Tag Archives: Glass Hammer

Glass Hammer’s At The Gate

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Glass Hammer is set to release the third album in their Skallagrim Trilogy, entitled At The Gate. The first album of the trilogy, 2020’s Dreaming City, heralded a new, much heavier sound for GH, which is continued in At The Gate. The albums chronicle the sword-and-sorcery adventures of a hard-bitten thief named Skallagrim who finds himself locked in a desperate struggle with forces of evil. Through his struggles to find his lost love, he matures and gains much wisdom. In this final installment, Skallagrim has been cursed to live a thousand years seeking his love. When he finally does find her, he ends up sacrificing himself so she can be free.

At The Gate begins with one of Glass Hammer’s finest songs of their long career – the beautiful The Years Roll By. This song is in more of the “classic” prog style long-time GH fans have loved – a keyboards-driven melody with majestic vocals underpinned by Aaron Raulston’s excellent percussion and Steve Babb’s energetic and inventive bass. The inimitable Babb also supplies the pipe organ and keyboards on this one. Vocalist Hannah Pryor really comes into her own on this track, and Fred Schendel is outstanding (as usual!) on guitars.

Savage is up next, and it begins with a spare, unaccompanied guitar riff that soon explodes into a heavy groove. Pryor’s voice is perfect for this crunchy, metallic style, as she can really wail while maintaining a delicate tone.

North of North continues the interesting experiments GH has been doing with their instrumentals in the trilogy. It begins with a propulsive, Tangerine Dream-like synth riff that builds and builds. I hope they continue to explore this style of music!

All Alone begins as another crushing tune reminiscent of King’s X at their heaviest. The style fits the lyrics, as Skallagrim grimly mutters, “The dark is deep and blood runs cold, so cold. Don’t leave her there all alone.” The mood lightens when the melody transforms into a bluesy riff and Pryor sings, “Think how good you’ll feel when the battle’s won, no need to roam, you’ll take her home to stay.” I like the tension between the dark and light moods in this track.

All For Love is the most “proggy” song on the album, with lots of time changes, switching from major to minor keys, and furious guitar work from Reese Boyd. From the beginning, the tempo gallops along, leaving the listener feeling like he or she has run a marathon!

Snowblind Girl keeps the up the fast and furious pace, and Raulston really shines on this track. It also creates tension between the melodic passages sung by Pryor and the dark, chaotic instrumental responses.

Standing At The Gate is the most “difficult” song on the album, with discordant organ chords opening it and the rapid tempos continuing. GH alum Jon Davison has a nice cameo here on vocals.

After four heavy, blistering songs, the last two provide some welcome relief. In The Shadows and It’s Love are combined into a single track, and they contain some of the most beautiful music Glass Hammer has produced. In The Shadows evokes Radiohead at its most gentle and melodic. It’s a terrific song with simple instrumentation that like a balm after the frenetic and dense activity of the previous four. In it, Skallagrim has vowed to sacrifice himself for the sake of his love, and he is at peace with it: “There’s no life without you, there’s no life. If I walk this life alone, if I never find a home, there’s no life without you.”

In The Shadows segues seamlessly into It’s Love with some majestic organ work by Babb and the trebly, melodic bass that he is so good at. The production is open and inviting, as Pryor sings, “What you’re longing for is waiting in Heaven up above. There is no greater act then when one lays down his life, down for love.” It’s a truly beautiful moment, and one of Glass Hammer’s career highlights. The song ends with a coda that recalls the riff from Dreaming City’s A Desperate Man, which is nice way to tie the trilogy together into a unified work.

So, to sum up, At The Gate contains some of Glass Hammer’s most ambitious and challenging music. It is a tribute to their skill and talent that they pull it off so successfully. The album opens and closes with songs that sound like classic Glass Hammer, but with a contemporary feel. Looking back over their career, it is astonishing to me that a group of musicians are able to compose and perform such consistently excellent music over such a long period. Glass Hammer never fails to satisfy discerning prog fans, while exploring new and fascinating styles of music. They never stop evolving – here’s to hoping they continue for another 20 years!

