glass hammer breakingGlass Hammer has solidified their sound with their last several projects to the point where they're consistently producing quality work, and The Breaking of The World continues the trend.

The Breaking of The World
Glass Hammer
Sound Resources / Arion Records
9 tracks / 64:19

Glass Hammer, those masters of spiritual Prog, continue to make strong, solid musical strides with each album, and The Breaking of the World is no exception. Always intriguing (but on early albums sometimes a bit too 'Middle Earth-y' ) Glass Hammer has solidified their sound with their last several projects to the point where they sound more like a band and less like assembled friends (albeit talented friends) gathered in a studio. With founding members Fred Schendel (keyboards, lead and backing vocals) and Steve Babb (bass guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) still at the helm, the band continues to feature Moody Blues and Yes-inspired progressive rock seasoned with esoteric lyrics influenced by the likes of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. These days, perhaps thanks to the inclusion of super-guitarist Kamran Alan Shikoh and the tight, precise, masterful drum work of Aaron Raulston, Glass Hammer is able to sound tougher and jazzier than ever before while still presenting sophisticated, multi-part epic songs. The precise vocals of Carl Groves round out the core elements of the band.

Starting out powerfully with tom-hits, strong bass, and short, strong guitar chords, "Mythopoeia," is about as signature a Glass Hammer track as you could ask for – a musically complex piece with mystical, somewhat eclectic lyrics, and a title that you're not-quite sure how to pronounce! I'll make no claim to understand the meaning of the words except to say that – at least on the surface – it deals with writing and creativity, although there seems to be an eternal conflict brewing on another level just below the surface. It's a wonderful piece of Glass Hammer music – an ensemble piece allowing the assembled musicians to strut their stuff, playing behind a somewhat wordy lyric.

Melodic piano lines, tight, complex rhythmic punches, explorations of musical themes and motifs, stunning drum breaks, and impressive instrumental sections all come into play on "Third Floor," an eleven minute tour-de-force. The music is by Shikoh and Schendel, with Schendel penning the lyrics. Now, am I just a little bit strange, or is this a love song about an elevator? Of course, if I'm right – maybe I'm not the only one a that's at least a little bit strange....

Steve Unruh's flute work is a delightful addition on "Babylon," which also includes melodic guitar lines and a staccato, rapid-tempo approach. All musicians are in great form on the minute and a-half instrumental opening (nice bass work in particular, toward the end of that intro) which leads up to a fine vocal performance with a genuine hook: "No return, let it burn..."

A real treat – but a short one – is the completely instrumental mini-track (34 seconds), "A Bird When it Sneezes." This is jazzy, smart prog as good as jazzy smart prog gets. I could certainly use an album full of this.... The more pastoral feeling "Sand" follows – a strongly melodic song featuring a compelling vocal from Groves, who – by this time – has clearly escaped any shadow of Jon Davison.

The furiously paced "Bandwagon" follows, with a clear lyrical indictment of social 'helpers' that offer a hands-off approach to social justice. Biblical references buttress the message (" 'Go and be filled," Isn't that your sage advice? ") that boldly condemns those looking more for a photo op and a place in the history books than an opportunity to help the helpless. Steve Unruh this time wields a frantic electric violin and there are bass and organ solos riding on top of Raulston's drums. This is a great song, including caustic, biting lyrics, similar playing, and even a surprising moment prog-waltz!

The mournful and appropriately haunting "Haunted," slows the pace down and features long-time frequent guest vocalist Susie Bogdanowicz delivering the stirring melody in fine form.

A fierce, driving bass line starts off the epic nine minute-plus, "North Wind," a massive-sounding piece that has a cosmic, dream-like quality about it.

Closing the project is "Nothing, Everything," a song that answers the musical question, 'what would The Allman Brothers have sounded like if they were a prog band?' Well, okay – I'm exaggerating a bit here – but the rhythm, the twin lead lines and the overall vibe of the start of this song definitely had me thinking southern prog! Groves' only outing as a lyricist works well here and fits the Glass Hammer vibe perfectly. The soaring guitar and nice jazzy passages make this not only a fine way to cap off the album but a very promising jump-off point musically, for whatever they do next.

-Bert Saraco