Exclusive Interview with Glass Hammer: VALKYRIE, The Best of 2016

 

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Glass Hammer’s Latest, VALKYRIE–2016’s best album.

From the beginning of this, let me [Brad] note that I think that VALKYRIE is not only Glass Hammer’s finest achievement, but it’s the best album of 2016, thus far.

Questions

PROGARCHY: Steve and Fred, after so many years of writing, recording, and producing, what motives you?  I ask this, because most bands go the other direction.  They start strong, and they lose it.  You, however, do just the opposite.  You started very strong, and you just keep getting better.  Why, how?  What’s your secret?

Fred: Luck, perhaps?  It may have a little to do with the fact we’re easily distracted and move from one thing to the next like butterflies so we never have a chance to get too stale.  We are always interested in trying something different.  I think in this case we benefit from having little bits of stuff fly by on the wind and stick to us- post rock, ambient video game music; things we don’t necessarily know well enough to emulate too specifically, but that influence what we’re doing at any given time.  The other thing is surrounding ourselves with the right people and I think that has a lot to do with the new album working out as well as it has.

Steve: We’re driven and we just don’t stop. Momentum is important. We have awesome bandmates who invest themselves into our vision and a support team that keeps everything behind the scenes running smoothly. I’m with Fred on the butterfly theory. There are a million things I’d like to try with Glass Hammer. We’ll never get to the end of my list or Fred’s.

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PROGARCHY: What do you think Glass Hammer means as a band, a concept, a project?  Where do you see Valkyrie in your personal history, and where do you see it in the long tradition of rock and prog?

Fred: I don’t know what it means.  I feel like I have to leave those questions to the people on the outside looking in; people that have an objective view of it all.  My perspective is kind of mundane.  For me Glass Hammer is an outlet for the music I write and Valkyrie is the latest work we’ve done and that’s it.  Time will tell us where Valkyrie fits in the history of the band and of prog in general.  I have high hopes though that it will be remembered as an important album in our catalog but it’s not my call.

Steve: For me, Glass Hammer satisfies the need to create and share the work. We’re a musical expression of a world-view as well, and I guess I’ve driven that idea. Valkyrie is or was quite personal. The story of the soldier and the girl started as a way for me to deal with trauma from my own experience. The hope being, that as I wrote it I could build the story toward a hopeful ending, and thus, find answers to my own dilemma. What happened was that I realized how insignificant my experience was when compared to others. It helped me mend. My Valkyrie has already arrived and guided me home so to speak. What happened to me was no battlefield experience and we need to confess that unless we’ve actually been in that situation there is no way we could possibly be able to relate to those who have, or even write music about it. I can’t reduce that sort of horror into music or lyrics. Still, trauma takes many forms in many lives. I just hope Valkyrie helps others, and especially encourages family and friends of trauma survivors. Survivors don’t make it home without help. As for Valkyrie’s place in history I can’t say. We just hope everyone enjoys it and that it has as much or more impact as other important albums in our back catalog.

Continue reading “Exclusive Interview with Glass Hammer: VALKYRIE, The Best of 2016”

Susie Bogdanowicz Live Today: 3PM EST

Make sure you check out the live feed this afternoon with the ever amazing, incredibly-talented, and equally kind and personable Susie Bogdanowicz of Glass Hammer, this afternoon at 3pm EST.

The live feed will be available on Glass Hammer’s main Facebook page.  This should be the link (apologies if not!): https://www.facebook.com/glasshammerband/?fref=ts

Anyway, don’t pass up this chance to talk with the best voice in rock.

 

VALKYRIE: A Supreme Achievement

VALKYRIE is an astounding achievement by any measure.  It’s not only the best album of 2016, but it’s one of the best albums of the rock era, a relentless drive toward poetic and tonal excellence.  Glass Hammer is a band that never stops challenging itself, and it never fails to succeed.

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Susie Bogdanowicz, the Best Voice in Rock.

This is, by far, Glass Hammer’s best album.  Amazingly so!  In fact, it’s the perfect, but more intense, sibling of LEX REX, INCONSOLABLE SECRET, and PERILOUS.