You can order At The Gate here.

Here’s the video for The Years Roll By:

Glass Hammer Set to Release New Album

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Hannah Pryor, Fred Schendel, Steve Babb, and Aaron Raulston

“Wow”, just “Wow”. Check out the video for The Years Roll By, the new song from Glass Hammer’s upcoming album, At The Gate. If you need a lift, this song will do it! It hearkens back to GH’s classic, more “symphonic” sound, while incorporating the heavier edge they’ve had lately. IMHO, it’s one of the best songs they’ve recorded in their long career:

Here’s the official press release with more info:

The Years Roll By is the opening track on Glass Hammer’s At The Gate concept album —set for release on October 7th, 2022.

Bandleader Steve Babb said the following about the new album: “At The Gate completes our sword and sorcery inspired trilogy that began with 2020s Dreaming City. We followed that up with last year’s Skallagrim—Into The Breach.”

For the uninitiated, he went on to explain. “It’s the story of a scarred and battered thief, Skallagrim, who’s had his memory stolen along with the love of his life. He’s got to fight unimaginable horrors and slay hideous creatures and sorcerous villains if he’s ever to reclaim either. Finally, at the end of the last album, his memory is returned, but he finds himself cursed to wait one thousand years for a chance to find his lost love! At The Gate picks up at the end of his tale as he prepares to face the ultimate challenge of his life—to finally rescue his girl and defeat the evil being who has imprisoned her.

“Of course, as with any Glass Hammer concept album, there is more to it than a simple plot. On the surface, it appears to be about magic swords and heroes, but it’s actually a story about confronting evil, how to survive it, and how to face despair and heartache.

And most importantly, it’s about why the pursuit of profound and lasting joy in an often joyless world is worthwhile, even when all available evidence suggests it cannot be found.”  

Babb says he chose to open the album with a ballad. “…something ethereal, something reminiscent of what our fans call classic Glass Hammer. The Years Roll By fits the bill, I think. Of course, there’ll be plenty of metal and prog on the new album. The next music video I plan to release hits really hard!”

Autographed copies of At The Gate are available for pre-order on the Glass Hammer Store website. www.glasshammer.com

Glass Hammer Set to Release New Album

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Here’s the latest news from one of our favorite artists:

At The Gate, the third album of the Skallagrim trilogy, is set for release on October 7th. The new album follows Dreaming City (2020) and Skallagrim – Into The Breach (2021), bringing the story of the ‘thief with the screaming sword’  to its conclusion.

Vocalist Hannah Pyror is back to front the group and is joined by bandleader Steve Babb, keyboardist Fred Schendel, and drummer Aaron Raulston. In addition, vocalists Jon Davison (Yes) and John Beagley (Life In Digital) will contribute as well as guitarist Reese Boyd.   

Babb says to expect another 70’s metal-influenced project but also promises a return to the symphonic-prog sound the band is best known for.

“An album can be both things,” he claims. “Since the inception of the trilogy in 2020, it’s been my intention to tell this sword and sorcery-inspired tale with appropriate music. And to do that, I needed the sound to evolve toward something grand by the end of the third album. Skallagrim’s story is one of lost joy, of grief, and longing, and ultimately of a worn-down swordsman’s coming to grips with what the world can and cannot offer him. It’s probably the most important story we’ve ever told through music, so important to me that it led me to retell it in novels.” Babb’s book, “Skallagrim – In The Vales Of Pagarna,” was released in March of this year.

Babb adds, “So, for those who love our newer, edgier sound, they won’t be disappointed. But I’ve brought back the pipe organ, the choirs, and the sweeping ballads for those who miss the sounds of our earlier albums. I think it works, but the fans will be the ones to decide!”

