Glass Hammer |Valkyrie
Label: Arion Records/Sound Resources
Release Year: 2016
Genre: Symphonic Progressive Rock
Susie Bogdanowicz – Lead & Backing Vocals
Fred Schendel – Keyboards/Guitars & Backing Vocals
Steve Babb – Bass Guitar/Keyboards & Backing Vocals
Kamran Alan Shikoh – Electric, Acoustic & Classical Guitars/Electric Sitar
Aaron Raulston – Drums
Glass Hammer is perhaps one of the most consistent progressive rock bands over the last 50 years. With nearly 17 albums since 1993, Glass Hammer has managed to maintain their cult like status while adding new members to their fan base. Glass Hammer were formed by Steve Babb and Fred Schendel and have grown since then. Many of Glass Hammer’s albums are conceptual pieces rooted and inspired by the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, or the works of C.S Lewis. Glass Hammer’s concepts are meant to be listened to in one sitting for the desired effect that band intends on accomplishing with the listener. This is very evident with their new 2016 offering Glass Hammer Valkyrie.
Glass Hammer’s Valkyrie is rooted within the latter 1960’s to 1970’s style of progressive rock notable influences being ELP, Yes, Genesis, Amon Dull ii and Renaissance. With the exit of Carl Groves on vocals and Susie Bogdanowicz stepping up to the forefront, Glass Hammer now joins the ranks of their contemporaries such as Joann Hogg IONA, Christina Booth Magenta, Olivia Spamenn Mostly Autumn and even a twist of Candice Night with Blackmore’s Night and Liselotte Hegt of DIAL. And join company with legends as Annie Halsam of Renaissance and Renata Knaupf of Amon Dull ii.
Glass Hammer’s Valkyrie according to their press release, tells the story of a soldier trapped in an endless war, and of the girl he left behind. As with most GH albums, deeper meanings abound for those who take the time to digest the lyrics which are, according to the liner notes, “dedicated to those who battle the effects of trauma, and to those who love and support them.” It is a very compelling story that requires the listener to set aside just over one hour of their time to get immersed in the journey of Valkyrie. Musically the band takes a very vintage and traditional progressive rock approach with heavy Hammond organ style synths, beautiful straight away rhythm sections with gentle lead vocals now done by Susie Bogdanowicz that are supported and sung with great conviction.
If you decide to follow the story through the CD booklet you will find Susie Bogdanowicz, Steve Babb and Fred Schendel uniquely and subtly interchange the vocals from narrator to character in the story and still maintain a harmonious balance with interchanging between the lead and backing vocals.It is a love story between a very spiritually damaged war veteran and the woman at home waiting to love him again. Valkyrie certainly solidifies this with great accuracy and timing. Meanwhile Fred Schendel – Keyboards/Guitars & Backing Vocals, Steve Babb – Bass Guitar/Keyboards & Backing Vocals , Kamran Alan Shikoh – Electric, Acoustic & Classical Guitars/Electric Sitar , Aaron Raulston – Drums all execute great instrumental chord progressions instrumentally and alongside the vocal narratives in balanced harmony.
There are some highlights from every track I would want to explore at this time.
The Fields We Know sees us introduced to the loving couple of the war soldier and his sweetheart waiting back home for him to return. This opens with very traditional progressive rock elements with Hammond style synths meeting a tight layered lush rhythm bass/drum section. The big rhythm section reminds me of the heavily bass induced classic by Yes called Roundabout. Steve Babb reminds me a lot of the late Chris Squire with his spot on timing. The female vocal of Susie enters in in a very angelic ethereal delivery. This is the start of this love story and with great consideration the band delivers the emotional and spiritual narrative instrumentally. The keyboards provide for appropriate breaks so the song can be digested within the concept.
Golden Days begins with a total percussive clinic with the drum work Aaron Raulston. Soon the female vocal of Susie takes this track to the depths of the soul of the listener. Not only is she on time but she has such a grace behind her voice in both the female narrator and female lover waiting for her soldier. At times the entire band who is playing most of the instrumental portions live in studio take this to a more progressive hard rock edge much like King Crimson or ELP. The keyboards are a constant flow of layers upon layers that help the other instruments transition from passage to passage easier. At times the female vocal takes on beautiful chant like effects.
