“In the Vales of Pagarna there is a doom-haunted city where no man dreams; for dreams are the price of entry”. That’s the intriguing opening line of the accompanying notes for Dreaming City, the new release from Glass Hammer, their eighteenth studio album no less.
2018’s Chronomonaut was the album that introduced me to music created by the undeniably talented duo of Glass Hammer co-founders Fred Schendel and Steve Babb, so this new piece of music was awaited with interest, and I’m happy to say that Dreaming City not only matches the high standards gone by, but it also feels different enough to quickly have become an engaging listen.
Musically, the first thing that hits is how heavy the album is in places. Opening track The Dreaming City is led by guitarist and Chronomonaut alumnus Reese Boyd, and drummer Aaron Raulston. They both take turns cutting loose before Schendel and Babb have their turn, a great introduction to the new heavier sound. I’m not sure if the official video was filmed with lockdown in mind but the ‘four corners’ effect certainly looks familiar!
As with Chronomonaut, the story is narrated by different vocalists; Steve Babb provides the heavily processed words on the opener before we are introduced to the main character (voiced throughout by Reese Boyd) in the next track, Cold Star. There are almost no gaps at all between most of the songs, keeping the story flowing, which revolves around ‘Terminus’, a sword which has been presented to our hero and comes in handy over the next few tracks as he fights to save his love. I’ll leave the rest of the story for you to find out.
Glass Hammer certainly don’t do things by half. The album is “Inspired by Skallagrim and the Dreaming City – Book One of the Terminus Chronicles”. Sounds epic, but don’t go looking for this book, as it doesn’t exist as such, just a creation for this tale. Main lyricist Babb is toying with the idea of creating a real-life novel in the sword and sorcery genre, reasoning if there’s nothing to influence your writing, then create your own influences, if that makes sense. As with the previous album, you can get into the story as much as you wish or just enjoy the music, I wouldn’t be put off by the imagery or plot lines. Clocking in at just over an hour, there are 12 tracks, with half at around the 4-minute mark. Watchman on The Walls is the album’s extended closer and longest track at over 11 minutes.
Steve and Fred are also assisted by long-time member of the band Susie Bogdanowicz, who supplies lead vocals on the lovely gentle October Ballad, with other backing vocals provided by one of us Brits, John Beagley. There are several other guest appearances, Glass Hammer haven’t been afraid to bring in an artist who can add something different, for example on The Key, a funk bass/Hammond combo from Babb and Schendel which breaks down to allow a striking flute solo from Barry Seroff.
Highlights for me would be Terminus, which is a bit of a surprise as the synthesisers are fired up and we are at an ’80s pop concert, big choruses and an uplifting middle eight, any fans of those 1980s widdly synths will be in heaven as this section rises into a major key payoff which will have you punching the air, before being dragged into The Lurker Beneath, a short instrumental piece which sounds like the soundtrack to a ghost ship arriving, empty, into port. Later on, This Lonely World is a softer track with processed vocals, describing the narrator’s lost love over slide guitar, most dream-like.
Overall I really got into this, there’s so much variety in the songs. Without wanting to compare to other bands too much, I could see the first half of the album picking up fans of Dream Theater or Frost*. Then Fred Schendel will treat us to an epic Hammond organ solo and we are back into golden age of prog territory – these chaps have been going since 1992 after all! The second half of the album will be more familiar for traditional Hammer fans, but I would rate the whole album overall as an excellent listen.
01. The Dreaming City (7:14)
02. Cold Star (7:29)
03. Terminus (4:19)
04. The Lurker Beneath (1:41)
05. Pagarna (3:33)
06. At the Threshold of Dreams (4:11)
07. This Lonely World (4:52)
08. October Ballad (4:10)
09. The Tower (2:44)
10. A Desperate Man (4:12)
11. The Key (6:13)
12. Watchman on The Walls (11:35)
Total Time – 60:03
Steve Babb – Bass Guitar, Keyboards, Lead & Backing Vocals, Music, Lyrics & Story
Fred Schendel – Keyboards, Guitars, Backing Vocals, Music
Aaron Raulston – Drums
Reese Boyd – Guitars, Lead & Backing Vocals
John Beagley – Lead & Backing Vocals
Brian Brewer – Guitars
Susie Bogdanowicz – Lead Vocals
Joe Logan – Lead Vocals
~ Special Guests:
James Byron Schoen – Guitar Solo (The Key)
Barry Seroff – Flute
Record Label: Sound Resources
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 17th April 2020