Continue reading “VALKYRIE: A Supreme Achievement”

Worth a Thousand Words: A Photo of Susie

Glass Hammer has released this gorgeous photo of Susie Bogdanowicz laying down her vocals as she fronts the band on the forthcoming album, VALKYRIE.

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Susie Bogdanowicz, GLASS HAMMER.  Photo courtesy of Julie Babb.

This photo has to be the best teaser and advertisement possible for the new album.  After all, Bogdanowicz is, at least to my ears, one of the two best voices in the current rock world.

Susie Bogdanowicz Fronting Glass Hammer

susieI couldn’t be happier with this news.  I regard Susie Bogdanowicz as the finest female voice in rock, and, along with David Longdon, one of the two finest voices overall in rock.

Glass Hammer just gets better and better.  What a great development.

http://teamrock.com/news/2016-06-17/glass-hammer-16th-album-valkyrie-susie-bogdanowicz

Glass Hammer: VALKYRIE!!!

Holy schnikees this looks amazing!  So thrilled to see the trajectory of a band move more and more toward perfection.  Incredible.  Glass Hammer is simply nothing short of astounding.  Thank you, Steve and Fred!  So much brightness you offer in a world of immense darkness.
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Glass Hammer is in full production on “Valkyrie”, a full-blown concept album that bassist Steve Babb compares to their previous works “Lex Rex” and “The Inconsolable Secret”. 
 
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Steve Babb and Aaron Raulston, proggers extraordinaire! Glass Hammer. Photo by the amazing Karel Zuiderveld.

“Still, we’ve managed to come at this album in a totally new way. We have been in the rehearsal room for months, rehearsing the album as if it were to be a live concert. Our shows are so much more edgy than our studio albums and we really wanted to capture that energy. When we felt the ‘show’ was ready, we hit record. That happened over the last weekend and the results are outstanding. There is still a lot of studio work to do, but the basic tracks have been captured and we are well on our way to making “Valkyrie” a very unique album.”

 
As for the concept Babb was willing to say that, “‘Valkyrie’ is about a soldier who marches away to battle only to find himself embroiled in a war that was far more than he bargained for. The story is intense, as is the music.” 
 
No release date has been set yet but the band has promised “Valkyrie” for sometime in the fall of 2016.

Glass Hammer, LIVE AT THE TIVOLI (2006)

Glass Hammer Live at the Tivoli (Sound Resources, 2008)

Recorded at Lee University, October 17, 2006

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Sound Resources, 2008.

Tracks: Eiger Dreams (intro music); Run Lisette; A Cup of Trembling; Lirazel; Heroes and Dragons; Longer; Knight of the North; Beati Quorum Via; Having Caught a Glimpse; and South Side of the Sky)

Call it being a loyal fan, call it being more than a bit OCD, or call it being a bit of both. . . . LIVE AT THE TIVOLI was the last Glass Hammer release I needed to become a full-fledged, more than honorable, Glass Hammer completest.  I can now rather proudly state that I own every single album and DVD Glass Hammer has released.  This is not small feat given 1) how much the band has produced in its glorious history; and 2) given just how hard it is to find a few of their DVDs.  But, I’ve done it.

Continue reading “Glass Hammer, LIVE AT THE TIVOLI (2006)”

Make That A Combo, Please

There have been quite a few CD/DVD/Blu-Ray combos released in the prog world recently, so here’s a rundown of the best of the bunch.

Gazpacho: Night of the Demon

Night Of DemonAn outstanding performance by the boys from Norway. Even through tricky time signatures that require lockstep coordination of playing, Gazpacho delivers an emotional and beautiful show. Jan Henrik Ohme’s vocals are spellbinding – delicate and tremulous one minute, powerful and commanding the next. While he’s caressing the microphone, his bandmates play their hearts out. Songs I thought I knew take on new meaning and accessibility. This set is a perfect introduction to someone curious about this somewhat enigmatic and definitely magical group.

