With their previous album IF (see review), the musicians of Glass Hammer returned to the style of music which suits them best. This type of progressive rock, with elements taken from bands as Yes, Genesis, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Kansas, was the main reason that I decided to call them 'America's leading progressive rock band'. As far as I'm concerned the band deserved this title because of their excellent albums Lex Rex (2002), Shadowlands (2004), and The Inconsolable Secret (2005). Back to the IF album; for me this record was the ultimate prog rock album of 2010. It reached the number one position in my year list. My final words in the review were: 'America's leading progressive rock band is back on track with another masterpiece.' As we all know it's very difficult to release a successor that's just as strong to be called a masterpiece as well!
Very soon after IF had been released the news arrived that Glass Hammer were already working on the next album with the same line-up: Fred Schendel (keyboards, steel guitar, backing vocals), Steve Babb (bass guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), Jon Davison (lead vocals, acoustic guitars) and Alan Shikoh (electric and acoustic guitar, sitar) and again with guest musician Randall Williams (drums). This could only mean that they would continue the same musical direction as on IF. This felt very comfortable to me because in recent years the band had delivered Culture Of Ascent (2007) and Three Cheers For The Broken Hearted (2009, see review), albums that were less adventurous. I was a bit afraid that they might return to this musical style. However, when I saw the cover of Cor Cordium I thought they had released IF part 2, because both covers - designed by Tom Kuhn - looked very much alike and were both inspired by the artwork of Roger Dean. By the way, Cor Cordium means 'heart of hearts'. It's inscribed on the gravestone of the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) followed by a quotation from Shakespeare's play The Tempest. His grave can be found at the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.
The album kicks off with the very strong piece Nothing Box. The Hammond organ sounds very similar to that of Keith Emerson (ELP). However, as soon as the bass of Steve Babb and the voice of Jon Davison join in the influences of Yes are awesome. It's like Chris Squire (bass) and Jon Anderson (vocals) have taken over Glass Hammer! This also applies for the second track One Heart. However, in the third track Salvation Station some changes are noticeable. First there's a short part showing that the band must have been influenced by Gentle Giant as well, but also traces of fusion have been integrated in the music mainly due to the sound of the electric piano and the electric guitar. This song also contains acoustic guitar work that continues on the following tracks. As a result the music glides very much towards folk rock. The playing on the acoustic guitar sometimes reminded me of the early Genesis-albums, but also the Yes-song I've Seen All Good People came to my mind. The outstanding epic pieces Dear Daddy and To Someone again have a strong relation with Yes. The first one features two special guests namely Jeffrey Sick (violin) and Ed Davis (viola); on the second one the guitar parts are quite similar to those of Steve Howe, but also the keyboards have an important role in this epic. Listening to the passages on the Hammond organ, Keith Emerson (ELP) is never far away. The final piece She, A Lonely Tower ends the album in style just like they have always done. This epic piece contains mellower moments compared to the other ones, but still with many Yes-influences. The magnificent duels between the guitar and the synthesizer deserve a special mention.
Again I had no difficulties at all to rate this new Glass Hammer-album. It's definitely no copy of IF; I love Cor Cordium even better. IF got the highest possible rating of five stars and I called it a masterpiece. Since five stars is the maximum rating for an album, this new masterpiece can't do for less. For me IF was one of the prog highlights of 2010, and it's obvious that I regard Cor Cordium to be one of the highlights of 2011. As usual for a Glass Hammer album I highly recommend this superb release to people who like the music of bands like Yes, ELP, Kansas and Genesis.
***** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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