Enough grit to make it rock and enough polish to make it shine - the music is appropriately weighty and metal-edged. Yes, Virginia - Glass Hammer rocks!
Skallagrim - Into the Breach
Artist: Glass Hammer
Label: Sound Resources
13 tracks / 70:10
Wow. Glass Hammer is a group that manages to re-invent itself without losing focus of who they are. Their fans know this - but I think that even the hard-core fans will be a bit surprised when they hear Skallagrim - Into the Breach. Yes, there’s a new lead vocalist and there are two new guitarists doing solo spots (more about that later) but those posts have been filled by a variety of performers over the years, so those are ‘expected’ surprises. With Steve Babb and Fred Schendel always in the center of the creative heart of Glass Hammer, there will always be a large dose of fantasy-influenced lyrics and a hearty helping of progressive rock at the core of every project. What is new this time around is the much more aggressive, heavy sound that the bulk of the songs display. Although the band has shown us that they can get heavy when they want to, this is the album that redefines the Glass Hammer sound.
The follow-up to Dreaming City, this project takes the band out of the forests of Middle Earth and puts them right into the middle of Conan the Barbarian’s sword and sorcery landscape of Cimmeria - not literally, of course, but Babb’s lead character Skallagrim, fighting through the ‘stygian gloom’ of Andorath, wielding his screaming sword on an impossible-seeming quest, is as akin to Robert E. Howard as to J.R.R. Tolkien. As each song moves the story along through ‘chapters’ found in the accompanying booklet, the music is appropriately weighty and metal-edged. Yes, Virginia - Glass Hammer rocks!
The seeming hopelessness of the quest to rescue the imprisoned lover (whose name is revealed in the course of the journey) is echoed in the first and (almost) last words of the album: “He’s got a girl that’s been on his mind / He’ll search the world but never find.” These words are also our introduction to Hannah Pryor, Glass Hammer’s new lead singer. Her voice here is soft and airy, accompanied by piano only, a prelude to considerably heavier sounds that follow immediately starting with the second track, “Anthem to Andorath.” The guitars here are crunchy and driving, full of healthy fuzz and distortion, firmly establishing repeating riffs, supported by keyboards, Babb’s sturdy bass, and the pounding hard-prog drumming of Aaron Raulston (who certainly sounds like he’s been ‘set free’ on these songs).
The description above pretty much relates to the majority of the songs on this project. Add to that the fact that Reese Boyd and Brian Brewer are fine lead guitarists (even though I admit I’m not always sure which guitarist is playing at any given moment). Still, the overall effect is stinging, funky, heavy bursts of guitar lines that perfectly compliment the solid foundation created by Raulston, Babb and Schendel. Pryor’s ‘rock voice’ is powerful but very clean in its delivery - Babb and Schendel also contribute fine vocals (on “The Ogre of Archon” I’m reminded of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, by the way). Steve Babb is credited with bass, keyboards and guitar along with vocals. Fred Schendel provides keyboards and guitars as well as lead and backing vocals. Babb and Schendel also produced, providing a really rich mix with just enough edge to make it rock and just enough polish to make every element shine.
Across thirteen tracks there are many fine moments by all parties, resulting in an engaging 70 minute adventure, filled with wonderful mixes of progressive rock with elegance and funk. There’s lots of juicy heavy organ that emerges in all of the right places, stunning synth runs, ear-worm guitar licks, and drumming that will compel you to get your air-sticks out and do a little head-banging. There are several instrumental interludes that perfectly balance the tracks with lyrics - “Moon Pool” is a drum aficionado’s delight, by the way - nice work, Aaron. The instrumentals avoid the trap of going on too long and afford nice, atmospheric moments as well as time to absorb the story.
Skallagrim - Into the Breach , like all of Glass Hammer’s projects, is beautifully packaged, with fine artwork (the black and white illustrations in the booklet are really fine fantasy line art, comic book fans). There is plenty of story and there are a lot of lyrics - I highly recommend a physical package! Put aside an hour and ten minutes or so and immerse yourself. Go into the breach for a while with Glass Hammer.
- Bert Saraco
4 1/2 tocks
You can see concert photography by Bert Saraco at the link below.