by Robert J. Keeley
Glass Hammer has been active for about 30 years. They are mostly a studio band, playing live only occasionally, so the term “active” refers to the steady stream of studio albums that, with Arise, numbers over 20. Founded by Steve Babb and Fred Schendel, the two multi-instrumentalists often have handled most of the instrumental duties in Glass Hammer, although they have surrounded themselves with many able musicians along the way. Glass Hammer’s style has changed a lot over the years, more than most prog bands. While some of that is due to shifting personnel, Babb and Schendel have also continually changed the form of their music to match the story they are telling. Arise is a fine example of this and another great addition to their catalog.
Glass Hammer’s previous album, At the Gate, closed out the Skallagrim trilogy, a set of albums that saw the band add a bit of metal to their sound to better tell the sword and sorcery story that was told over the three albums as well as in a novel penned by Babb. Fantasy is not something new for this band, having cut their teeth on albums based on the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.
The Skallagrim trilogy also added something else to the sound of the band: singer Hannah Pryor. Pryor came to the studio that Babb and Schendel run to record her own music. The Glass Hammer guys heard something in her voice that they wanted to follow up on. Soon her vocals graced their album or re-recorded classic tracks, A Matter of Time, Vol. 1, which led to her appearance as the primary voice on the last two albums in the Skallagrim trilogy. Her strong voice is one of the many highlights on Arise. This time Schendel takes a back seat as Babb is the sole writer and primary player on most tracks. Even though Babb has lots of duties on this album, his striking bass playing still has a huge impact on the sound of the band.
Arise an acronym for Android Research Initiative for Space Exploration. The story, which is told in the lyrics and in other notes in the booklet, involves an android as the operator of a deep space exploration craft named Deadalus. Along the way, the android senses a presence that seems to be calling to it as it explores consciousness. Glass Hammer’s style has adapted to this story, taking a step away from the metal of Skallagim but heading into new territory for the band, making music that is, at times, a bit reminiscent of albums like Jon Anderson’s Olias of Sunhillow in its expansive use of synths evoking the vastness of space and the internal questions of the existence of an independent self for the android protagonist and narrator.
The music shifts from hard rock as the android launches into space to contemplative as it finds itself at “Mare Sirenum” in which the android gets lost in reveries and experiences another presence. This is followed by “Lost,” the ballad on the album with a very strong melody which lets us hear Pryor’s versatility and range as a vocalist. It is one of the highlights.
Along the way, the android experiences an awakening as it begins to explore personal fulfillment. This all leads to a one-two punch finale. In the 12-minute title track, the android says, “and have you ever felt the hand of God upon you / It’ll change you brother” and “look to the heavens, look all around / Cause He’s not hard to find, never was.” This Is followed by the 17-minute-long instrumental finale, “The Return of Deadalus,” a bass-heavy jam that takes a few nice turns along the way leaving us wondering exactly what happened to the android.
Arise is a fine next step in the evolution of this band that continues to grow, change, and adapt. After all, isn’t that kind of what prog is all about?
Order here: https://glasshammer.com/official-store/
Released on Oct. 27th, 2023
1. Launch of the Deadalus
2. Wolf 359
3. Arion (18 Delphini b)
4. Mare Sirenum
6. Rift at WASP-12
7. Proxima Centauri B
9. The Return of Deadalus
Line-up / Musicians
– Steve Babb / vocals, keyboards, bass, guitars, percussion
– Fred Schendel / drums and guitars (6)
– Randall Williams / drums
– Hannah Pryor / vocals
– Reece Boyd / guitar