There’s are some bands that have been with me since I first started really getting into progressive rock music and have stood the test of time because I like their music and how they have developed over the years. However, because I am what is classed as a relatively ‘late adopter’ to the genre it also means that there is a fair amount of back catalogue stuff and undiscovered gems that I have never heard.
When a band releases an album of ‘Previously unreleased tracks and more..’ it often only appeals to the completists among the fanbase and doesn’t tend to draw in new listeners or fans who have only started to like the artists later in their career. So, what would Glass Hammer’s ‘Untold Tales’ give us, I wonder? Starting with songs from 1993 and concluding with a live recording from 2017, it promised to be something a bit different from the usual archive offerings.
Comprising of 13 tracks in total, including instrumentals and the aforementioned live track, ‘Untold Tales’ offers the listener a sizeable chunk of never heard before Glass Hammer music. It opens with a couple of interesting instrumentals, Shadows Of The Past reworked in 2008, Fred Schendel reworking the opening track off ‘Journey Of The Dunadan’ using techniques unavailable on first release in 1993 and it has a suitable cinematic soundscape to its orchestral magnificence. Infusion is a piece of music originally released on the album ‘Love Changes – Featuring Glass Hammer’ by artist Tracy Cloud. There’s a pared back, ethereal wonder to the three minute instrumental with its haunting piano, flute and keyboards and stylish bass playing.
The heady Identity Principle is one of the standout tracks on the album and is pure Glass Hammer. Steve Babb literally found this song hiding on a backup drive. The band were never quite satisfied with the mix on the ending. They recorded a new performance of the ending which matches up very well. Thus, this track was recorded in the early 90’s and just a while ago. A wonderfully involving track with great vocals from Walter Moore and an elegant guitar combining really well. It has that great Glass Hammer trait of taking you on a complex and involving musical journey, one that always holds you attention. The melodies entwine and the guitar takes on its own vocal note, to me this is one of THE great tracks from this enduring band and, as Steve himself says, it’s a crying shame it has lain hidden for so long. Glass Hammer appeared at Progscape ‘96 in Baltimore, Maryland and performed the classic Argent track Hold Your Head High. This studio version was certainly recorded around that time, probably in 1997 and is quite a bombastic version for a band noted for their Elfin lyrics and music. Steve’s bass is driving and dynamic and Fred seems to be having ball on the keyboards, add the stylish guitar of David Carter to a powerful vocal from Walter and you’ve got a rather excellent cover version.
I have to be honest, there are a couple of what I’d call ‘throwaway’ tracks on the record and we get both in quick succession. Actually they aren’t bad tracks but, compared to the prog-fest that’s going on around them, they do seem a little lacklustre. Babb’s Bach is Steve’s humble attempt to achieve something similar to tracks from ‘Switched On Bach’ by Walter Carlos and just feels throwaway. It is immediately followed by And Then She Sighed which feels like a pastiche of any medieval tune, admittedly with excellent vocals from Laura Lindstrom Davis and a Girls Choir of Allison Savard, Kaytie Mitchell and Kendra Roden. You are brought out of any stupor by the excellent 80’s synth-rock of Eiger Dreams, a charismatic and compelling track that bears comparison to Giorgio Moroder in my humble opinion. If you have seen the band’s ‘Live At The Tivoli’ DVD then you may recall this is the opening track. Included here is the never-before-released studio version recorded (or at least mixed) in 2008.
Now onto another favourite on the album,the band’s cover of the Beatles track It’s All Too Much is great slice of prog-rock infused AOR music that has you rocking in your seat with its energy, dynamism and hooks. Steve’s funky bass drives the track along, aided by swathes of Fred’s potent keyboards and the familiar vocals of the classy Susie Bogdanowicz. With a nod to a Steve Hillage’s version, the song was recorded during sessions for ‘Three Cheers For The Broken Hearted’ in 2009. It was used as an encore piece for a few live shows, but never released. Here Steve and Fred replaced a pipe organ with a Hammond organ and the bass line with something a little more fitting than Steve had originally done. A track that I can only really describe as ‘Glass Hammer do Sabbath’, Troll is dark and deliciously dangerous. Steve describes it as:
“Partly about recording a track with a super-fuzzed-out bass guitar. It was also partly about letting off some steam regarding the trolls who inhabited certain progressive rock internet forums…”
It features some incredibly angry guitar and keyboard playing and some amazing harmonica from Tim Starnes and is as far away from a typical Glass Hammer track as you could possibly get, I love it! Steve’s final words on the song:
“We have discussed recording more music in this vein, if only we thought our fans would let us get away with it!”
A Grain Of Sand brings you back down to earthy with its airy and laid back simplicity. Three minutes of delicate piano and Kamran Alan Shikoh’s graceful acoustic guitar layered with the minimalist hues of Fred’s keyboards. Recorded in 2010 as a possible track for ‘IF’, you can certainly hear strains of If The Stars if you are paying attention. Jon Davison’s vocal track was lifted straight from that song as a matter of fact. The next song is another powerful and dominant piece of progressive rock. Cool Air is an enigmatic and serious track which seems to have some real tension bubbling underneath. Steve explains:
“Ever the Lovecraft fan, I readily agreed to work on this track for its ultimate inclusion on a Colossus (Finland) Lovecraft-themed album. We chose the tale Cool Air, one of the more gruesome stories and one I thought we might easily set to music and lyric. Recorded in 2012, my son, who was only ten at the time, joined me in the studio for a sound effects session. Fred wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics, with much help from the original text of the story, of course!”
I wasn’t a big fan of the vocals when I first heard it but repeated listens have shown me that they fit this dark and eerie tale perfectly. Disturbing and sinister in parts, it creeps under your skin and becomes quite addictive, like a horror film that you can’t take your eyes off. Doctor Who for the more cerebral of us perhaps?
The Impulsive Type is a more straightforward rock infused track and reminds me of Frost* or even Rush with it’s catchy chorus, edgy, staccato guitars, stylish rhythm section and Carl Groves polished vocal performance. Was that Rush I said? well Steve explains all:
“In 2014 Dave Kerzner of Sonic Reality asked us to perform a track with Neal Peart. What’s that you say? Well, actually it was a request to write a song on top of Neal’s drum tracks that were recorded during the making of Sonic Reality’s “Neal Peart Drums” sample library. The tracks you hear are live drum tracks however, not the samples. Was it possible to write a song over Neal’s tracks without it sounding Rush-influenced? No. Enjoy!”
The album closes with a fantastic live rendition of No Mans Land (from the 2016 album ‘Valkyrie’) recorded at The Camp House in May 2017. A fan favourite from its first release, it is utterly involving and enthralling as a live track and finishes this stellar collection on quite a high.
Another archive release for those completist fans then? Absolutely not!! ‘Untold Tales’ is an excellent collection of rarities that has lots of appeal, both to the dedicated Glass Hammer fan and those new to this exceptional outfit, a group of musicians who are definitely one of the best progressive rock bands around today.
Released 20th October 2017