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Glass Hammer

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Glass Hammer Valkyrie album cover
3.83 | 183 ratings | 6 reviews | 19% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 2016

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. The Fields We Know (7:37)
2. Golden Days (6:20)
3. No Man's Land (14:20)
4. Nexus Girl (2:58)
5. Valkyrie (5:55)
6. Fog of War (8:24)
7. Dead and Gone (9:56)
8. Eucatastrophe (3:31)
9. Rapturo (6:13)

Total Time 65:14

Line-up / Musicians

- Susie Bogdanowicz / lead & backing vocals
- Alan Shikoh / electric & acoustic guitars
- Fred Schendel / keyboards, lead & backing vocals
- Steve Babb / bass, bass pedals, keyboards, lead & backing vocals
- Aaron Raulston / drums

Releases information

Artwork: Michał "Xaay" Loranc

CD Arion Records ‎- SR 3621 (2016, US)

Thanks to Aussie-Byrd-Brother for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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GLASS HAMMER Valkyrie ratings distribution

(183 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(19%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(41%)
Good, but non-essential (27%)
Collectors/fans only (8%)
Poor. Only for completionists (4%)

GLASS HAMMER Valkyrie reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Aussie-Byrd-Brother
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Once they hit their first stride early in the mid Nineties with `Perelandra', American progressive rock band Glass Hammer have delivered a consistently strong series of symphonic-prog albums, earning the well-deserved reputation as one of the premier modern bands playing in that style along the way. Two of their albums in particular, first 2002's `Lex Rex' and the epic double-set `The Inconsolable Secret' three years later are often considered modern symphonic classics (and fans of the group will happily argue back and forth amongst each-other about which of their numerous other releases over the years can join those two!), but 2016 finally brings not only the undisputed next album to join that duo, but one that is likely to become the defining Glass Hammer album of their entire career to date.

`Valkyrie', a lyrically rich concept work telling the tale of a loving couple separated by war and a soldier's eventual emotional and mental struggle upon returning home is ripe for a lyrically and musically dramatic interpretation, and the group completely convey the trauma and turmoil with great sincerity and empathy - certainly a grounded story a world away from the fantastical elements so often found on progressive rock albums! But while fans and progressive music listeners only aware of the type of style Glass Hammer play in would be right to expect another grand symphonic work to match the story, what will likely surprise everyone is just how modern sounding this `retro prog' band is throughout the disc. It's still instantly recognisable as the Glass Hammer their fans know and love, but this is hardly some mere vintage prog re-enactment. `Valkyrie' sees the band experimenting with little traces of elegant cinematic grandness, Post Rock, jazz-fusion, psych-pop, electronica and even hints of heavier rock, making for a work with a rejuvenating, eclectic and contemporary edge that has all the musicians sounding completely refreshed and determined to impress.

With previous singer Carl Groves away from the group again for now, the time is perfect for three of the most important contributors to the Glass Hammer sound to reclaim their throne. Taking the well-deserved leading lady spotlight once again and delivering a career best performance is Susie Bogdanowicz, and far from being just a lovely singer with a pretty vocal, as always she brings true spirit, powerful conviction and a dramatic heart that puts most of her fellow contemporary prog ladies in check. It's also a delight to discover GH founding members, bass player Steve Babb and keyboardist Fred Schendel, taking equally as many of the lead vocals again too (especially the latter). They might not quite have the bigger vocal ranges that past singers such as Groves, Jon Davison and others had, but they've been singing on Glass Hammer discs since the beginning, and their voices have always been full of personality and character, making this something of a `homecoming' vocally for them, and a real joy to hear for long-time Glass Hammer fans. The two other players are now long established in the group and must be well on the way to be part of what can be considered the `definitive' Glass Hammer line-up - Aaron Raulston's drums rumble with such variety, depth and purpose, solidifying him as the best and most complex drummer to ever be a part of the band, and gifted guitarist Kamran Alan Shikoh once again finds way to delivering equally ravishing and subdued performances, reaching in some surprising directions here we've never heard of on previous Hammer discs.

