'If' this happened to be the brand new album from the legendary Yes, the prog world would be jumping up and down with joy, signaling the return to form of the symphonic progressive rock style of one of the genres most beloved acts. The truth of the matter is that If is the brand new release from modern US prog veterans Glass Hammer, as they take a step back to their origins after the poppy Three Cheers For the Broken Hearted from 2009. From the Roger Dean influenced cover art, to the wonderful Hammond, Mellotron, and Moog sounds, and even the Jon Anderson-ish vocals of new lead singer Jon Davison, everything about If just screams classic Yes, and for many, that won't be a bad thing.
One of the things that has hurt Glass Hammer over the years (the band has been around now close to 20 years), has been the constantly shuffling line-up, and sadly, that continues here, but I think the band just might be all the better for it. Joining founding members Fred Schendel (keyboards, steel guitar, mandolin, backing vocals) & Steve Babb (bass, keyboards, backing vocals) are the already mentioned Davison, guitarist Alan Shikoh, and drummer Randall Williams. If you've gotten used to having Susie Bogdanowicz around on vocals, well, she's gone now as well, after appearing on the past few releases. This new line-up however sounds quite good, as if they have been together as a unit for years, and that spells good things for If .
Opener "Beyond, Within" kicks off with some glorious Hammond, Moog, and Mellotron from Schendel, as well as rippling guitar from Shikoh, before the soaring vocals of Davison comes into play. This one, at nearly 12-minutes long, goes through some twists and changes, as Babb's bubbling bass provides a rumbling undercurrent for extended guitar and keyboard passages. "Behold, the Ziddle" is a complex piece in traditional Glass Hammer fashion, and has some witty lyrics to go along with plenty of intricate musical passages. Love the Mellotron crescendos, melodic synth passages, and deep grooves of this one, plus Davison's vocals are quite soothing during the atmospheric middle section. If you love ELP, Yes, and Gentle Giant, this track will be a must hear.
"Grace the Skies" is the shortest piece on the CD, at just under 5-minutes, and is a majestic pop/prog number complete with plenty of symphonic keyboards (from Babb this time) and even some tasty steel guitar. After the playful "At Last We Are", another great workout for Schendel, Shikoh, and Williams, that again brings to mind vintage Yes, comes the grand "If the Stars", a soaring, melodic gem driven by Babb's glorious synths and Mellotron and Davison's passionate vocal performance. Look for some excellent backing vocals from Babb & Schendel on this one, as well as Shikoh's Steve Howe-inspired guitar leads. This then gives way for the 24-minute closer "If the Sun", a monumental epic that shows the virtuoso musical skills of the band. Babb's sinewy bass grooves hold it all together, as weaving keyboard and guitar lines attack from all angles, before Davison comes into the mix and tells a tale of yearning and soul searching. It's a lovely piece that has a little something for every prog lover; melody, extended instrumental passages, strong vocals, atmosphere, and bombast.
It's hard to compare If to previous Glass Hammer classics such as Lex Rex, The Inconsolable Secret, Shadowlands, Culture of Acsent, or On to Evermore. While there are elements that make this one just as impressive, being as there are new musicians in the band now, there are some differences, and the heavy Yes influence cannot be ignored. What is very apparent is the band are back and committed to bringing us symphonic progressive rock, which is what they do best. Consider it a glorious return for a rejuvinated band who are once again getting down to business.
1.Beyond, Within (11:44)
2. Behold The Ziddle (9:11)
3. Grace The Sky (4:29)
4. At Last We Are (6:46)
5. If The Stars (10:25)
6. If The Sun (24:02)