Top-Notch Sword and Sorcery From A Prog Rocker

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Stephen Babb is best known as coleader, bassist, singer, and songwriter for venerable prog-rockers Glass Hammer. Now he can add “accomplished fantasy author” to his resume. He has just published Book One of a projected trilogy featuring the character Skallagrim, who also features in the two most recent Glass Hammer albums, Dreaming City and Into the Breach.

Let me say right off the bat how impressed I am with Babb’s writing ability. From the very first word, he takes the reader on a rollercoaster of a ride through a fully fleshed out world that includes demons, sorcerers, assassins, hideous Lovecraftian creatures, beautiful nymphs, and monstrous ghouls.

While the plot loosely follows the one outlined in Dreaming City, Skallagrim In The Vales of Pagarna is full of surprising twists and turns. Skallagrim himself is a very likeable and endearing character who endures tremendous trials and hardships on his quest to rescue a beautiful young woman he sees for just a moment before she is taken captive by an evil sorcerer. I won’t say anything more than that regarding the plot, because I don’t want share any spoilers. However, even if you’re familiar with Dreaming City, you will still be surprised with how this story concludes. 

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The underlying theme of the story is how Skallagrim, a lowly thief who suffers from amnesia, matures both emotionally and spiritually. In that sense, In The Vales of Pagarna is a modern-day Pilgrim’s Progress, albeit quite a bit bloodier! The obvious comparisons are to Tolkien and Lewis, but Babb has managed to come up with an original mix that includes the aforementioned H. P. Lovecraft and a bit of Moorcock. Like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Christianity provides the framework for Babb’s fictional world, but it is never explicitly referenced. There are several episodes where Skallagrim is “surprised by joy” as C. S. Lewis would say.

Fans of Glass Hammer will rejoice to learn that the story from their The Inconsolable Secret album is deftly integrated into this new saga, and there are several “Easter eggs” sprinkled throughout. GH has long been a favorite musical artist of mine; now I have a favorite fantasy author as well!

The Best Albums of 2021

As much as I am happy to see 2021 fade away in my rear-view mirror, it was an exceptionally good year for music. Wait, let me qualify that – 2021 was an exceptionally good year for some genres of music. In broader cultural terms, music streaming services continued their ascendance as the preferred choice of consumers. Spotify, Apple, and Amazon are steadily erasing the idea of the “album” as a listening experience. People can now create their own playlists, mixing artists and genres to suit their personal preferences. In some ways, the compact disc was its own worst enemy. Instead of an album taking 35 to 45 minutes of a listener’s time, artists began adding more and more subpar songs to their releases so as to fill out the 75-minute capacity of the CD. While the extra available time is a perfect fit for progressive rock, classical music, and jazz, it definitely doesn’t work for pop music.

Speaking of which, pop music itself has degenerated into a homogeneous olio of auto-tuned, computer-composed dreck that is as lasting as cotton candy. There are no longer any artists that attract a broad audience that spans ages, cultures, and tastes. Taylor Swift might come close, but her sales (if that concept has any meaning these days) are a fraction of what a 1970s Fleetwood Mac or Elton John achieved. Radio is a spent force, and most teenaged music consumers get their tunes via TikTok and other social media. The days when one could turn on the radio and hear The Beatles, a Motown masterpiece, a Burt Bacharach ballad, some Lee Morgan hard bop, and The Who on the same station are long gone.

However, in 2021 progressive rock continued to champion the album as the preferred musical package. With that in mind, here are my favorite albums of last year. It was such a bountiful crop that I can’t limit myself to a Top Ten; it was hard for me to whittle the list down to fifteen!

15. Arc of Life

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This is a side project of Yes-men Billy Sherwood, Jon Davison, and Jay Schellen, who are joined by prog-genius Dave Kerzner and Jimi Haun. While Yes’s album, The Quest, got all the attention, I found myself enjoying this one more. It’s poppier and tighter, with terrific production. Also, the optimistic and uplifting lyrics lightened the dreary early months of 2021.

