Glass Hammer – Dreaming City

FWIW: I’ve gone back to the well of an earlier DPRP review I did of ‘If’ for some of the biographical background.

There can’t be many progressive rock fans who aren’t familiar with Glass Hammer, founded in 1992 by bassist Steve Babb and keyboard player Fred Schendel. For nearly three decades they have been part of the third wave of progressive rock music that, until recently, remained largely underground and unloved by all but a small core of hardcore fans. What differentiated Glass Hammer, and led to their cult appeal, was their love of prog in its’ classical form. Their use of analogue instruments, organs (both pipe and Hammond), Moogs, and Mellotrons, have endeared them to an ever increasing number of fans on both sides of the Atlantic.

From a personal point of view Glass Hammer are one of only two bands (the other being echolyn) that have prompted me to jump on an aeroplane for the express purpose of seeing them perform live. I was fortunate to be present at their Belmont, Nashville concert when they were supported by Salem Hill and joined onstage by a 100+ person choir.

Geoff Feakes, in his review of 2007’s Culture of Ascent (which featured a certain quite well known singer from Bolton, and a cover of South Side of the Sky) said that “such is the standing of some progressive rock bands each time they release a new album it’s regarded as a major event”, which brings us nicely to 2020 and the recent release of Glass Hammer’s new record “Dreaming City”

The band has returned to the world of The Inconsolable Secret and endeavour to tell the story of a “desperate man…as doomed as they come” who must fight his way through a spectrum of horrors to rescue his lover. We find out early in the album that the protagonist has only three days to find her before she dies; a dilemma which sets the stage for all that is to come and guarantees an emotional roller-coaster ride for the listener.

So it’s a concept album, then, and based on one of the very finest albums in the genre. Dave Sissons called ‘The Inconsolable Secret’ “the symphonic album of the year” and he wasn’t wrong. It was remastered and re-released as a two disc set in June 2013, with an additional disc featuring five songs re-recorded by the band with then new members Jon Davison and Kamran Alan Shikoh (on vocals and guitar respectively). Jon would go on to fame and riches beyond dreams of avarice with Yes, of course. The irony is, and I’m sure I’ll get some hate in the forums, but Glass Hammer pre-Jon made records as good, if not better than some in the the Yes canon.

The lineup for this record sees the new core of Glass Hammer, Steve Babb (keyboards, bass, backing vocals, lead vocals); Fred Schendel (keyboards, guitars, backing vocals); and Aaron Raulston (drums) joined on some of the tracks by:

– Susie Bogdanowicz: lead vocals
– Brian Brewer: lead guitar/acoustic guitar
– Reese Boyd: lead vocals/lead guitar
– John Beagley: lead vocals
– Joe Logan: lead vocals )
– James Byron Schoen: guitar
– Barry Seroff: flute

“So, Brian”, I can hear you thinking. “What does this new record sound like?” Well, first of all let me tell you what I listened to the CD version of the album on.

Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear headphone amp
Marantz HD6005 CD
Sennheiser HD 650
Chord Crimson cable

The opening, eponymous (I love eponymouses, Bri) brings GH bang-up to date for the younglings, with vocal processing and compression. Now whilst Steve Babb’s voice might have fiddled abah’t (a Yorkshire term, for our American readers) with, what has been largely left alone and allowed to shine is his fantastic bass playing. It weaves in and out of the track and really accentuates the lovely organ-work. It’s a hard-driving rocker, though, make no mistake, and there’s some barely restrained hero guitar licks in and amongst all the grunge.

Soon we’re in Gentle Giant (by way of Jethro Tull / stadium anthem hair band) territory, but with a 21st century metal twist. As always, I hang on every note Babb’s bass makes. I kid you not, I love this band dearly, so it’s buyer beware on the ultimate subjective rating I give the album (it’ll be quite high), but joking aside Steve Babb is amongst the 5 best rock bassists I’ve ever heard. And this album does nothing to diminish his standing in my ears. I don’t know how he does it, but it must to my mind be a combination of insane chops, great gear and excellent mixing/mastering. Steve and Fred Schendel took care of all that, and by now they really know their groove. They have tried, I think, to refresh the Glass Hammer sound, but there are always little passages that evoke the pioneers of the genre. Be that U.K, Yes, Genesis, Rush, or ELP. They’re not afraid of exploring ambient drone soundscapes, either.

It’s probably about time to give a huge shout out to the other musicians involved in this album. I know I’ve been guilty of overt Babb fanboy-ism but make no mistake, everyone involved in the making of this album is insanely talented. Fred Schendel is up there with the Tillisons and Okumotos of this world and Raulston’s drumming keeps everything incredibly well set. I’d venture to suggest him and Steve Babb are up there with the best rhythm sections in third/fourth wave prog. If you’ve always though GH are a bit ‘too’ progressive, then let me tell you there’s electronica, funk and Beatle-esque psychedelica. Along with towering symphonic moments that will make you get your lighter out and hold it aloft*

It takes a while for fan favourite Suzie Bogdanowicz’s voice to appear to the fore, if I’m being brutally frank. Especially as this is touted as an homage/sequel to TIS. If I were marking the album out of 10, which I won’t because it’s pointless and entirely subjective then I might knock a point off for this oversight.

There’s much for fans of synthesisers and electronic music to enjoy. ‘A Desperate Man’, for example, intertwines the low-fi aspects of ’80s electronic music with full-on symphonic prog. Which brings us nicely to the closing track, ‘The Watchman On The Walls’. Prog with a capital ‘P’ is back. Bass pedals, 12 string, widdly synths, wind effects and whatnot. It’s Rush with a capital ‘Glass Hammer’ although that doesn’t diminish it in any way. It’s fantastic progressive rock music. Is it generic? Yes? Should you care? No, not when it’s done this well. To be fair there’s enough going on throughout the record to appeal to fans of quite a few genres. Whether it will is another matter but I for one think this is one of the albums of the year.

* AmericanPrög does not condone the holding of lighters aloft.

1. The Dreaming City 7:14
2. Cold Star 7:29
3. Terminus 4:17
4. The Lurker Beneath 1:44
5. Pagarna 3:33
6. At The Threshold Of Dreams 4:11
7. This Lonely World 4:52
8. October Ballad 4:11
9. The Tower 2:40
10. A Desperate Man 4:15
11. The Key 6:10
12. Watchman On The Walls 11:29

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