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Glass Hammer "Chronometree"
by Jeff Hodges Date Added: Wednesday 25 August, 2004
As much as I love the "progressive" founders of the style that time has come to identify as "symphonic" rock, I am as equally critical of projects that are, in effect, sampling these groups. Granted, it takes a respectable musician to recreate the best moments of Yes' "Relayer", but is there really a difference between playing homage to one's influences and Xerox-copying them outright while playing off the differences with changes in studio technology?
This, and beyond this, is the point that "Chronometree" trying to make. Read on....

Glass Hammer has the every potential for falling into the latter "Xerox" category. Although Fred Schendel and Steve Babb are multi-instrumentalists, they wear their keyboard influences on their sleeve. They freely and convincingly toggle between Emerson- and Wakeman-isms. However, keyboard influences aside, I think it is really hard to say that "Chronometree" as an overall project "sounds like" Yes or ELP. Even though they are playing in the style of these bands and moments of the album could have been lifted from "Going for the One" or "Tarkus", "Chronometree" distinguishes itself from these classic albums in several convncing ways.

Sonically, Babb and Schendel's choice of auxiliary musicians help to distance "Chronometree" from its influences. Usually, I am the first to have issues with melodramatic prog-rock singers, and it seems that many reviewers seem to take issue with the vocals of Brad Marler. However, I think that he is one of the jewels of "Chronometree". Marler has a unique style. He is in no way trying to cop Jon Anderson or Greg Lake, or any of the classic singers for that matter. In the prog-rock business, I think that stance is pretty bold and practically difficult. Most importantly, Marler is impassioned without coming off as cheesy or melodramatic. Add to this the tasteful and sometimes blistering stand-in guitar chops of Arjen Lucasson (of Aryeon fame) and you create some fantastically electrifying moments that distance "Chronometree's" best moments from the occasional "Awaken"-style church organ or the "Eruption"-style Hammond stab.

Most importantly, the musically derivative moments of "Chronometree" can be attributed to the unabashedly clever concept of the album. You see, "Chronometree" is a rock opera/concept album about a guy who listens to too many rock operas/concept albums. The main character, Tom, is a pot-smoking prog-rock junkie that starts to think that aliens are trying to contact him through lyrics. In the end, he drags his friends out to a field where he waits, Great Pumpkin-style, for four-dimensional alien enlightenment.

Think about it - you really can't go wrong with this one...

As silly as it sounds to read, the concept is actually quite heady in execution. Without a libretto, it would most likely take the listener a while to figure out that at its core, "Chronometree" is a self-referential satire. I think Obi-Wan Kenobi said, "Who is the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?" The closer you look at "Chronometree", the more you become the fool. It pokes fun at you for looking too closely at its meaning. In the end, the hidden message that it seems to be trying to convey is that the music is what is most important - at least to Babb and Schendel it is.

And if the music is what is important, that is what one should focus on. All of this subtle humor is delivered with an academically straight face within some of the most well-composed modern symphonic rock being produced today. Thematic and harmonic recurrences make this a 45-minute journey into both the past and the future. As with many well-composed concept albums, it is difficult to suggest a single track to give the listener an idea of what to expect. However, the stand-alone interlude "Perfect Carousel" hands-down the best Rick Wakeman song written that Rick Wakeman never wrote. If you like that track, the rest of the album will blow you out of the water.

The lowdown: "Chronometree" is a great progressive/symphonic rock album that will make you sing, think, and perhaps even snicker to yourself if you care enough to pay attention. Probably the most distinctive thing the Hammer has done. MOst importantly, it FEELS good to listen to. The musicians involved seem to be genuinely challenged and joyful in their creation. `Nuff Said!

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars! [5 of 5 Stars!]
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Glass Hammer "Chronometree"
As much as I love the "progressi-
ve" founders of the style th ..

5 of 5 Stars!

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