Full disclosure – even though I arrived late to the party, I am a big admirer of Glass Hammer’s music. So much so, that I have spent the past four years since Ode To Echo was released steadily acquiring their discography. While they continue to sell most of their titles at their official site, some of their earlier albums are hard to find (thanks, discogs!). It’s been a real delight tracking their development from hobbit-obsessed Celtic proggers to seasoned philosophers. Along the journey, through many personnel changes, a few things have remained constant: the outstanding musicianship of Steve Babb and Fred Schendel, the angelic vocals of Susie Bogdanowicz, and uniformly excellent songwriting. All of these qualities came to a head with 2016’s Valkyrie, a concept album set in World War I and its immediate aftermath.
So it was with great anticipation that I heard the band was going to record a live performance of Valkyrie in Veruno, Italy. (Quick aside – what’s it take to get you all to do a show in Nashville, just a couple of hours north of Chattanooga?). Pared down to a core group of Babb, Schendel, Bogdanowicz, and longtime drummer Aaron Raulston, this is a satisfying and invigorating performance on all counts. Maybe it’s the fact that they rehearsed Valkyrie for several weeks before recording that album, but in this Veruno show, Glass Hammer powers through even the most demanding musical passages with confidence and ease. Babb, Schendel, and Bogdanowicz all sing lead, and their voices blend beautifully throughout the show.
From the moment Babb’s shivery bass notes boom out at the beginning of “The Fields We Know” to the impassioned closer, “Hyperbole”, Glass Hammer delivers a state-of-the-art progressive rock triumph. Along the way are many highlights – the swirling, kaleidoscopic “No Man’s Land”, where Bogdanowicz, Babb, and Schendel effortlessly harmonize while the music ping-pongs between frenetic riffs and ominous chords; “Fog of War” which, to my ears, is a wonderful tribute to Hemispheres-era Rush; “Dead and Gone”, which slowly builds from a tender Bogdanowicz vocal to a thunderous climax; and “Eucatastrophe”, which may be the most appealing melody the band has ever written. The pièce de résistance, though, is “Rapturo”. A delicate theme is played on piano, then Raulston enters on drums, and the music builds as Bogdanowicz sings of the sufferings of a veteran with a heartbreakingly beautiful performance.
Things lighten up with a nice medley of old favorites – “Chronos Deliverer” and a tremendous “If The Sun”. “Hyperbole” from the underrated Three Cheers for the Brokenhearted closes things out. This version made me rethink my initial impression of that song; it’s a monster of a rocker and a blast to listen to. And speaking of monsters of rock, Aaron Raulston’s work on drums deserves special praise. For the entire show, he lays down a solid foundation with impeccable timing that allows Babb and Schendel to work their instrumental magic on bass, keyboards, guitars, and synthesizers.
The bottom line: this is a performance that does full justice to one of Glass Hammer’s finest albums. Susie Bogdanowicz has never sounded better, Steve Babb remains one of the most inventive bassists in prog, Fred Schendel is simply amazing on keyboards, guitar, and vocals, and Aaron Raulston complements his bandmates perfectly. If you’ve never heard anything by Glass Hammer, Mostly Live In Italy is a perfect introduction, and you get to hear a progressive rock masterpiece from start to finish in an inspired performance. If you’re already a fan, Mostly Live In Italy is a must-own. ‘Nuff said!