Glass Hammer return with ‘Skallagrim – Into The Breach’, Part Two of last year’s ‘Dreaming City’ which found lyricist, bassist and co-producer, Steve Babb, drawing inspiration from sword & sorcery novels of the seventies. Now the album has inspired an actual four-hundred page novel, “Skallagrim – In The Vales Of Pagarna”, which Babb plans to release in early 2022.
“Skallagrim is a thief who lost his memory and the girl he loves,” explains Babb. “He’s up against all sorts of wickedness to reclaim both, but finds an ally in a sentient, eldritch sword. Now his fate is bound to the sword as much as to the quest to find his love.”
Into The Breach finds our protagonist going to war, so the music absolutely has to reflect that.” Babb promises that fans will hear “a much heavier, angrier album than we’ve ever done before.”
Let’s cut to the chase, prepare to be blown away by this monster of an album! Brooding with an ancient, primeval power, this leviathan of a release sees the introduction of new vocalist Hannah Pryor who joins stalwarts Babb, Fred Schendel and Aaron Raulston, along with GH session guitarists Reese Boyd and Brian Brewer, for the band’s twenty-first studio album.
Album opener He’s Got A Girl begins our protagonist’s tale on a gentle note as Hannah’s ethereal vocal overlays a tender piano note. The peace is shattered as the monstrous behemoth that is Anthem To Andorath hoves into view. The guitar riffs are as heavy as a two ton heavy thing (thanks Queensrÿche!) that reverberates through your whole body. Accompanied by Babb’s stellar bass and Raulston’s thunderous drumming, you will not have heard anything quite like this from the band before. Pryor’s voice adds measured ferocity, matched by Steve Babb’s backing vocals. I feel like I’ve been run over by a prog powered train!
Sellsword carries on in a similar vein but with more of a grunge fuelled vibe, the reverberating guitar riff hammering against your psyche. The fiery guitar licks give a hard rock edginess and Hannah gets her head banging going with gusto. It’s like Black Sabbath and Nirvana got together for a jam session and let it all hang out, brutal and blisteringly rapacious. Now the band are really getting into their groove with the 70’s hard rock flourishes of the intro to Steel before Schendel’s artful keyboards and Hannah’s searching vocal bring us back to more regular Glass Hammer territory. The thing is, this is something that they know inside out and are masters off and it really shows, there’s almost a funkiness to the rhythm section and you can tell that Fred is on a roll and really enjoying himself.
There then follows a dark and mysterious triumvirate of instrumental tracks starting with the low key cryptic electronic meanderings of A Spell Upon His Mind which then bleeds into the more esoteric jazz fusion psychedelia of Moon Pool. The trio comes to a close with the deliciously enigmatic brooding tones of The Dark and it’s Hammer Horror-esque guitar and Hammond organ combination. Three tracks that really add a magical and secretive feel to the album, I really liked this middle section, it’s creative and imaginative and adds a lot to the overall story.
Hard rock returns with the forceful and mighty Led Zeppelin leanings of The Ogre Of Archon. The towering guitar work, edgy bass playing and lofty drums give a vast feel to the song, those riffs can really move musical mountains and Babb’s vocals add to the arcane atmosphere that the music engenders. Boy, do you really feel that these guys are having an absolute blast, these tracks are going to be immense live! There’s a real sense of urgency to Into The Breach, the intense and impassioned guitars adding a real groove to the music. Glass Hammer are moving into early Rush territory here as the album starts to feel like a loving homage to some of the great hard rock, metal and prog acts of the last four decades while never straying from the path or the passion of the story.
The Forlorn Hope carries on in a similar vein, what we have here is a group of musicians whose playing is as tight as can be but who are obviously enjoying every minute playing music that they are totally invested in. Hannah is a perfect foil, her voice resonates passion, fervour and intensity and draws you into the continued tale of sword and sorcery. The funky, repeated riff of The Writing On The Wall is incredibly catchy and reminds me of Lenny Kravitz, the whole song having something of a psychedelic aura as Hannah’s vocals glide smoothly along. This is superb, polished rock music with progressive leanings and I am more impressed with every listen.
One of the best songs on the album (in my opinion) is the wonderful Hyperborea that wears its Rush leanings squarely on its sleeve, even Hannah gets in on the act with her Geddy Lee influenced vocals. It’s a really enjoyable, smile inducing, ride from beginning to end and just oozes cool with its metaphorical Ray Bans in place. The final track, Bright Sword, is a potent, commanding reprise of A Desperate Man from the last album and closes things neatly.
With ‘Skallagrim – Into The Breach’, Glass Hammer have raised the (already heavy) bar to even greater heights. Epic in scope, majestic in scale and blurring the lines between progressive rock and progressive metal, GH have given us their best album of recent years and possibly their best release ever and it should be another monster success for this evergreen band.
Released 15th October, 2021
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All pictures credit Julie Babb Photography.