Glass Hammer -
Skallagrim - Into The Breach

(CD 2021, 73:55, Arion Records/Sound Resources SR4628)

The tracks:
  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)

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Glass Hammer is one of those groups that hardly needs an introduction to readers of Background Magazine. They have released numerous albums before, most of which have been reviewed in this magazine.

Skallagrim, now that sounds certainly Scandinavian. Fun trivia, according to Wikipedia, Skalla-Grímr was the nickname of some Grímr Kveldúlfsson. This was a Norwegian who lived in the ninth and tenth centuries. He is an important character in Egils Saga and is mentioned in the Landnámabók (see Wiki).

Whether this has anything to do with the album is doubtful. This CD is the follow-up to Glass Hammer's album Dreaming City, as the second part of a series inspired by the Skallagrim fantasy story books that are currently in the works. The first book written by Steve Babb, Skallagrim - In The Vales Of Pagarna, is expected to be published soon.
Personally, I have loved Glass Hammer for many years, but somehow lost touch and I think that I haven't listened any of their albums for the past ten years, including the last one. So, I must admit that the direction of this new effort came a bit as a shock. It seems to me that they have a new singer, Hannah Pryor. We still have the main members Steve Babb (keyboards, bass, vocals) and Fred Schendel (keyboards, guitars, vocals). Also present is drummer Aaron Raulston and two guests on guitars, Brian Brewer and Reese Boyd. The presence of these two gentlemen may be a sign on the wall as the sound is heavier than ever before.
The CD opens with piano and beautiful female vocals, nothing unusual so far. Then the sound expands with synths and some percussion exploding into the heavy rocking Anthem To Andorath. Okay... as indicated above, this is quite untypical for what I know of Glass Hammer. Had someone played this to me without telling the name of the band, I would rather have guessed this to be Lacuna Coil or another female fronted gothic-symphonic rock group!
This sound is indicative of what follows. Sellsword brings some heavy distorted guitars. Ah well, luckily after about a minute and a half I hear something resembling Mellotron and organ. There is a clear bluesy edge to the vocals. A different kind of heavy we get on Steel which reminds to some degree of Deep Purple with the guitars and organ leading.
Moon Pool is very different. This piece is pretty atmospheric with loose percussion and eerie, spacey guitars. Then comes The Dark - a short instrumental led by roaring organ.
The Ogre Of Archon brings bluesy hard rock with one of the gentlemen on lead vocals. The somewhat flat voice takes the edge from the sound which would have benefited from someone more like Ian Gillan.
We are back to progmetal with the track The Forlorn Hope. This again has flat male lead vocals. The keys are making a real effort here and that is good. We find a nice organ solo halfway through, but apart from that the song does not manage to ignite enthusiasm from my side.
One of my favourite pieces is Hyperborea, not in the least because of the clear references to Rush with hints of their classic epic Xanadu through riffs, mood, and the gong (or tubular bells perhaps). This may be the best track from the album. Well, in my opinion that is.

All in all, I must admit that listening to the album at first left me a bit dazed and confused (to play on another heavy sometimes proggy group). This is definitely a good album and especially fans of heavy prog will enjoy this thoroughly. However, fans of Glass Hammer may compare it to earlier work and then chances are that this affects the rating. I appreciate them doing something else, but would love them to return to the more symphonic side of things.

*** Carsten Busch (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)

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