Launching right from the start into delirious proggy excess balls-and-all (or as politely as prog can do `balls-and-all!'), `The Fields We Know' bombards the listener with plenty of what Glass Hammer do so well - up-tempo and lively colourful instrumental flashes racing in all directions alongside catchy vocal passages with the perfect mix of whimsy, warmth and drama. It makes for an energetic opener that instantly calls to mind their `Lex Rex' album, with moments of dreaminess and little playful call-outs to Genesis, all backed to Steve's rumbling bass leaping about loud and proud - is there seriously a better bass player active today performing this type of prog music who always sounds this good?! Next up, `Golden Days' is sprightly and warm to match the wistful lyric, full of Fred's always sublime zippy keyboard solos and embracing Susie and Fred vocals with glorious multi-part group harmonies, but a Pink Floyd-flavoured electric-piano come-down and grinding brooding guitars to end on hint of approaching darkness. `No Man's Land' is mostly comprised of several lengthy instrumental passages, including a booming synth introduction, manic jazz-fusion twists, loopy percussion twitches and seamless bursts up and down in tempo, an unsettling edge to an eerie droning spoken-word-like interlude and a distortion-heavy stormy climax the final destination.

But even when the band isn't charging headfirst into a dozen different proggy directions there's still wonderful things to discover. Instrumental `Nexus Girl' bristles with slinking electronics, programmed beats and Post Rock-flavoured chiming guitars behind the whirring synths, and the simpler Steve-sung title track `Valkyrie' is dreamy and drowsy psychedelic pop that eventually rises in power. Alan's chugging heavier guitars and Steve's mud-thick menacing bass make `Fog of War' rumble with a toughness, and the track holds one of the most joyful and unashamedly poppy choruses the band have ever delivered with a strong crossover appeal (well, if the rest of the track wasn't Prog dialled up to 11!).

`Dead and Gone' effortlessly moves between melancholic, hopeful and mischievous! Sad piano and a treated haunting vocal from Susie cry ethereally from beyond throughout, but creaky Mellotron-slices, humming organ and life-affirming guitars lift the track in hope and victory, but still with a looming tension. It's a nice showcase for Kamran too, who's guitars offer everything from weeping strains, infernal snarling bites and cutting jazz-fusion fire all in under ten minutes - and just dig that darkly grooving finale from the fellas!

The pristine `Eucatastrophe' is a heart-breaking Susie-led ballad, the chiming classical guitars throughout reminding of the final moments of Genesis' `Dancing with the Moonlit Knight', and it's one of the most precious and sobering moments on the disc before the piece dashes into tougher E.L.P-flavoured keyboard flare. The opening acoustic guitar reflection and pin-drop still piano of final track `Rapturo' show just how well the band deliver quieter, sedate moments, the rest of the carefully focused piece going on to soar with Anathema-like reaching guitar shimmers and a dignified powerful vocal send-off from Susie that makes for an album closer unlike any to appear on a Glass Hammer before.

A widescreen masterclass example of current progressive music that perfectly fuses vintage and modern sounds with an equally on-point balance of subtlety and bombast, Glass Hammer have completely set the symphonic-prog standard of the year with `Valkyrie', their most ambitious, mature, grandiose, vocally exquisite and instrumentally rich work to date. Long-time fans will absolutely adore it but also likely be very surprised as well, and newcomers to the group could not pick a better place to start exploring their wondrous music. Crackling with warmth, variety, inspiration and overall progressive music excellence, it is very possibly the greatest musical statement of Glass Hammer's near 25-year career so far, but indisputably one of the finest and most essential prog discs of 2016.

Five stars.

(Please note - This review was made available to various GH street team members for advance reviews ahead of the 27th September 2016 release date , no dodgy download here, thank you very much!)

