glasshammerperilLife's journey is perilous – Glass Hammer looks at the journey and finds hope on the other side, just past the cemetery gates on the cover of their new album, Perilous....
Glass Hammer
Arion Records
13 tracks / 60:33

On their newest project, Perilous, Glass Hammer continues stepping in the right direction. With The Inconsolable Secret and If, Glass Hammer succeeded in trimming their impressive but occasionally unwieldy prog sound to a more palatable, listener-friendly experience, still retaining a dramatic flair. While the scope on those projects was still proggishly big, the individual songs had more identity, better hooks, and came in smaller doses. The biggest change was that, on those two albums, Glass Hammer, the band, seemed to develop more of an identity as a musical unit and sounded less like Schendel and Babb playing with whatever various guest musicians and singers they could assemble. Where earlier albums sometimes felt like a romp through a Tolkein-esque landscape, the band's more recent projects seem to've stepped out of the forest and onto solid pavement. Perilous takes a step back to a bigger concept approach but with the benefit of sounding less ethereal and more earthbound, even as they look beyond this earth entirely.....

Perilous is indeed epic in scope and profound in subject matter – after all, it doesn't get too much more profound than life and death, which – in essence – is what the album is all about. The somewhat sinister figure on the cover seems to be inviting the listener to experience what's beyond the gates pictured behind him. We could either be entering or leaving a cemetery – the visual is more eclectic than the lyrics, which eventually point to the other side of the journey (of life) as a hopeful and potentially positive experience. Looking at the poetic lyrics, written with a Christian worldview, it's obvious that the references to Truth, hope, home, peace, et al  imply an ultimate faith in God's redemptive plan for the earthbound traveler – an ultimate haven from the perilous dangers of life.

     "Hopeless now but not undone – hope is that to which we run
      Hope calls from another place – Hope is found in your embrace"

Musically, Glass Hammer shows once again that they've learned to rock, with strong guitar work by Alan Shiko Kamran and Fred Schendel (who, of course, also plays keyboards and provides backing vocals), backed up by powerhouse prog drumming from Randall Williams. Steve Babb, who, along with Schendel, is at the heart of Glass Hammer, once again provides keyboards, backing vocals and particularly crisp, melodic, powerful bass lines. Shikoh and Williams reprise the musical roles they played so stunningly on the last Glass Hammer project along with vocalist Jon Davison - once again sounding startlingly like Jon Anderson (so much so that he toured this past summer as the vocalist for Yes!), who carries the considerable lyrical package effortlessly to soaring melodic heights.

Aided from time to time by a girls' choir, The Adonia String Trio and assorted unique musical elements (including the best female vocal yet on a Glass Hammer album – by Amber Fults, on "In That Lonely Place"), this is still a Glass Hammer album – and it's good to realize that the band has a solid musical core that stands on its own. Schendel, Babb, Shikoh, Davison and Williams are a formidable troupe of players that are turning out albums that are big without meandering and profound without being pompous.

As with any high-concept prog album, Perilous is not for casual listening, and might at times become a little over-wordy – but the album, after all, does have a lot to say. Each track is part of a whole musical experience that only resolves at the very end, an hour after the introductory strings of "The Sunset Gate." With recurring themes lyrically and musically, Perilous does indeed take the listener on a journey – and Glass Hammer's journey continues as well, as they continue a streak of fine albums, impeccably performed and impressively produced.
Take the journey – it might be perilous but you're in good company.

-Bert Saraco

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