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Glass Hammer - Valkyrie CD (album) cover

VALKYRIE

Glass Hammer

 

Symphonic Prog

3.87 | 153 ratings

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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

tszirmay | 5/5 |

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