Review by rdtprog
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Heavy / RPI / Symphonic Prog Team
4 stars Here's a concept album about the trauma suffer by those who survived the war and how this trauma can take many forms in life. In the recent past years, the band wrote individually, so the songs were eclectic. Now Fred and Steve wrote together the concept like they did in the early days. They took the time to find the best guitar parts to go with that concept and they worked a lot more with tone before recording. I was disappointed with their last albums, the songs were a bit sloppy and I thought I was tired of the band sound. But when I listened to this new one, I discovered a new sound and a new direction which is not obvious in the first song "The Fields We Know" But in the second song "Golden Days", some heavier guitar parts surprise me and some new keyboards sounds. I could even hear some Crimsonesque of the late period vibe in some places. The epic "No Man's Land" is the most complex and dramatic song with some dark atmosphere, an avant-garde passage. There're some recurrent themes bringing the song to some cohesion despite many moods and rhythm changes. I never heard a song like this from the band. "Nexus Girl" is an electronica, post-rock interlude that is showing another time another side of Glass Hammer. The title track is in the pure band symphonic style. "Fog of War" show some Geddy Lee and Chris Squire bass style with some heavy prog music. "Dead and Gone" is another highlight starting as a ballad but the pace picking up in some dark atmosphere and with some groovy instrumental parts from every musician. The album end peacefully in a post-rock atmosphere.

I think that the band has succeeded here with some concise songs, you can feel the work behind this just by listening to the sound of each instrument. If the keyboards of Fred Schendel are still playing a big role in the band sound, this time, the others musicians have more space to create an album that has a richer and fuller sound

Review by tszirmay
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars War. A revolting human trait that has plagued mankind since that silly monkey decided to bash that nasty gorilla over the head with some abandoned saurian femur, as depicted so vividly on 2001 Space Odyssey. Seems like advanced and enlightened societies fare no better that the primitive barbarians (as if the Romans were fuzzy and wuzzy in their conquests!) It is impossible to be a historian, amateur or professional, without dabbling in some kind of "cassus belli" that defines some period in human development. Sad. True. C'est la vie!

Veteran American prog band Glass Hammer continues to delve further into this subject matter, proving its importance by making a gigantic leap forward with this splendid effort "Valkyrie". Arguable perhaps, their finest career moment remains the live at the Belmont DVD as well as 'the Inconsolable Secret' double album, a perennial favorite of many GH fans. I really liked "Culture of Ascent" as well but it seemed to me and many others that subsequent albums while being quite tasty, never really hit the heights of that whopping 2CD masterpiece. "Cor Cordium" and "If" were fine recordings but had no staying power in terms of melodies and return visit yearnings. It seemed somehow missing soul or even depth, though the playing was phenomenal. With "Valkyrie", it obvious immediately that a new infusion of sound as well as a deepening sense of pace has taken root and flourished. Sprinkled throughout this opus are some snippets that are totally new to GH, as if Schendel and Babb searched out more resonating sounds that were modern, yet retro, futuristic and also backward looking historic ( a sort of oxymoron, as history knows only one tense). This is best expressed on the brief but exhilarating "Nexus Girl", a tremendous oblique innovation to the GH sound, featuring some robotic pulsations from drummer Aaron Raulston (a total revelation here btw) and swirling synthesizer furls that wink at the Simon House-penned Hawkwind instrumentals. I was floored when I first 'eared' this track.

Within seconds of "The Fields We Know" opener, the resilient bass guitar steers the arrangement, always a welcome navigator of progressive oceans, Steve Babb has definitely acquired the Chris Squire methodology of tyrannical leadership of the low end. From that point onward, the symphonics are elevated to new heights through a variety of shifts and tones. "Golden Days' is a definite plateau, with some stellar playing by everyone, shading behind ominous timbres and sprightly horizons, guitarist Kamran Alan Shikoh showing off a comfort level that finally achieves maturity. Co-founder Fred Schendel is a master of the keyboards, showing off new found energy on electric piano, strange how that instrument is often a benchmark for musicians looking for that higher plane.

