her strongest GH performance yet on “South Side of the Sky,” and the uniquely Glass-Hammer-ish multi-layered vox are in luscious abundance. My only personnel complaint: more Babb and Schendel vocals!
Wrapped in a stark cover black and white depicting a lonely seeker, Culture of Ascent is a concept album about the risky business of mountain climbing—scaling the heights in exotic and forbidding landscapes. There is a spiritual component present as well—the seeker climbs in search answers to the deep questions of life, and there is an Answer. This theme is wrapped intricately in six song movements that enfold the lyrics like a Himalayan snowstorm. Beauty, adventure, longing and fulfillment are all touched on as the listener journeys through the sonic landscapes created by Glass Hammer. Rare is the rock album that creates a sense of wonder and beauty. Glass Hammer manages to do just that on Culture of Ascent.
Listen with headphones.
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Barry Nothstine hosts Soul Frequency Radio (http://www.soulfrequency.com), a weekly freeform FM radio show showcasing progressive rock, instrumental rock, power-pop, psychedelic rock, rock classics, blues, and more—great rock for the ages!
Every once in awhile an album comes along that redefines everything that Christian artists could and should be striving for. Culture of Ascent by Glass Hammer is one of those albums. Now, let's be specific here Glass Hammer is not a "Christian" band, rather they are a band of Christians who are creating good, no make that excellent art. Using the idea of mountains as metaphors, the writers have created a masterpiece of music once again
Along with long time members, Steve Babb, Fred Schendel, Matt Mendians & Susie Bogdanowicz are new members David Walliman and Carl Groves. This is essentially the band that performed on the Belmont University DVD of last year. This is without a doubt not only one of the best studio bands around but they also absolutely kick butt in a live setting. Also featured on the project are semi-permanent members Eric Parker and Bethany Warren as well as some British kid by the name of Jon Anderson.
Featured on this album are not only the bands epic songs but what has become their trademark multi-part vocal arrangements. The lyrical content by Steve Babb & Carl Groves is, as it should be, as close to perfect as can be. Thees guys are sonic wizards of the highest order. "Life By Light" with vocalizations by Jon Anderson is one of the best songs the band has ever done and considering their output that is saying quite a bit. The artwork by Michal Karcz is, as is the rest of this project amazing. If you are a lover of great music than you need to be a fan of this band. If you are unfamiliar with them, this is the perfect introduction. Check out their web site at www.glasshammer.com.
Chris MacIntosh aka Grandfather Rock