Valkyrie shows us a more earthbound Glass Hammer but one that still wields the force, power, and musical alchemy that they’ve always used to create mighty prog epics from the most unexpected sources…
Sound Resources / Arion Records
9 tracks / 65:04
Glass Hammer’s newest prog epic is Valkyrie, a symphonic band effort that turns the band’s usual otherworldly focus inside out. Instead of exploring mythic themes on a grand scale, this time the band is exploring the very personal world of a war-weary soldier and his emotional salvation.
“Long years ago I travelled upon a road that lead me / to fields of battle far from home / And that is where you’ll find me, though I don’t know why…” the ‘everysoldier’ of the piece is introduced with these lyrics. “At the end of a winding lane,” he continues, “where sunlight paints the meadows / where winter seems a distant memory / there is a safe, familiar home…” And yes, there is the inevitable ‘girl he left behind,’ but before you can say An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge, our protagonist tells us, “I’m not among the fallen – I’ve got some scars as you can see / But I’m alive as any man could be…” It’s as if Glass Hammer is letting us know they’re not going to go on a mystical venture like they did on Perilous, but that the Other Country in this story is located in the heart and mind of the war-damaged soldier.
The musician line-up for Valkyrie is: Steve Babb (bass guitar / keyboards / backing vocals), Fred Schendel (keyboards / guitars / backing vocals), Kamran Alan Shikoh (electric, acoustic & classical guitars), Aaron Raulston (drums) and Susie Bogdanowicz (lead and backing vocals).
The occasionally-unwieldy mythological and esoteric musical landscapes that have inhabited some of the band’s previous work gives way here to emotional and psychological territory that is not so far from the human experience as to lose the listener. While the lyrics are still literate (and certainly take some careful consideration – I don’t pretend to have gotten it all first time around) and the subject deals with spirit and soul, it’s still an earthy tale full of confusion, loss, love and redemption – and Glass Hammer has never sounded as visceral as they do on Valkyrie.
There’s actually a hint of Jethro Tull in the opening male vocal delivery (partially due to the way the vocal was recorded but also to the phrasing). Before we’re two minutes into the first song, Bogdanowicz’ voice sweetens the vocals as the band takes flight in a Kansas meets The Neal Morse Band kind of way, with tight keys, lofty synths, fiery guitars, articulate drums and Babb’s distinctive, powerful bass. The sound is very homogenous, mixed to perfection and wonderfully produced by Babb and Schendel. There are tasty, soaring solo spots from all of the musicians but my favorite moments on Valkyrie are when the band plays thick, ensemble swaths of music, like at the beginning of “Golden Days,” which is dense with a wonderful organ sound that reappears at various times throughout the album. The songs over-all are cohesive and well-constructed, and Glass Hammer sounds firmer and more musically confident than ever.
Effortlessly switching from gentle guitar and piano to heavy, ominous rock passages, Valkyrie manages to tell the story of how love can conquer depression, hopelessness, fear and regret. While the mythological Valkyrie is a female figure that chooses who may die in battle, the female figure in this piece instead offers a chance once again at redemption and survival though love. The story happens often in life – although, unfortunately, it doesn’t always end the same way… Valkyrie shows us a more earthbound Glass Hammer but one that still wields the force, power, and musical alchemy that they’ve always used to create mighty prog epics from the most unexpected places – even from the heart and mind of a wandering soldier.