What if the Devil never went to Georgia? What if he never made it and stopped off in Tennessee instead? Hold that thought and listen to Glass Hammer’s monster creation, Dreaming City, an unstoppable force that will blow your conceptions of this band wide apart…”
Yes, really, that was my first impression of the stunning new album from US progressive rock veterans Glass Hammer. They often say that first impressions last and, in the case of this musical gem, that is very true, it still sounds as fresh and vibrant after multiple listens as it did that first time, a sign of a truly good record.
I spoke to founding member and bassist Steve Babb about how the album broke new ground and was a bit of a risk,
“Yes we took risks. I was hoping that as we old-timers listen to it – it would make us feel young again. Like it was 1979 and you just discovered some really cool prog band had done a tribute album to your favourite sword and sorcery anti-hero like Elric or Conan. For inspiration I started searching for my old copies of Michael Moorcock books only to realize I had worn them out years ago and had to reorder used ones!”
Oddly enough…on the swords and sorcery thing, or what some call “grim dark” now – George R. R. Martin once signed the Glass Hammer guest book. Might have been around 2000 when he did that. I have no records of the guest book now but can remember him and a few other fantasy authors visiting.”
The artwork from the booklet is pure fantasy art, as is the cover and it really fits with what Steve and fellow founding member (and keyboardist) Fred Schendel wanted to engender with this release.
The music really hits you hard from the first track, in your face and powerful, you’ll hear a myriad of influences on the album, things never seen on a Glass Hammer album before…
“I think Fred’s major influences for this one were Rush, Tull and Gentle Giant.”, Steve told me,
“Mine were Rush, Tangerine Dream, Pink Floyd, the Space Rock genre in general…a modern band called Yuri Gargarin, Jacco Gardner and even my old band Wizards from the early 80s.”
The album flows with no gaps between tracks and this only adds to the listening experience which opens with what can only be called a monster of a track. The Dreaming City literally comes from out of nowhere with a monster riff courtesy of Steve Babb and Aaron Raulston’s thunderous drums. The vocals give a spine tingling edge, it’s just a thrilling, dark and delicious ride from beginning to end, the extended keyboard section from Fred Schendel is just genius. No time to get your breath back as a frantic guitar segues us perfectly into Cold Star, more of the same? Yes please! I am absolutely loving the heavier guitar sound on this album which, in conjunction with Fred’s ridiculously good Hammond, transports you screaming maniacally back to the 70’s. This is one thrill ride you definitely don’t want to get off, there’s a moment of calm where beautifully harmonised vocals really stand out (Reese Boyd has a superb voice) but, overall it will just leave you cackling wildly.
The Rush influence is first heard on Terminus, a synth heavy 90’s version that is. Uber cool and full of style, Steve and Fred lead us up a path rarely trodden by Glass Hammer and, you know what, it just works. It’s up-tempo, edgy and funky in that polished 90’s fashion that I’m a big fan of. The Lurker Beneath is a dark and slightly disturbing instrumental with the pulsing feel of the keyboards giving it a resonant frequency that will get under every prog fans skin with its spaced out feel. There’s a seamless transition into the monolithic might of Pagarna, a track that could literally move mountains. It has a range so low it must exist in the substrata of the planet and Fred’s guitar playing and Reese Boyd’s lead work screams Led Zep right at your unprotected core, just superb!
At The Threshold Of Dreams then heads off into uncharted waters with it’s Tangerine Dream-esque electronic/techno vibe. You feel like you are in the middle of a mind-bending 70’s artrock movie theme as the music explores the hidden paths of your mind, disconcerting but weirdly enjoyable. There’s a totally chilled and relaxed atmosphere surrounding This Lonely World, an oasis of calm reflection among the maelstrom that surrounds us where John Beagley’s cultured vocal adds gravitas alongside the organ and laid back, jazz-infused, guitar playing. Susie Bogdanowicz’s vocal prowess is then given free rein on October Ballad, a wistful and gentle song that touches the heart and soul, well it is a ballad after all!
The Tower is another Tangerine Dreamscape (see what I did there?) instrumental straight from the 70’s, a clever nod to the decade and to the science-fantasy genre that the album invokes and is based on. Next comes one of the most intriguing tracks on the whole album, the stentorian spoken word vocals and 70’s synth heavy keyboards give A Desperate Man a really atmospheric and eerie edge and it’s one that really works. It’s catchy and hypnotic and you find yourself pausing what you’re doing and just listening to the song and that is quite a skill to have, I love it. Remember Extreme’s ‘Get The Funk Out’?, well the intro to The Key really (and I mean REALLY) reminds me of that with its ever so funky bass line and drum beat and the way it strides ever so confidently into your path. You want some flute? You got it! Jazzy 80’s guitar? Yep! It is a wonderful cornucopia of musical styles and one that sets you up perfectly to what Steve Babb called an absolute beast of a finale!
Watchmen On The Walls is one of those monumentally powerful prog epics that stands out on its own, just over eleven minutes of progressive rock brilliance. The thunderous guitar riffs and primeval drums combine with the towering drums and bass to give us a stand-out piece of music that speaks of tales of swords and sorcery with larger than life heroes and heroines battling unmentionable beasts and contemptible villains to complete incredible deeds. It is song writing that Neal Peart would have been proud off as this track truly has the spirit of Rush at its core and a fitting close to a superb album.
There has been some amazing music released this year already but ‘Dreaming City’ is a special and significant album that could turn out to be truly career defining for this much loved band. While the band have created something new using influences from the music that shaped them in the 70’s, there is no doubt that it is still uniquely a Glass Hammer album and that is always something to be cherished.
Released April 17th 2020
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