Glass Hammer: Double Live

glass-hammer-double-live-deluxeAs light as Gazpacho is dark, Glass Hammer has been riding a high for the past few years – Ode To Echo and The Breaking Of The World are both instant classics. Double Live features the best cuts from those albums, as well as a terrific rendition of the epic “The Knight Of The North”. Steve Babb and Fred Schendel have been together so long they are telepathic onstage. Aaron Raulston is excellent on drums while Kamran Alan Shikoh has matured into an astonishingly inventive guitarist. Carl Groves is the best male vocalist GH has ever had, and Susie Bogdanowicz steals the show with her performance. No fancy camera work here – the music and performance are strong enough to speak for themselves.

Spock’s Beard: The First Twenty Years

Spocks Beard 20 yrsThis is a fine collection of Spock’s Beard tracks. The first disc features the best of the “Neal Morse Years”, while disc two has six tracks from Beard versions 2 and 3 (featuring Nick D’Virgilio and Ted Leonard) and a new epic featuring a big reunion of everyone. You might think that losing your lead vocalist and sole songwriter would mean the end of a band, but the Beard is nothing if not resilient. The songs from the post-Morse era certainly hold their own against anything from the first six albums. I wish they had included “The Great Nothing”, but there’s only so much space on a compact disc! Of course, long-time Beard fans want to know how the new epic, “Falling Forever” stacks up. To my ears, it’s a pleasant listen, but not particularly memorable. It’s clear that Neal’s path has diverged from the Beard’s, and each camp has its own strengths that don’t necessarily mesh into a powerful whole anymore. The DVD features performances from 1997’s Progfest interspersed with contemporary interviews of the band. It’s illuminating for the hardcore fan, but not essential.

Flying Colors: Second Flight: Live at The Z7

Flying Colors Z7Phenomenal growth from this band. As mentioned in the interviews included in the Blu-ray, the first album had the members somewhat tentative about critiquing each other, while during the recording of Second Flight they were much more collaborative. This is set is a terrific performance that showcases the talents of each member. Casey McPherson is a very confident frontman, and an amazing vocalist. Steve Morse’s guitar work is jaw-dropping good, and Dave LaRue almost steals the show with his bass solos. Mike Portnoy is, as usual, controlled chaos on the drums. Neal Morse plays more of a supporting role in this group, keeping in the background for the most part. “Cosmic Symphony” and “Mask Machine” are highlights, while the segue from “Colder Months” into “Peaceful Harbor” is one of the most beautiful musical moments I’ve ever heard. The quality of the Blu-ray is top-notch, both in sound and video. An excellent choice for the prog fan who enjoys the likes of Boston, or even classic Journey.

Rush: R40 Live

1035x1511-R40.Tour.Cover7.FNL-copyWhich brings us to the big release of the year: Rush’s R40 Live. I have every live DVD Rush has released, and this isn’t the best performance. But there is something so special about this show that it will probably be the one I return to most often. There were times I caught myself thinking, “Gosh. they are looking old!”, but then I had to remind myself they’ve given of themselves so generously for 40 years. 40 years! How many bands have kept the same lineup for that long, and are still talking to each other? ZZ Top is the only one that comes to mind. The fact that this show is from Toronto makes it even more moving.

This is a top of the line production, with every possible camera angle a fan could ask for. The sound on the Blu-ray edition is outstanding; there are two surround mixes to choose from: front of stage or center of hall. The show itself is masterful – it is a trip back in time from Clockwork Angels all the way to “Working Man”.

The animated intro is hilarious – I had to go through it practically frame-by-frame to catch all of the visual puns. Every album and tour is name-checked somewhere in it. The initial stage set is very elaborate, but as the band goes back into their history, you can see workers slowly dismantle it. At the start of the second set, Alex is front of a huge stack of Marshall amps, and we’re transported to the 1970’s. By the time of the encores, Alex and Geddy are down to single amps on chairs in a high school auditorium.

My only quibbles are selfish – I wish there was at least one track from Power Windows/Hold Your Fire, and I don’t know why the bonus tracks at the end couldn’t have been inserted into their proper places in the concert video. Other than that, it’s a very good setlist.

