Nineteen studio albums in twenty seven years...just think about that for a second. There are very few, if any, bands in the genre known as progressive rock that have been as prolific as Tennessee's Glass Hammer since they burst on the scene back in 1993 with Journey Of The Dunadan. And they've come a long, long way, their music twisting, turning, and morphing through the years, only bested by the sheer amount of line-up changes and musicians utilized over that same time period. Currently, the line-up for their latest album Dreaming City, in the studio anyway, consists of:
Steve Babb / keyboards, bass, backing vocals, lead vocals (1, 5, 12)
Fred Schendel / keyboards, guitars, backing vocals
Aaron Raulston / drums
Susie Bogdanowicz / lead vocals (8)
Brian Brewer / lead guitar (7, 8), acoustic guitar (12)
Reese Boyd / lead vocals (2, 11, 12), lead guitar (1, 5, 12)
John Beagley / lead vocals (3, 7, 10)
Joe Logan / lead vocals (11)
James Byron Schoen / guitar (11)
Barry Seroff / flute (2, 11)
As you can see, the big change on Dreaming City is the shift away from Susie Bogdanowicz in the main vocalist slot, a role she claimed on the bands last two albums Valkyrie and Chronomonaut. Here, she appears on just one track, and the lead vocals are shared by a collective that includes Reese Boyd (who also adds in some lead guitar), Joe Logan, and founder Steve Babb. As this is another fantasy tinged concept album from the band, all the singers are of course playing specific parts in the story. An assortment of musicians contribute to this album alongside founders Babb and Fred Schendel, who always manage to the get the most out of everyone who has taken part in a Glass Hammer release.
Opening track "The Dreaming City" is unlike any Glass Hammer song you've ever heard, bubbling keys supporting heavy riffs, pounding drums, fat bass grooves, and shredding lead guitar solos from Boyd, with Babb taking the vocal. Forget the Yes styled prog-rock of many of the recent albums, this is Glass Hammer taking on a muscular stance that's part Rush and part Dream Theater, and it's easily one of the heaviest songs this band has ever done. Really digging Babb's vocals on this one too, drenched in effects, it almost adds a Hawkwind styled space rock element to this crankin' tune. "Cold Star" also rocks hard, starting off with some metallic guitar riffs & organ courtesy of Schendel before the acoustic guitars, flute, synths, and tremendous vocals of Boyd kick in...fans of classic Styx will love this melodic, heavy prog gem, and it's easily one of my favorites on the album. Plenty of crisp Rush-meets-90125 Yes styled elements can be heard on "Terminus", tasty synths, effects laden guitar riffs, strong vocals from John Beagley, and hooks aplenty highlight this enjoyable, accessible song, and "The Lurker Beneath" is a quick but haunting keyboard instrumental from Babb & Schendel that leads into the moody "Pagarna", led by Babb's enormous bass lines, layers of guitars & keys, and more of Steve's effective vocal melodies.
The band continues to try new things with "At the Threshold of Dreams", an ominous slice of '70s Tangerine Dream with blipping synths, while "This Lonely World" brings out the Mellotron and plenty of psychedelic pop vocal melodies courtesy of Beagley. Porcupine Tree anyone? Susie B. makes her appearance on the lovely pop track "October Ballad", and the guys go all space rock again on the groove laden synth madness that is "The Tower"...very cool stuff. Beagley again takes the mic on "A Desperate Man", once more the band doing some different things, blending pop with electronica and space rock, Schendel's lead guitar having a certain nod to the great Steve Hackett as well as Robert Fripp. For the last two tracks, Joe Logan & Boyd sing the heavy prog cut "The Key", a track filled with plenty of bombast thanks to some crunchy riffs, enormous bass grooves, flute, acrobatic drums, and tasty keys, and Boyd comes back for the lengthy epic "Watchman on the Walls" to close things out. Bright and energetic, "Watchman on the Walls" is majestic symphonic progressive rock in grand Glass Hammer fashion, long on soaring vocal harmonies and layers of expert instrumentation. Boyd's lead guitar work is stinging, and accompanied by atmospheric keyboards, acoustic guitars, and more of those Rush-styled riffs and synths, it's a sensational way to end this very different, but very enjoyable album.
You have to give Glass Hammer a lot of credit for really stretching beyond their comfort zone here on Dreaming City, and while at times it can be frustrating with a band who utilizes so many different vocalists and musicians on an album, I think it was integral here for these guys to really find their direction on this outing and get the storyline across. I'm digging the heavier elements, and the more space rock/electronica vibes as well, so consider this one two thumbs up and an easy recommendation. Job well done once again from the little band from Chattanooga!
1. The Dreaming City (7:14)
2. Cold Star (7:29)
3. Terminus (4:17)
4. The Lurker Beneath (1:44)
5. Pagarna (3:33)
6. At the Threshold of Dreams (4:11)
7. This Lonely World (4:52)
8. October Ballad (4:11)
9. The Tower (2:40)
10. A Desperate Man (4:15)
11. The Key (6:10)
12. Watchman On the Walls (11:29)