The epic "No Man's Land" is a track I can relate to both musically as well as historically, as I was being carried as a six-month old child across the Iron Curtain , in my father's shielding arms , as gunfire erupted when we were already in the 'killing zone' between Austria (freedom) and communist oppression in Hungary. Musically, all the emotions are surely entwined , woven in a variety of silky passages, from soft and gentle, to sentimental, to actively bellicose, almost King Crimson-ish (this is the newfangled addition in the Glass Hammer style) in the mid- and final sections. Rambling organ reminds us that KC was no keyboard virtuoso's showcase, but the gloom and doom are definitely "Bible Black". This eeriness is most welcome, as its gives the band new impetus while strictly adhering to the subject matter of this opus. The spoken word poetry is forlorn, despondent and imbued with the glacial droplets of fear and death. Easily one of GH's finest tracks, a modern, historic, propulsive and melancholic piece of music.

The title track introduces colossal symphonics in the form of pipe organ blasts, as in some kind of keyboard artillery barrage, elevating another exhausted soldier's voice, pleading from some respite, as if some nebulous mist has permeated the battlefield of sounds. There is a Beatles-like dreamy passage that presents another new facet to the growing GH sound palette.

Top of the class is "Fog of War", a gruesome assault on the prog senses, lavished with bass cannonades that bruise and concuss, an active Raulston drum kit that is used as a missile launcher of deadly and precise beats, tortuous sniper fire keyboard volleys and a fusillade of machine gun guitars that seek out and destroy. Vocalist Susie Bogdanowicz takes a larger part of the stage, fulfilling the wants of the fan base and the needs of the musicians. Steve Babb does sound like the sadly departed Squire but he also possesses a tone reminiscent of Peter Hook of New Order fame, by all accounts both very upfront and in your face bassists, for which we all should remain thankful that the crown is still being worn by the 'hidden ones'.

Follow that up by the blissful epic "Dead and Gone", featuring a glory-draped vocal plaint from Bogdanowicz, spooky organ in tow slowly burning through the soul, the band sounds very much like fellow proggers Magenta, the voice neighbouring Christina Booth's , a vibrant compliment in my mind. The arrangement evolves into something raunchier in the mid-section, a dazzling organ solo at first and then a darker and heavier march into battle. A return to the solemnity of the opening minutes, deeply emotive and serene, displaying a sense of restraint that is again quite new to GH.

The short ballad "Eucatastrophe" is sizzling with ominous drippings, but the classical guitar leadership is given full value with a tearfully poignant Bogdanowicz rendition, gentle orchestrations for company. The second part is Jürgen Fritz-like organ plastering (sounding like vintage Triumvirat), sombre themes and desolate ending. This bleeds (pun) nicely into the stately "Rapturo", a demure nocturne that shows off tremendous sensitivities, symphonically morphing into a mellotron and drum concoction, slow and gentle, imperial and riveting. The sun sets melodically on an inspired performance, sourcing new motivations and innovative tweaks that show a band clearly progressing beyond its alleged limitations, as GH was often cruelly pilloried for being too close to a Yes clone, the Jon Davison episode certainly fueling the fire of unjust gossip. This trivial branding can now be buried in some appropriate military cemetery as GH has found a new level of creativity and a wider panorama of sounds. Really impressive release and harbinger of things to come.

4.5 Valhalla handmaidens

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Heavy Prog & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars Using a more open space, 'live' recording style, this band of American veterans has produced what is, in my opinion, their best album ever. The sound here is often quite similar to that of their 'vintage-instruments-only' magnum masterpiece that they contributed to the 2005 Colossus Magazine/Musea Records production of Odyssey: The Greatest Tale. I have not actually contributed many reviews to Glass Hammer releases because they have never really connected or resonated with me before. (Their NeoProg bombast is usually so cheezy and over-the-top Yes- imitative as to not feel worth my time--especially since I do not generally like to give poor reviews--[unless a bubble needs bursting]. Until now, Glass Hammer was free to go about doing what they do [imitate Yes] and I would respectfully leave them alone).

