Glass Hammer - Valkyrie

(CD 2016, 65:07, Arion Records/Sound Resources SR3621)

The tracks:
  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)

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For most people the best Glass Hammer albums were released between 2002 and 2005. During that period they released three masterpieces in a row; Lex Rex (2002), Shadowlands (2004) and The Inconsolable Secret (2005, see review). At the time it made me decide (I was probably one of the first reviewers across the globe) to call Glass Hammer America's leading progressive rock band. When the news came that the band's new album would be about a soldier, lots of people thought about the earlier mentioned Lex Rex, which was also about a soldier. So expectations were high when Valkyrie finally reached my desk. Could it be that the band would become America's leading progressive rock band again?

As for the subject of the album, I can tell you that it has nothing to do with the adventures of an ancient Roman soldier as was told on Lex Rex. We are dealing here with a concept album which tells the story of a soldier who after the horrors of the war comes home and gets to deal with post-traumatic stress. His wife looks at a completely changed husband. The soldier and his partner are struggling with this situation. They both try to understand what has happened and are trying to rebuild their relationship. Music wise this is told in the best possible way. The lead vocals provided by Susie Bogdanowicz, Fred Schendel and Steve Babb show the emotions the couple goes through. Also the music that comes along to tell the story, has many moods that perfectly show how the protagonist and his wife deal with the situation. Aggressive guitar parts and distorted vocals show anger and madness of the protagonist. The more gentle and mellow parts show, above all, the love between them.

I will not go into detail what you can hear on every track, but I can assure you the band moves back to the musical style of the classical symphonic prog of the 70s many times. The influences of bands such as Yes, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Genesis, Kansas and Emerson, Lake & Palmer can be heard throughout the entire album, but maybe this time the band has kept a musical identity of their own, even more than on their predecessors. The nine compositions are of the highest musical level, you won't find any weak tracks. So bravo to all who are responsible for that. There is, of course, Fred Schendel on the mighty keyboards, bringing lots of solos on his synthesizers and organ, but also his Mellotron parts are outstanding. His musical partner in crime Steve Babb also brings a lot to the table. His blessed dark and groovy bass playing is woven through everything and gives the music an extra charge. His bass parts are always up front and his delicious bass pedals nestle in your stomach. Guitarist Kamran Alan Sikoh shows again how brilliant he is as a musician. His solos on this album are often short and to the point, but they are so important! But we can't forget drummer Aron Ralston who lays a solid rhythm foundation when this is needed. The real star on this album is Susie Bogdanowicz. Her vocal contributions are just outstanding and sent shivers down my spine many times. But I think all musicians on this album transcend themselves.

Glass Hammer delivers one of their strongest albums so far. On this album we hear the return to the grandeur and class of the heyday of the earlier mentioned albums Lex Rex, Shadowlands and The Inconsolable Secret. But there's more. The album breathes space, in my opinion. It is not so packed with ideas and themes. They have made clear choices and this approach turned out very positively. Together with the strong lyrics this makes an album that really touches and moves me at times. All songs have their own identity, but as a whole they fit together perfectly and this is exactly what makes concept albums so strong.

Overall you could say Glass Hammer does not lose its sense of musicality on this album, releasing inventive progressive rock with many vintage keyboard sounds, strong bass parts, technical drum rhythms, and guitars that are more focused on riffs and arpeggios than demonstrative solos and an alternation of male and female songs. The melodies frequently change the theme but remain always seated, never aggressive or dissonant, played by musicians who hate repetitiveness and simple rhythms. Valkyrie is above all a rich album, varied, well played and endowed with a very clean production. The music speaks immediately to the prog fan, especially if you like the 70s style of prog, though some passages show an unusual modernity.

Finally a verdict has to be given to this excellent album. An album which brings them back to the place they should be, being America's leading progressive rock band. Many times other bands have taken over this position, but they are now back with a bang! This is just the album I was waiting for, for many years. The past years they released amazing albums, but never failed to get the highest rating possible. Well that time is over, because now they have the full score of five stars in their pocket. All I can say is that this is well deserved. Valkyrie for me is a true masterpiece, just like the albums they released between 2002 and 2005. Hopefully it is the start of another triple masterpiece series! One of my musical highlights of 2016 without any doubt!

***** Henri Strik (edited by Astrid de Ronde)

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