14.Gary Numan – Intruder

Numan Intruder

From the light of Arc of Life to the darkness of Gary Numan. His previous two albums, Splinter and Savage were tremendous efforts, and Intruder continues in their synth-heavy style. There’s not a lot of hope in Gary’s outlook on life, but you can’t deny his compositional gifts. Every song satisfies on a gut level.

13. Kevin Keller – Shimmer

Keller Shimmer

One of my favorite contemporary composers, Keller solicited suggestions from his fans and incorporated them into this collection of songs. At times minimalist, other times unabashedly romantic, Keller’s music in Shimmer is always a treat. This is one that will never grow stale.

12. Transatlantic – The Absolute Universe

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An unprecedented release from this prog supergroup, and one of their best ever. It came in three versions: the single-CD Breath of Life, The two-CD Forevermore, and the Blu-Ray Ultimate Version. All three are different albums with unique character. If pressed, I prefer the Ultimate Version, but I have really enjoyed immersing myself in each one.

11. Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk – Eight Fragments of an Illusion

Schnauss Munk

I’m such a big fan of Schnauss (Tangerine Dream, Engineers) that I will buy anything he puts out. This is his third collaboration with guitarist Jonas Munk, and, and it is excellent instrumental electronica. Highly recommended for fans of Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno, and American Dollar.

10. Evership – The Uncrowned King

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Nashville proggers Evership continue to impress with their third effort. This is a concept album based on an allegory by Harold Bell Wright. This is great prog in the style of classic Kansas or Queen.

9. Leprous – Aphelion

leprous Aphelion

With a name like Leprous, you might think this is extremely dark, growly metal. However, vocalist Einar Solberg possesses some of the most impressive pipes in music. This is a set of songs that are uplifting and thrilling. Leprous is on the verge of breaking into a huge phenomenon.

8. Richard Barbieri – Under a Spell

Barbieri Spell

Barbieri’s previous album, Planets + Persona, was my favorite album of 2017. Under a Spell continues his unique musical creations – part jazz, part samples, part rock, all great. Spooky and comforting at the same time, if that makes sense.

7. NMB – Innocence and Danger

NMB Innocence

The Neal Morse Band is now a full-fledged collaborative group, and this 2-CD set is their best yet. No concept, just terrific songs. The 31+ minutes long Beyond the Years is one of their greatest epics. The only fly in the ointment is Bill Hubauer’s annoying nasal vocals, but they aren’t distracting enough to ruin the listening experience.

6. Big Big Train – Common Ground

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A wonderful collection of songs that cement BBT’s status as the most creative group making music today. The loss of David Longden was one of the most tragic events of 2021.

5. Glass Hammer – Into the Breach

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Glass Hammer reinvent themselves once again, this time as ferocious prog rockers. New lead vocalist Hannah Pryor is the perfect person to carry these powerful songs. Messrs. Schendel and Babb never cease to amaze with their endless musical ingenuity.

4. Styx – Crash of the Crown

Styx Crown

I never thought I would be raving about a new album from veteran rockers Styx, but this is the real deal. Tommy Shaw has never sounded better, and there isn’t a single piece of filler in this album. Fifteen songs clocking in at 43 minutes, this an impeccably crafted set that was the biggest surprise of 2021.

3. Downes Braide Association – Halcyon Hymns

DBA Hymns

The fourth album from DBA is their best yet. Chris Braide is a terrific singer, and this is a great set of melodic gems. Each song evokes a pastoral paradise, providing relief from an anxiety-laden 2021. For most of the year, when I couldn’t decide what to listen to, Halcyon Hymns was my go-to album that never failed to satisfy.

2. Lifesigns – Altitude

Lifesigns Altitude

What a tremendous album, full of gorgeous twists and turns. The title track and Last One Home are two of the finest songs of the year. I listened to this one more than any other, excepting….