1. "The Fields We Know" (7:37) opens familiarly but then enters into Olympus with the multi-voiced chorus. Despite the presence of oft over-used and domineering Hammond organ and Rickenbacker bass, the boys use the two in different enough ways to allow the melodies and music to feel fresh and not bombastic. (9/10)

2. "Golden Days" (6:20) Though I like all of the vocal contributions to this album, having Susie Bogdanowicz on lead vocals certainly does make for an improved sound. Great melodies and key/chord progressions throughout. (9/10)

3. "No Man's Land" (14:20) opens with a rather long introduction (nearly three minutes) containing some beautiful instrumental soundscapes and chord progressions before the music shifts into a more syncopated stop-and-go section in which tuned percussion and acoustic guitars are given some of the spotlight. A minute later chunky bass, Hammond organ, Steve-Howe-like guitar sounds and riffs and synth washes help support Susie's lead vocal during the first verse. The chorus is more of a collective, male-dominated affair, but then Susie regains the lead with the second verse. The song gets a little funky and a little predictable in the second half--especially in the use of the organ. The vocals get mixed up quite a bit, but then those Hammond runs come in and kind of remind us of why prog died out in the 70s ("too much of that organ" my daughter would say). (8/10)

4. "Nexus Girl" (2:58) is a very modern sounding little instrumental that opens with some great keyboard work supported by some kind of techno-trip hoppy computer-programmed drums. Again, some extraordinary ear candy in the form of the chord progressions, melodies and solos from the lead instruments (synths, MONO-like tremolo electric guitar). Great song! (10/10)

5. "Valkyrie" (5:54) opens in a very Neo Prog fashion with BIG instrumental intro (including Wurlitzer-sounding church organ) before everything quiets down to support a vocal that is interesting for its muted effect for the first verse. The second verse allows the vocalist(s) to go unmuted. Nice melody--which is eventually taken over by Ms. Bogdanowicz. Nice! (9/10)

6. "Fog Of War" (8:23) finds the band, unfortunately, reverting to YES-imitation (Drama's "Tempus Fugit" and others comes to mind immediately). A lead vocal by Susie Bogdanowicz does much to distract us, but then a male takes over in a temporary RUSH-like passage. Back to YES for the fifth minute. Well executed and just original enough to be a total ripoff, but, still . . . Yes was Yes, this is now. (7/10)

7. "Dead And Gone" (9:56) for the first 3:35, this is a fairly simply structured and instrumented song over which Susie Bogdanowicz sings a gorgeous plaintive lyric about soldiers (as metaphor for ) But then the ELP-like Hammond bombast enters and threatens to take over. Luckily, this is fairly short-lived, until a GENESIS-like section takes over for a Steve Babb's brief turn at lead vocal. By 6:30 we're back to the simplicity and beauty of the first section. Some of the instruments do crank up their volume and intensity a bit in the eighth minute before a heavier, funky, effected instrumental section takes over before another brief Steve Babb vocal. Then, at the nine minute mark the music shifts to fast, more ELP instrumental bombast. I guess it's hardwired in these guys by now . . . (8/10)

8. "Eucatastrophe" (3:30) opens with the arpeggiated chords that ended GENESIS' "Cinema Show" before shifting into a gentle acoustic support for Susie Bogdanowicz' gorgeous lead vocal--which is sung mostly in the upper registers with her head voice. At the two-minute mark begins an instrumental onslaught led by Hammond organ and Rickebacker bass to end the song. Odd and incongruous--earning it's marks for the gorgeous first two minutes. (9/10)

9. "Rapturo" (6:12) opens with a couple of bell-like synth notes being played percussively while echo-y piano emotionally fills some of the lower end spaciousness. Really pretty! And then at the 2:25 mark drums, synths and Susie Bogdanowicz's gorgeous, almost angelic vocal fill the cathedral skies. The end of the depression is always uplifting but at the same time scary cuz you never know when 'the Dark One' will return. Thank god this one did not venture into Yes-land. If anything, it stayed in Post Rock territory! Gorgeous and powerful song! (10/10)

Despite producing one of my all-time favorite prog epics for the Odyssey: The Greatest Tale project, GLASS HAMMER has had a great deal of trouble winning me into their corner. With Valkyrie they may have finally done it! Four stars; an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection.

