Glass Hammer Lives It Up In Italy

 

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!

What I Liked This Year

I wasn’t too adventurous in my listening this year – maybe because artists I’m already familiar with released so much good music that they kept me busy!

Here’s what I liked in 2016 in the world of prog:

Tales_from_Topographic_Oceans_(Yes_album)10. Yes: Tales From Topographic Oceans (Blu-ray ed.)

Technically not a 2016 release, but with Steven Wilson’s 5.1 mix, this is a new album to my ears. This has everything a Yes fan could ask for – versions of TFTO that include the original mix, a radio promo, a “needle-drop” vinyl transfer, an instrumental version, in addition to Wilson’s new mixes – literally hours of music. A sometimes maligned work gets its proper release, and it really shines.

 

The Mute Gods9. The Mute Gods: Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me

I love Nick Beggs’ blend of 70s – era FM rock with snappy songwriting. Turns out he’s much more than one of the best bassists ever.

 

Continue reading “What I Liked This Year”

Some Glass Hammer Thoughts

imgFor those of you who have not had the chance to listen to the new Glass Hammer album, VALKYRIE, do so.

Now!

I’m not usually an authoritarian kind of guy–but, really, go to amazon or iTunes or Glass Hammer’s website and order it.  Now!

Seriously, whatever your finances are at the moment, you owe it to yourself to support such beauty.  I pre-ordered the CD, and I’ve downloaded the 24bit version (for the glorious Fidelia).  So, I might have gone a bit overboard, but I can’t help but be elated–well, maybe even more so–by this album.  A lot of folks have already noted that it’s one of the great concept albums of all time.  I certainly won’t disagree.  With every listen, I hear something new in Fred’s keyboards, Steve’s bass, Aaron’s drumming, and Alan’s guitar.

Continue reading “Some Glass Hammer Thoughts”

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”

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.

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.