No Man’s Land begins in a very haunting style between the keyboards and synth guitars. Soon the drums enter in but more as a percussion instrument. The whole instrumental narrative gives the listener the total illusion of something building , something coming. The percussion continues to add layers and flavors with the chimes meanwhile the semi acoustic guitars are right in harmony with the percussive portion. This track is almost like a film track or film score with the band transcribing foely style effects on to actual instruments. Susie’s vocals are like none before her or currently out there. She certainly has her own unique register and signature where you know it is her when she is singing. The same goes for Steve Babb and the rest of the band instrumentally. Lyrically the soldier is thinking heavily about the woman at home who he loves. At the 7:15 mark the track really takes on some progressive hard rock passages. You can tell the band are playing live in the studio and there is not much overdubbing going on. It is organic that requires talent and Glass Hammer have that. Towards the 9:50 mark the song takes a darker sound both instrumentally and vocally. This perhaps to show the result of the soldier’s experience. A great underlying spoken word line gives this a distinct sound.
Nexus Girl is the only instrumental on Valkyrie. This starts out very heavily with a electronica sense in the vein of Kraftwerk. The minimalist approach of less is more really dominates the landscape of this track quite nicely. This track builds layer upon layer in real time as the band really had a live in studio approach on this album.
Valkyrie this is both a tender story of the woman who loves and misses her soldier. Her emotional nuances to comfort and protect her soldier is some of the most compelling and breathtaking story lyrically. The soldier likewise yearns for her embrace. The band really does a great job emulating this melodic love letter back and forth. The Hammond synth is very vintage yet modern sounding. By this point the band should have the full attention of the objective listener of traditional progressive rock both new and old.
Fog of War begins with such density and intensity with a heavy thunderous rhythm section. The bass/drum rhythm section relentless. The guitar comes in like a fuzzy distorted progressive space rock chord progression to probably give the listener the effect of a fog around the soldier. This comes about the time his woman back home is starting to observe a change in both behaviour and mood as a result of the war. The rhythm section is really tight about this time. The band also has more complex time signatures and changes in this one. It is is really loaded with these signature changes throughout the duration of Fog Of War. The emotion and concern in the woman is so powerful both lyrically and instrumentally.
Dead And Gone begins with a beautiful piano that doubles both as a piano and violin. The woman character has great concern for her soldier. At some point she develops a reservation about him bringing home the wounds of war where she may not recognise him. This is the true ballad of Valkyrie. About this time it seems that there are melodic letter exchanges between the two. The bass plays very well off the lead of the Hammond style synth on this one. There are typical questions of life through this one.
Eucatastrophe means happy ending. The track starts as a ballad type track . The woman is ready to be united together with her soldier and begin to build a life with him. She is ready to help him with the wounds and scars of war. Soon the track takes on a very heavy disposition with hard rock guitars that accompany big bass/drum rhythm sections. Glass Hammer display that they can be a little aggressive when the situation is right to be.
Rapturo the final track on Valkyrie ends the album with what I would call a part love letter part prayer for both the soldier and his sweetheart. It is a very haunting song with deeper piano passages that are almost in the style of Mozart or Bach playing in a live acoustic hall. The vocals seem to take on a very heavy ambient atmosphere. Sometimes a little psychedelic however the band remains on point. The band through the filter of the female character seem to make the case that no matter how much baggage or wounds a person incurs during a lifetime there is still hope, faith and love.
This is a true love story for the ages set to melody. Glass Hammer have managed to make a motion picture film and show it on the screen within the theater of the mind.With 23 years and now 18 albums to their credit, Glass Hammer still proves they are a relevant force in the progressive rock world. I give Glass Hammer’s Valkyrie a 5/5 .
Video Courtesy of (Glass Hammer Official YouTube Channel )
Written By: (Robert “Uncle Prog’ Brady)