1. Frost* – Day and Age

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The title track is my favorite song of the year, featuring a killer hook from Jem Godfrey and ferocious guitar and vocals by John Mitchell. A perfectly sequenced album, with musical themes resurfacing throughout, Day and Age is a towering achievement for Frost*. The production is unbelievably crisp and reveals new details with each listen. Hands down, the best album in a year of truly outstanding ones.

I hope my list piqued your interest in some artists you may not have heard before. Here is a Spotify playlist that samples some of the delights contained in these wonderful albums.

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

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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.

The Best Albums of 2020

The first two months of 2020 seem like a decade ago. It was certainly a different world than the one we live in now. As I look over my listening habits during 2020, it is clear that all of the chaos of the year had me seeking somewhat calmer music than I normally listen to. That said, there was an abundance of excellent music to choose from. Artists who were prevented from touring channeled their energy into recording new albums, and we are the beneficiaries of that.

Number 11: Katatonia’s City Burials

Katatonia improved on 2017’s amazing Fall of Hearts with City of Burials. Jonas Renkse’s vocals are some of the finest in rock, and the rest of the band are worthy accompanists. While there are still some crunchingly hard tracks, the standout ones – like “Lacquer” – are full of stillness and hushed tones.

Number 10: Lunatic Soul’s Through Shaded Woods

There are all kinds of primal rhythms and timeless melodies happening here, and the result is Mariusz Duda’s finest release as Lunatic Soul . You can read more of our thoughts on it here

Number 9: Kevin Keller’s The Front Porch Of Heaven

Keller is one of the finest composers of classical music today. This song cycle was composed and recorded after he underwent open heart surgery. It is an extraordinary work that is life-affirming and encouraging. It is rare for instrumental pieces to communicate such feeling and reassurance.

Number 8: The Bardic Depths

Spirit of Cecilia’s own Brad Birzer and Dave Bandana joined forces for this tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield. The music runs the gamut from elegant spaciness to funky prog. It is a blast to listen to, and I hope Robin Armstrong’s Gravity Dream label plans to release more from them. You can read my full review here.

Number 7: Pineapple Thief’s Versions of the Truth

Bruce Soord has really come into his own with the past few PT albums. Having drummer Gavin Harrison on board has injected a huge dose of energy into their music, making Versions of the Truth their best album ever.

Number 6: Loma’s Don’t Shy Away

The most interesting sounding album in this list. Loma is an American trio who take loose jams and breathy vocals to create an utterly beautiful sound that is compulsively listenable.

Number 5: Glass Hammer’s Dreaming City

Has Glass Hammer ever released a mediocre album? Not that I’m aware of, and I have 29 in my music collection. Dreaming City is one of the hardest-edged albums of their career, conjuring up memories of classic Rush, but maintaining that unique Glass Hammer sound. You can read my full review here.

Number 4: Gazpacho’s Fireworker

A new direction for Gazpacho, as they incorporate choirs and orchestra into their sound. The “Fireworker” of the title is the primal presence in every human that we have to control if we are to be civilized. You can read more of our thoughts on this album here.

Number 3: Kyros’ Celexa Dreams

What do you get when you mash up the best of ’80s pop/rock with a contemporary prog sensibility? This fantastic album that has logged dozens of listens on my stereo. I can’t say enough good things about it, and I hope Kyros doesn’t take another four years to record a followup.

Number 2: Sanguine Hum’s A Trace of Memory

Recorded during UK’s lockdown, this sounds like all the members of Sanguine Hum were in telepathic communication instead of Zoom. A tremendously satisfying set of songs that reward repeated listens. You can read more of our thoughts on this album here.

Number 1: Days Between Stations’ Giants

In my earlier review, I suggested this might be the album of the year, and you know what? I was right! Billy Sherwood, Colin Moulding, and Durga McBroom all join forces with Oscar Fuentes Bills (keyboards) and Sepand Samzadeh (guitar) to create a wonderfully fun and thoughtful work that is comparable to the best albums of the, well, giants of prog rock. This album is destined to be a classic that will be cited years from now.

