by Brad Birzer
Bravely venturing into a mystical and sacred space, Glass Hammer’s latest release, Skallagrim—Into the Breach, drives the listener relentlessly into uncharted but glorious realms. Here is everything a Glass Hammer fan could want and love: soaring melodies, achingly gorgeous vocals, and mind-bending musicianship.
For years, fans and detractors have claimed that Glass Hammer sounds like a Yes-cover band. While anyone who knows their music and their discography knows this to be blatantly false, the image, sadly has stuck, and one sees reminders of it across the proggy parts of the internet. There can be no doubt that Glass Hammer honors the past of prog, but they do so on their own terms, in their own unique way, and with brilliance, musically as well as lyrically. Indeed, I would go so far as to argue that as a band and as a musical act, Glass Hammer is one of the two or three most innovative bands on the scene and has been from its beginning. Again, the band plays homage to Yes and Genesis and other bands, but it’s never a clone.
After Dreaming City and its sequel, Skallagrim—Into the Breach, there is absolutely no defense for and of the charge of Yes clonism. Having traveled far from the lush Christian soundscapes of Lex Rex and The Inconsolable Secret, the band has never been harder, never more rocking, and never as close to offering the world a follow-up to Rush’s Farewell to Kings as it has been in 2020 and 2021! There are moments the listener might want to just scream, “Xanadu!” Very much its own album, though (no clonism, here), Skallagrim is intense, musically and lyrically, and the listener sits in holy wonder and reverent silence to this beautiful cacophony.
As always, the (Steve Babb) bass and (Fred Schendel) keyboards are simply stunning, but the new vocalist Hannah Pryor sings with the very best of them, belting out the tunes with Wagnerian gusto and zest. And, perhaps, most importantly, believability. I want her words to be true. Aaron Raulston proves once again while he one of the single most underrated drummers in the prog world (he’s wonderful, and always, seemingly, two steps ahead of the listener). Featured guitarists, Reese Boyd and Brian Brewer, do more than hold their own, inspiring a reverence and awe as well.
Above, I mentioned Glass Hammer’s Christian past. But, please don’t take me wrong. This band is as sound in its faith (every member begins the acknowledgements with a special thanks to God) as it’s always been, but it’s now playing in the northern pagan world of storytelling. One may not think St. John with Skallagrim, but he certainly thinks Beowulf, and if the greatest English professor of the twentieth century, J.R.R. Tolkien, is right (and he most certainly is), Beowulf is a story of deep and abiding faith, pointing us to the good, the true, and the beautiful.
So, is Skallagrim. The album is a delight and belongs in every prog collection.
Released on Oct 15th, 2021
Songs / Tracks Listing
1. He’s Got a Girl (1:02)
2. Anthem to Andorath (4:37)
3. Sellsword (6:08)
4. Steel (7:27)
5. A Spell Upon His Mind (4:03)
6. Moon Pool (4:01)
7. The Dark (2:41)
8. The Ogre of Archon (6:11)
9. Into the Breach (7:58)
10. The Forlorn Hope (7:57)
11. The Writing on the Wall (6:59)
12. Hyperborea (9:42)
13. Bright Sword (1:33)
14. The Mind of Erling Hizzard (bonus track) (3:36)
Total Time 73:55
Line-up / Musicians
– Steve Babb / keyboards, bass, vocals
– Fred Schendel / keyboards, guitars, vocals
– Aaron Raulston / drums
– Hannah Pryor / vocals
– Brian Brewer / guitar
– Reese Boyd / guitar