Tag Archives: Aaron Raulston

Glass Hammer Continues Winning Streak with “Skallagrim – Into The Breach”

Skallagrim

Chattanooga, TN proggers Glass Hammer are set to release the second installment of the Skallagrim Trilogy: Into the Breach. It is an eagerly awaited work, and I am happy to report that it exceeds expectations. If you thought last year’s Dreaming City was a departure from their typical sound, Into the Breach further develops their new, heavier approach to their music.

Besides the obvious elements like super heavy, crunchy guitars, new lead vocalist Hannah Pryor rocks like a …. well, you can fill in the blank. Suffice it to say that Ms. Pryor can belt out a song with the best of them, while maintaining a purity of tone that is never grating.

The lyrics continue the adventures of the jewel thief Skallagrim, this time focusing on his mercenary adventuring as he battles to lift a curse and restore his memory. He is accompanied by his comrade in arms, Hartbert, and they are financed by a mysterious powerbroker, Erling. However, you don’t need to know the story to enjoy the music.

And what glorious music Into the Breach is! It begins with the short acoustic ballad, “He’s Got A Girl”, that segues directly into the roaring “Anthem to Andorath”. This one took my breath away when I first heard it (check out the official video below). Pryor’s vocals intertwine effortlessly with Babb’s and Schendel’s to an exhilarating climax.

The musical pummeling doesn’t let up with “Sellsword” which opens with the dirtiest guitar riff Glass Hammer has ever put to tape. Maybe they’re unleashing pandemic-spawned frustrations, but Steve Babb, Fred Schendel, and Aaron Raulston have never played with this much ferocity.

Glass Hammer, v.2021: Pryor, Schendel, Babb, and Raulston

“Steel” alternates between crushing riffs and bouncy flights of Rundgrenesque popcraft. Pryor’s powerful vocals are the glue that hold all the disparate parts together.

The next two tracks, “Moon Pool” and “The Dark” are instrumentals. “Moon Pool” recalls classic Tangerine Dream, continuing the trend Glass Hammer began in Dreaming City.

“The Ogre of Archon” is another winning hard rock song, which goes directly into the blistering title track. There is an excellent section where Babb’s bass and Schendel’s organ play off of each other as Reese Boyd (or Brian Brewer, it’s not credited) plays terrific solos worthy of Alex Lifeson.

To my mind, the next three songs form a mini-trilogy. “The Forlorn Hope” is one of the best songs on the album, and it offers a bit of a respite from the heavy atmosphere of the rest of the album. “The Writing On The Wall” combines Crimsonesque melodic runs with some more spacey sections that allow Babb’s always inventive bass playing to shine. “Hyperborea” is an almost ten-minute long tour de force that is the finest track on the album, and one of the best songs Glass Hammer has ever done. It is a loving tribute to classic Rush, which in true Glass Hammer fashion, deftly pays their respects without descending into mere imitation.

The album closes with the brief “Bright Sword” which sets the scene for the conclusion of the Skallagrim Trilogy, and leaves the listener begging for more. Into the Breach clocks in at a hefty 70+ minutes, but I’ve listened to it in its entirety a dozen times, and it never feels labored or long. Every note counts, and every second is an aural pleasure.

After nearly 30 years and more than 20 albums, most artists would be exhausted. With Into the Breach, Glass Hammer are playing as if someone has lit a fire under them; this music is some of the most passionate they’ve ever put together. Their ability to constantly challenge themselves and revitalize their sound makes them the most fascinating and satisfying rock band in America. Meanwhile, Skallagrim – Into the Breach consolidates the great leap forward Glass Hammer took with Dreaming City. It is the heaviest yet most graceful music they have recorded in their long career. It is an unalloyed triumph that leaves the listener eagerly awaiting Chapter Three.

Through A Glass Hammer, Darkly

One thing I’ve learned in my eight years of being an avid Glass Hammer fan is to expect the unexpected. While every album of theirs is consistently excellent, there is not a consistent style that runs from their debut through to their latest offering, Dreaming City. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised at the onslaught of metal that greeted my ears when I cranked up the first track, The Dreaming City. Wait, is this the same group that gave us the light-hearted Chronomonaut last year? Yes, it is, and I like it. Actually, I love it! Under the massive guitar attack I can still hear Steve Babb’s melodic bass pounding away, and Fred Schendel’s keyboards providing bursts of furious punctuation.

The core group of Babb (lead vocals, bass), Schendel (guitars, vocals, keyboards), drummer Aaron Raulston, and singer Susie Bogdanowicz have augmented themselves with Reese Boyd (guitars, vocals), John Beagley (vocals), Brian Brewer (guitars), Joe Logan (vocals), James Byron Schoen (more guitar!), and Barry Seroff (flute). Dreaming City features the largest cast of contributors of any Glass Hammer album I am aware of, yet it doesn’t sound crowded or too busy. It’s a surprisingly lean production, with every instrument locked into the overall groove.

Dreaming City is the soundtrack to a very dark fantasy adventure, with the songs seamlessly flowing into each other, much like 2012’s Perilous. Our hero is a lowly thief, Skallagrim, who awakes in the land of Pagarna,  ruled by an evil sorcerer who has kidnapped his love. While in the Dreaming City, he is surrounded by evil ones who want to kill him. At the last possible moment, a sword appears over his head, which he grasps and uses it to save himself.

The sword, named Terminus, is possessed by an angel who provides the hero strength and hope during his daunting quest to rescue his love:

“And the sword is hope that comes from without by divine design, not from within.”

I won’t relate any more of the story, but there is a wonderful twist to it at the end which took me by surprise.

Musically, this is one of the most diverse and satisfying set of songs Glass Hammer has blessed us with. They are brimming with confidence and invention, and every track is a delight to listen to. The aforementioned opener, The Dreaming City, is the heaviest thing GH has ever recorded, while The Lonely World is an aural dose of pure pop. The angelic-voiced Susie Bogdanowicz sings lead on the beautiful October Ballad, while the epic closing track, The Watchman On The Wall, is a glorious and triumphant song that recalls the heyday of Permanent Waves-era  Rush.

I could rave about every single song, but I must single out Terminus for special praise. If Rush and  The Alan Parsons Project had a love child, Terminus would be it. A propulsive beat and a fantastic synth line serve a hook-laden melody to combine for a compulsive listen. Other highlights include the atmospheric instrumental tracks, Threshold of Dreams and The Tower, both of which are reminiscent of classic Tangerine Dream. But, as I wrote, every single song is outstanding.

What is most impressive about Dreaming City is how all the tracks come together to create a most satisfying whole. This is an album to listen to in its entirety, as it tells the compelling tale of an unlikely hero thrust into a desperate quest to overcome evil, and in the process find hidden strength within himself – with a little divine assistance. In Babb’s words, “This is all about evil people robbing us of our joy – holding it hostage. There can be unfortunate episodes in life where that happens and you can barely even remember what “joy” was like – may even become resigned to the thought that you may never know it again in this life, but determine to look for it nonetheless. So this was an important story for me and I hope it brings encouragement to many.”

Dreaming City is an extraordinary and career-defining work from one of America’s finest rock groups, and I can’t wait to hear what unexpected delights they have in store for us in the future.