Legendary prog rock band satisfies with new album
Glass Hammer may very well be one of the greatest bands Chattanooga has ever produced. Odds are, unless you’re a professional musician, you haven’t heard of them. Situations like this are precisely why I started writing about Chattanooga music almost 20 years ago.
Back then, on the street anyway, it seemed like there were a limited number of options in local music. It certainly seemed that way to me until I actually started seeking out local bands. To my great surprise and delight I discovered there were world class artists living here, writing here, recording here, and playing almost anywhere but here.
One of my very first reviews was a progressive rock band called Somnambulist, guys who were producing music on par with Yes and Rush, guys with an international fan club, guys who, again, were virtually unheard of locally. Through them I met the fellows behind Glass Hammer and even had the great pleasure of sitting in on some of their recordings for a Lord of the Rings themed album that wasn’t their first, and actually predated the resurgence in popularity that came with the release of the films.
Alas, my tracks weren’t used in the end, but I still have the scratch tapes somewhere and am still impressed by the quality of even the rough cuts of that release.
In truth, Glass Hammer has been active since 1992 with Steve Babb and Fred Schendel forming the core duo that remains the heart of the band today. From then to now the band and their fluid lineup of regular players have released two live albums, four DVDs and seventeen studio albums including their newest, Valkyrie, out this week.
Again, an example of the Chattanooga paradox, most of these albums have received widespread critical acclaim and the group is arguably quite famous while somehow managing to remain almost completely off the radar locally, outside of certain circles.
The latest installment is a return to what I happen to think the band does best, the concept album. The arc of the album is, according to Babb, “a soldier’s struggle to return home from the horrors of war, to the girl that loves him and must ultimately find her way to him.” Vocalist Susie Bogdanowicz, who took a hiatus from the band from 2009 to 2013, takes center stage on the album, a response to her status as a fan favorite, while Schendel and Babb have taken on a more active role vocally than in recent albums.
Trailers and teasers for Valkyrie reveal Glass Hammer in peak form, with Bogdanowicz on lead vocals, Babb on bass, keyboards and vocal, Schendel on keyboards, guitar and vocals, Alan Shikoh on acoustic guitars and sitar and Aaron Raulston on drums.
Produced by Fred and Steve, the album exhibits the perfectionism and attention to detail one comes to expect from Glass Hammer and Bob Katz’s mastering of the final product is flawless.
As with much of the very best prog rock available, the instrumentals carry as much impact in terms of mood and story as any vocals ever could, but coupled with the graceful, ethereal vocals of Bogdanowicz, the album delivers a “one, two knockout punch” of expression leading some critics to refer to it as, “the best of 2016.”
You’ll find no argument from me on that count; the album is the best of 2016, and the best so far from a band whose reputation is firmly built on impeccable albums.
If you already know the band Glass Hammer, then you already know to expect what I’ve said here and more, but if you haven’t heard them yet, please believe me when I tell you that this band is one of Chattanooga’s hidden treasures, an underappreciated powerhouse of artistic expression in the tradition of the legends of progressive rock.
Their new album is Valkyrie, and it is some of the most beautiful and well crafted music you’ll hear all year. For more information on the availability or to hear a teaser, visit glasshammer.com.
And if you’ve not heard the band the before, give yourself an afternoon to peruse their vast and impressive catalog.