What comes through most clearly as the concert progresses is the love and respect Alex, Geddy, and Neil have for each other. They look like they’re having the time of their lives, and they’re so glad to have several thousand fans along with them. Thanks for the ride, boys. It’s been a great one.

 

 

Glass Hammer: Double Live

A review of Glass Hammer, DOUBLE LIVE (deluxe edition, Sound Resources, 2015). 

2 CDs/1 DVD.  Tracks: Nothing, Everything; So Close, So Far; Mythopoeia; Third Floor; The Knights of the North; If the Stars; and Time Marches On.  The DVD consists of the 1.5 hours of the show at RosFest, May 3, 2015.

Glass Hammer: Steve Babb; Susie Bogdanowicz; Carl Groves; Aaron Raulston; Kamran Alan Shikoh; and Fred Schendel.

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(Sound Resources, 2015)

For a band that specializes in writing studio masterpiece after studio masterpiece, it’s somewhat surprising to find that Glass Hammer has released six live albums (albums defined as CDs and/or DVDs): LIVE AND REVIVED; LEX LIVE; LIVE AT NEARFEST; LIVE AT BELMONT; LIVE AT THE TIVOLI; and, now, DOUBLE LIVE.  Two live songs also appear on 2007’s COMPILATIONS.  The band doesn’t even tour that much, but, when it does, it’s something mightily special.

Additionally, the band has over twenty years of material to choose from.  Not surprisingly, three of the seven live tracks on DOUBLE LIVE come from the band’s last album, but the selections reach all the way back to 1995.  “Nothing, Everything,” “Mythopoeia,” and “Third Floor” come from THE BREAKING OF THE WORLD (2015).  “If the Stars” from IF (2010).  “The Knight of the North” from INCONSOLABLE SECRET (2005).  “So Close, So Far” from SHADOWLANDS (2004).  And, “Time Marches On” from PERELANDRA (1995).  I was a bit surprised by the last selection as it appears three other times on Glass Hammer releases.  Still, of the four versions, this is by far the best.

Coming off what is arguably their best album to date, THE BREAKING OF THE WORLD, the six members on stage look as happy and as confident as can be.  It’s an absolute joy to watch them perform on stage even though the camera work is a bit stiff compared to, say, the visually fluid LEX LIVE.  Clearly, they love each other, their music, and their ability to perform their art together and for others.  Joy simply exudes from the screen.  Babb grooves, Schendel glides, Raulston pounds, and Shikoh soars.  And, sheesh, are these guys tight.  I could probably watch the interaction of bass, drums, guitar, and keys in “Time Marches On”—especially beginning at the the 1:23:34 mark.  Holy Moses, these guys are amazing.  All of them.  I’d love to just tell each one of them individually—”you are doing what you were meant to do on this Earth!!!!”

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Though I adamantly love the Glass Hammer albums fronted by Carl Groves and Susie Bogdanowicz (CULTURE OF ASCENT, ODE TO ECHO, and THE BREAKING OF THE WATER), I had no idea what kind of a frontman Groves would prove to be on a live stage.  I had no worries about Bogdanowicz.

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Susie the magnificent.

She possesses one of the two best voices in rock today, and I’ve said this and written this repeatedly.  She’s also gorgeous (her all black outfit makes her look like a superhero), and it’s quite clear that she gives every aspect of her soul to this music.  Unlike so many in the world of music, she also conveys all of this power on stage as a person and an artist with a clearly good and gentle soul.  It’s a fascinating paradox.

Groves, though, clearly proves his mettle on this live album.  He’s absolutely fun to watch.  I wish I had better descriptives coming to my tired mind at the moment, but the word that keeps coming to me is “fun.”  And, I mean this in the best sense.  He’s playful and mischievous, but not at all self centered.  He’s the front man, but he leads as one of equals not as the cock on parade.

While I noted above that this is one very tight band, I also have to say this: while the band celebrates its friendship and art, we, too, should be celebrating.  It’s an honor, a privilege, and an inspiration to look at what Babb and Schendel have accomplished over the past two decades.  I could never even count how many hours of sheer pleasure they’ve given me, how many times they’ve inspired me, and how often they’ve demonstrated that good and light can exist in a world of darkness and chaos.