So, those are my ten favorite albums of 2020. Honorable mentions go to Lonely Robot, Kansas, Pain Of Salvation, and Neal Morse. Meanwhile, I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

Update: Mr. Bandana of Bardic Depths pointed out that I listed eleven albums (two number 7’s), so I’ve corrected that mistake. In my defense, I blame 2020. 

In The DropBox: Loma, Big Big Train, Glass Hammer, and Doncourt/Olsson

The first album in this batch of DropBox offerings is a wondrous work of art from a group called Loma. They are on the Sub Pop label, of all places, and with Don’t Shy Away they have come up with a subdued, spacious masterpiece. Emily Cross (vocals), Dan Duszynski , and Jonathan Meiburg have collaborated to create music that reminds me of the best of Talk Talk and Laurie Anderson. This is music that takes its time to develop, yet grabs the listener’s attention from the first note. Brian Eno is a fan, and he lends his talent to “Homing”. Cross’s breathy vocals are gently enchanting, while a chugging sax provides counterpoint. On “Jenny”, crickets chirp in the background as muffled drums beat and a guitar is slowly strummed. It’s so inviting – as if they asked the listener to join them in an intimate jam session on their back porch. This album came out of left field, and I can’t stop listening to it. If you are a fan of Kate Bush, Talk Talk, Brian Eno, or Over The Rhine, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.

While St. Cecilia is the patron saint of this site, Big Big Train could be considered the patron group. It was mutual love of their music that brought many of Spirit of Cecilia’s contributors together, and we eagerly anticipate every new release of theirs. The latest from BBT is a recording of their November 2019 show at the Hackney Empire. It’s a very good performance, featuring songs from English Electric, Folklore, Grimspound, and The Grand Tour. For long-time fans, it’s also a bittersweet affair, since it includes the final performances of Dave Gregory, Rachel Hall, and Danny Manners. If you haven’t heard anything by BBT but were curious, this BluRay/CD package is a perfect introduction. David Longdon’s voice is in excellent form, and the band plays even the most challenging passages to perfection. Nick D’Virgilio’s drumming is exceptionally fine. The primarily acoustic “The Florentine” is a highlight with its lilting vocal harmonies and Hall’s ecstatic violin solo.

Back on this side of the big pond, Glass Hammer have released a download-only collection of favorite tracks from their early years. They have rerecorded them, and it is a lot of fun to hear these 20+ year old tracks given new life. I especially enjoy the ones from 1998’s On To Evermore, an album that is one of my favorites of GH, but which slipped under the radar for a lot of prog fans.

Finally, an album from Tom Doncourt and Mattias Olsson, Cathedral. The dark artwork matches the music perfectly, which was composed and recorded before Doncourt’s death in March of 2019. It includes Gregorian chant-like vocals, lots of mellotron and synths, as well as some hard rocking guitars in places. The highlight is the 12:34 long “Poppies In A Field”. Doncourt and Olsson obviously put a lot of thought into the arrangements of these songs, and I am impressed with how they are able to create a unique atmosphere. It is a fitting tribute to Doncourt, and if you are looking for an album to play on a rainy, gloomy Sunday afternoon, then Cathedral will fill the bill.

Okay, that’s the latest from the Spirit of Cecilia DropBox. A true masterpiece from Loma, some fan service from two old favorites, and an intriguingly dark work from Doncourt and Olsson. My next post will be my favorite albums of 2020. We have had a bumper crop of great music this year, so it might be a long one! Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with Loma’s video for “Fix My Gaze”:

Sea of Tranquility Interviews Glass Hammer

Pete Pardo of Sea of Tranquility conducts an in-depth interview of Steve Babb and Fred Schendel, the artists otherwise known as Glass Hammer. While focusing primarily on their newest album, Dreaming City (reviewed on Spirit of Cecilia here), they also cover a wide range of prog-related topics.

Part 1 of the interview:

 

Part 2 of the interview, in which Steve reveals which GH album is “the Seinfeld of prog rock”:

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.