Review by FragileKings
4 stars Glass Hammer is a band that I have always liked since I first bought "If" a few years ago and I felt they had great ability to produce some fantastic symphonic prog. The thing was that the albums I bought after "If" (older albums) were not as impressive to me and I finally decided to leave off buying any more albums until some future date. Last year I was ready to give the band another chance to impress me as they had already released a few albums after "If". Since "Valkyrie" was the freshest delivery, I decided to go for that one. One review I read praised it while another review warned that it was not as good as previously released albums. What would my impression be?

Well, first of all, I had the impression that Glass Hammer were slowly trying to become a modern day Yes. It was as if they were saying, "If Yes won't do it this way then we will!" One can't help but feel that way when "The Culture of Ascent" covers "South Side of the Sky" and features a guest appearance by Jon Anderson or when "If" and "Cor Cordium" vocalist Jon Davison goes on to become the lead vocalist for Yes, or when they have this wonderful bass guitar sound that resembles Chris Squire's so much. But to be fair, Glass Hammer are not exactly like Yes, and on "Valkyrie" I think they have moved along, taking much of the Yes decor out of their music and adding in other influences and ideas.

Though the music intrigued me from the start, I was on the cusp of moving on from contemporary prog and into other styles of music, so I left this one for nearly a year before coming back to it recently. The album surprised me because as I walked home with my phone in my pocket and the ear buds pumping the music into the space between my ears, I kept taking the phone out of my pocket to check the song titles. That's because it was like, "Wow, that sounds really cool. What song is that?" And this process continued from the second track throughout nearly the whole album.

This is a story of a soldier returning home from the horrors of war to the girl who loves him, and to bring the story to life we have founding member Steve Babb (who also gives us that awesome bass) on lead vocals for the male lines and Susie Bogdanowicz on lead vocals for the female parts. My honest opinion is that while Steve Babb can lay down some fabulous bass work, his lead vocals are a notch behind what I'd like to hear from a lead vocalist for this kind of music. The good point is that he doesn't sing too often and Susie gets more lead vocal work (so I felt anyway). But how strong Steve is as a vocalist becomes a negligible concern as the album rolls on. As is usual for Glass Hammer, they very naturally write and produce some far out classic-prog-inspired symphonic prog. Aside from the rumbling and outstanding bass playing, you'll get a great blend of organ and guitar solos, and lengthy songs that cover different changes in music. There's pretty; there's almost a light Beatle-esque pop approach; there are ELP moments, hints of Pink Floyd keyboards in a place or two, and some music that goes a little darker and harder or heavier than what I've heard in the past.

I made some notes as I listened to this album for the second time recently (not counting the times I heard it last year) and it seems I have noted that "Golden Days" could be my favourite track, or maybe it's the 14-minute "No Man's Land" which is a true epic with some many changing parts, or it's "Fog of War" for its darker parts, or maybe it's the surprising change toward more dramatic music from lighter in "Dead and Gone". But then "Eucastrophe" features a beautiful acoustic intro with a dynamic organ/bass/drum passage coming in. "Nexus Girl" is a unique piece on this album and reminds me a bit of Nine Inch Nails in their softer, quieter moments.

So, this is the album that has reawakened my interest in Glass Hammer. It is not something grand and new and mind-blowing but "Valkyrie" has proved to me that Glass Hammer are capable of surprising me in a very positive way.

Latest members reviews

2 stars I want to preface this review by saying I'm a huge Glass Hammer fan (I own all their albums) and my musical tastes almost invariably align with Progarchives ratings for each and every artist/album I've ever heard. However, Valkyrie is an anomaly. Currently, "Valkyrie" enjoys a 4.37 rating here, ... (read more)

Report this review (#1633018) | Posted by csglinux | Tuesday, October 18, 2016 | Review Permanlink

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