Glass Hammer – Perilous (2012)

Sure, there are Yes comparisons to be made here. Frontman Jon Davison is, in his highest range, a dead ringer for Jon Anderson — to the point that he’s been asked to take over as lead singer in Yes.

But it goes deeper than that, past the appearance of Anderson himself on Glass Hammer’s 2007 project Culture of Ascent, and the American group’s very credible cover of Yes’ “South Side of the Sky,” all the way to the DNA of the songs themselves — which on tracks like the new “Beyond They Dwell” feature the intertwined vocals, gurgling B3 fills and elastic bass lines which became Yes’ calling card in their early-1970s heyday.

So, OK, enough already. Glass Hammer isn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last, to draw from the wellspring of inspiration that Chris Squire and Co. provide — and, more importantly, Yes represents the beginning rather than the end of the interesting amalgam of influences that this band has compiled over the years.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Bassist Chris Squire talks about Jon Davison's early impact on Yes, and his hopes to collaborate in the studio soon with the Glass Hammer frontman.]

Glass Hammer stalwarts Steve Babb and Fred Schendel, who added both Davison and secret-weapon guitarist Karman Alan Shikoh in 2009, have clearly worn out their copies of Dream Theater and Emerson Lake and Palmer (“Our Foe Revealed,” “Where Sorrows Died and Came No More”), as well. Yet, none of these important antecedents hang around for long on Glass Hammer’s spectacular new song cycle Perilous. They’ve absorbed elements of those that came before, combined those legacy sounds with a writerly sense of prose that similarly melds J.R.R. Tolkien and John Krakauer, and fashioned something new: an utterly unique, deeply engrossing sequence of 13 interlocking tracks.

Long-term fans will recall Glass Hammer’s penchant for this kind of symphonic prog on pre-Davison recordings like Chronometree and the superlative Lex Rex — though, more recently, the group has combined epic-length ruminations with more narrowly constructed tracks on If and Cor Cordium.

With Perilous, they don’t simply return to the long-form constructions of those earlier albums, they best those older efforts in every way. The project finds Glass Hammer’s penchant for Victorian vibes and medieval myth put to its best use yet, even as Shikoh (“They Cast Their Spell,” “As The Sun Dipped Low”) is belatedly given a more prominent role in what has always been a keyboard-focused sound. Elsewhere, the addition of a series of outside voices — the twilit portent of the Adonia Trio’s stringed atmospherics (“The Sunset Gate”), the smart contributions of the McCallie School Guitar Choir and two different vocal choirs (“The Restless Ones,” “We Slept. We Dreamed”), Amber Fults’ devastating guest vocal on “In That Lonely Place” — only add to the album’s layered complexities.

Glass Hammer may well still be living in the shadow of Yes. But fully realized efforts like Perilous tell me that it won’t be that way for long.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.

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