Glass Hammer - Lex Rex


Year of Release: 2002
Label: Arion Records
Catalog Number: SR1123
Format: CD
Total Time: 66:47:00

When I first heard of Glass Hammer it was with their Journey To The Dunadan CD -- actually it was just an ad in a well known prog magazine. My impression based on this ad - perhaps some review of it or commentary (I don't recall specifics) - was this band made music along the lines of New Age ? a New Age accepted by the prog community. Of course, then I heard Chronometree, a Yes influenced epic that made realize my impression had been wrong. And so, fast forward two years (in between they released The Middle Earth Album) to 2002 and the band's release of Lex Rex.

There are two aspects with which we must look at Lex Rex - the musical perspective and the conceptual perspective. Lex Rex is a concept album concerning "a Roman soldier beset by ancient gods and goddesses, lured on a quest for something unattainable -- something powerful and tantalizing," as says information about the album at the band's website. This setting is inserted into a secondary setting, that of a stage play. You hear the crackling of an old LP and an austere voice announcing that the production is about to begin? immediately afterwards, the sound of smooth organ introduce the story proper in what proves to be a progtastic extravaganza. Yes, I would say everything that one looks for in symphonic prog is here: lush keyboards ? organs, mellotrons and synths (oh my) --, lyrical guitar phrases, angelic vocals, an epic expansiveness to the arrangements (not just length, but breadth), etc. As with other Glass Hammer releases, Yes is a big influence, though here it is mainly in the guitar (hear elements of Howe in "One King" for example) and the overall lushness. Nothing stands out as mimicking Yes, however.

Fans of other US based prog bands ? Spock's Beard, Echolyn come to mind especially ? will find some similarities in Glass Hammer. Though Glass Hammer are more in line with symphonic prog, there is the same kind of upbeat and light vocal delivery as with early Echolyn, and the layering of vocals and prominence of keys a la Spock's Beard. Admittedly, each of whom incorporated from their influences ? Gentle Giant is often named for both. There are parts to "Further Up ? Further In" (at about 8 minutes in) that remind me of America's "Only In Your Heart" ? a very mellow, laidback, sunny segment. I'm also brought to mind of Fragile Glass, who released but one album, also in this positive, cheery style. As I said, it's a progtastic extravaganza that will have symphonic fans salivating.

The second aspect to the album is the concept. What the Roman soldier is searching for is "glory." Like all good tales, the hero must have a quest, and that quest must be plagued by obstacles. For our hero, who first seeks glory in battle, it is the horrors of what war actually means that gives him a set back. No glory there. Because it so much in the news now, as I write this, with the US on the brink of invading Iraq, I couldn't help but see Bush in this hero, thinking that glory can be found on the battlefield. Like our Roman hero, if Bush pursues that course, for those reasons, he will be sadly disappointed.

Present politics aside, the second obstacle our Roman hero faces is earthly love ? well, not exactly earthly, as it is Aphrodite, The Goddess of Love, who lures him away from his journey. Of course, if you want to read some subtext into that, it is polytheism that is leading him astray from monotheism, Aphrodite being but one of many of the gods and goddesses of old in both Greek and Roman mythology. The setting of Lex Rex places Rome on the cusp of change ? a young carpenter will soon make an appearance ("A Cup Of Trembling") and you know what happened to him and the aftermath. The irony for the Roman soldier is that the very spear with which he thought he'd find glory, is the same that pricks the crucified Jesus ("Centurion"). This could also be seen in a more generalized sense of "guilt by association," by why go to the trouble of setting up the irony if only step back and leave it as only inference? At any rate, it is at this point that our hero begins rethinking how he will attain glory ("When We Were Young"). And though the "play" ends after this point, with our hero on the cusp of finding that which he seeks, an epilogue of sorts follows the tale to its natural conclusion ? the hero finds the glory he is, after all is said and done, found in God.

Setting aside my own personal opinion on the whole issue of God and faith, I do like this album. Having been listening to a lot of harder edged material of late, it does seem a little too smooth, a little too easy flowing, but that's hardly a flaw on the part of Glass Hammer. What they do, they do very well and there some simply stunning and beautiful moments on this album, something of note in each and every track. For further commentary, read also Eric's and Bobo's reviews. And, if you were lucky enough to score NEARfest 2003 tickets, you'll be able to see and hear them play this material live ? should be quite a show!


Tracklisting:
Good Evening (0:51) / Tales Of The Great Wars (10:42) / One King (6:07) / Further Up And Further In (15:13) / Intermission (1:08) / Music For Four Hands (And Temporal Anomaly) (2:19) / A Cup Of Trembling (7:50) / Centurion (7:47) / When We Were Young (9:53) / Goodnight (1:11) / Heroes And Dragons (3:45)

Musicians:
Steve Babb - lead & backing vocals, bass, synths, keyboards, pipe organ, Hammond, Mellotron
Fred Schendel - lead & backing vocals, steel guitars, electric & acoustic guitars, Hammond, piano, pipe organ, keyboards, synths, Mellotron, mandolin, recorder, drums and percussion

Additional Musicians:

Vocalists: Susie Bogdanowicz, Walter Moore, Sarah Lovell, Haley McGuire, Robert Streets, Carrie Streets
Guitarists: David Carter (4), Charlie Shelton (3), Bjorn Lynne (2)

Discography:
Journey To The Dunadan (1994)
Perelandra (1996)
Live And Revived (1997)
On To Evermore (1997)
Chronometree (2000)
The Middle Earth Album (2001)
Lex Rex (2002)
Shadowlands (2004)
Live At NEARFest (2004)
The Inconsolable Secret (2005)
Culture Of Ascent (2007)
Three Cheers For The Broken-hearted (2009)
If (2010)
One (via GH only) (2010)
Cor Cordium (2011)
Perilous (2012)
The Inconsolable Secret (Deluxe Edition) (2013)
Ode To Echo (2014)
Breaking Of The World (2015)
Double Live (2015)
Valkyrie (2016)

Lex Live (DVD) (2004)
Live At Belmont (DVD) (2006)
Live At The Tivoli (DVD) (2008)

Genre: Symphonic Prog

Origin US

Added: February 23rd 2003
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Score:
Artist website: www.glasshammer.com
Hits: 1355
Language: english

  

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