Review – Glass Hammer – Dreaming City

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.”

Steve Babb Glass Hammer bassist

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!

Fred Schendel (L) & Steve Babb (R)

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!

Fred Schendel (Left,) Steve Babb (right) Glass Hammer co-founders

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

Order from the Glass Hammer store here:

https://glasshammer.com/official-store/

Review – Glass Hammer – Chronomonaut – by Progradar

“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”
― George Harrison

There’s times when we have all probably wished we could go back in time to change something but there’s no such thing as a time machine, right?

Glass Hammer’s new concept album ‘Chronomonaut’ answers the question ‘what if?’. The new release is a stand-alone album but also acts as a Part Two for the highly successful 2000 release ‘Chronometree’.

Bassist Steve Babb says the new concept album tells the story of “the ultimate prog fan.” Babb elaborates, “Our album deals with time travel, nostalgia and the love of prog-rock. ‘Chronomonaut’s’ protagonist, Tom, starts his own band and then makes the attempt to go back to the seventies in hopes of becoming a prog-god. It’s all in fun and is really a very tongue-in-cheek look at how our favorite music can take us back in time.”

Long been known as being proponents of classic progressive rock with influences from the 70’s, Glass Hammer make a bold new statement with ‘Chronomonaut’, a new direction that gives them a definitive sound of their own. I’m always excited by the announcement of a new album from this band but, this time, they have gone more than the extra mile.

The band has been engaged in a buzz-creating viral marketing campaign which NJ ProgHouse Media Manager Jon Yarger describes as “pure genius”. “We not only have an epic music video set for release, we have also been releasing found footage from Tom describing his band’s expoits and his odd theories on time,” explains Babb. Fans have been following Tom’s escapades for weeks before the album was announced, and are eagerly anticipating the ‘Chronomonaut’ release. The gorgeous digipak design incorporates Tom’s story and lyrics. The striking cover design is by Xaay, a fairly well known death metal guitarist / vocalist from Poland.

There’s a narrative running through the album and reading the booklet along with the tracks is a must, the powerful opening instrumental The Land of Lost Content introduces a more heavier sound before Roll For Initiative opens Tom’s story, ‘he could hear voices in the music; voices the rest of us could not, voices which instructed him in the science of time travel.’ Already you can hear the new direction that the band are forging, there’s a great jazz rock vibe coming across, especially with the brass section. Steve Babb’s bass is as elegant as ever giving depth to the music and the drums are a guiding light.

Twilight of the Godz is one of my favourites on the album, an ever so elegant track where Tom debates the merits of reliving the past with an old bandmate. Brian Brewer’s soulful blues guitar and Susie Bogdanowicz’s heartfelt and passionate vocals stand out on a song which, to my ears, channels late 60’s Beatles at its core, Fred Schendel’s ultra smooth Hammond and Steve Babb’s keyboards providing layers of class, and the guitar run out is a thing of sheer brilliance. We’re on a roll now, this excellent album continues with the silky smooth The Past is Past where the past reminds Tom of all that might have been. What a superb intro, never has a saxophone (take a bow Jamison Smeltz) been put to such good use since Baker Street and the vocals (from Discipline’s Matthew Parmenter, if my ears don’t deceive me) really fit the mood. Think singer/songwriter meets jazz band with a King Crimson fixation and you wont be far wrong, it is theatrical in its delivery and really gives the band a completely different feel.

This enjoyable romp through space and time continues with the stylishly delivered 1980 Something where, ‘Like an old girlfriend returned from decades ago, the past beckons..’ Susie’s vocals, some judiciously played guitar and Steve’s dextrous keyboards (he doesn’t just play bass you know!) imbue the song with timeless sophistication and refinement. A Hole In The Sky sees the story get serious, ‘Tom must make the attempt to go back in time.The past, nostalgia, whatever it is that’s calling him, he has to find it.’ The music definitely takes a trip back in time with a bouncing 60’s vibe that is really infectious. The vocals, guitar and, especially, keyboards invoke such feelings of that decade that you’re virtually transported there yourself, it’s a very clever piece of music.

A sci-fi inspired instrumental which could have come from Tangerine Dream (more of that later) Clockwork, with its 80’s sounding keyboards, is two minutes of musical dexterity which wouldn’t have been out of place in one of the Terminator movies. Haunting and spaced out in equal measure, Melancholy Holiday has far eastern edge to it, Susie delivering a wonderful vocal performance.‘Once through the portal, Tom finds himself adrift in the murky waters of time where he find the past isn’t what it used to be’. The languid tempo does make you feel like you are drifting in a vast expanse of nothingness, with no idea where you are or where to go.

It Always Burns Sideways is a two-part instrumental that is ying and yang. Pt.1 Same Thing Over Again is dark and dangerous, the heavy accentuated keyboards giving a Van der Graaf Generator undertone to the music and a daunting atmosphere. Pt.2 Headphones In Wonderland is a polar opposite with its uplifting feel and swirling keyboards. It’s like the band recruited Mike Oldfield for a cameo and played a jam session along with him. The classically stylish guitar is a superb addition and just left me feeling elevated and inspired.

Glass Hammer show that they can do the pomp and circumstance as well as Transatlantic or Neal Morse with the exhilarating Blinding Light. ‘Tom realises at last that the only way to get ahead is to go forward. And anyway, time only travels in one direction. It’s time to leave the past behind.’ The sumptuous brass section, dynamic drums and exalted keyboards give the track a vibrancy and inject it with heart and soul. Excellent vocals and subtle guitar are the icing on a rather tasty cake, one that emphasises the impressive new sound and direction that the band are taking. The Steve Babb composed & performed Tangerine Meme wears its German electronic instrumental heart on its sleeve and as a homage to that legendary musical collective, is nigh on perfect.

This incredibly infectious and hugely entertaining story is brought to a close with the ten minute near-epic Fade Away. Bringing the story round full circle, but leaving the door open for a further instalment, it’s an inventive and intelligent piece of music that touches your heart with its opening. A tender piano and subdued vocal taking the story up. Like all the best tracks it builds on simple beginnings to blossom into something quite magnificent. The vocals take on the role of storyteller and bard, the musicians giving them the canvas to paint on, building layers and layers of sophistication. This song is a totally immersive ten minutes that you gladly lose yourself in and it twists and turns and then gives you the ultimate reward at the end, a quite wonderful closing guitar solo from Reese Boyd.

‘Where is Tom now? None of us know. Did he finally make it back to “those blue remembered hills” of the seventies, that “land of lost content” where prog legends are still young and the genre is flourishing and alive with possibility? I hope that he did. Though were I to be honest, I suspect he’s found what most of us have – that you can’t really ever go back. Somewhere out there , just like the rest of us, he’s making his slow cautious way into the future only to find that once there, it’s just now.’

Albums like ‘Chronomonaut’ are the reason why I love music so much and it has become part of my life. It sees a band I love unafraid to take a relatively new direction, organically progressive if you like. While not completely straying from their roots, Glass Hammer have taken a path less trodden and delivered what is, without a doubt, their best album yet and a fantastic new direction of power, precision and downright soul.

Released 12th October 2018

Pre-order Chronomonaut from the official store here including the limited addition bundle shown above