Tennessee prog veterans Glass Hammer return with the third part of their Skallagrim trilogy, titled At the Gate, which follows Dreaming City (2021) and Skallagrim- Into the Breach (2022). This sword & sorcery/fantasy tale, which has now also become a book written by founder/bassist/vocalist Steve Babb, has seen the band veer off a bit from their trademark symphonic prog sound, highly influenced by classic bands such as Yes, ELP, and Genesis, into more of a darker and heavier style, which has proven to suit the lyrical content quite well. Here on At the Gate we actually get a bit of both elements across the album.
Opening track "The Years Roll By", as well as the second song "Savage", features a more familiar, symphonic prog sound complemented by Babb & Fred Schendel's layers of keyboards & synths, with vocalist Hannah Pryor's soaring over the top, the guitars even present as well but lacking the riffy nature we heard on the previous two releases. Those big riffs though come into play on "All Alone", a real heavy hitter that moves into Rush/Black Sabbath territory on the guitar front, though the keys, including some lovely Hammond organ, play a big role, and Schendel's lead guitar work here is very much in the style of Steve Howe. It's like a '70s heavy rock spectacular meets classic prog! "All For Love" follows, and the big, crushing, doom laden riffs and booming bass lines are back, but the blend of male & female vocals plus keys keeps in prog territory, and there's even a tasty Reese Boyd guitar solo thrown in for good measure. "Snowblind Girl" also hits hard, Boyd again appearing on lead guitar on this lengthy, highly textured song, while "Standing at the Gate (of Zagzagel)" keeps the heavy sounds coming, the riffs approaching modern metal but those vocal harmonies are so lovely and filled with proggy and pop goodness. "In the Shadows" is a gorgeous little vocal & piano number, and the album closes with the 13+ minute "It's Love", which is pure epic symphonic prog for those that love Glass Hammer's enormous back catalog. Piano, synths, organ, guitars, male & female vocals...just a spectacular piece. Oh, and I almost forgot about "North of North", a cool little ambient/space rock number dominated by synths that comes earlier in the album, a trend of including some Tangerine Dream styled compositions on each of the last few albums.
Now that the Skallagrimm trilogy has concluded, on album at least, it will be interesting to see where they go from here. Will they return to familiar symphonic prog territory, get even heavier, or combine them both together as they have done so well here? Time will tell of course, but my guess is we won't have to wait too long, based on the track record of this band. Good stuff-don't miss this one!
The Years Roll By 07:34
North Of North 04:28
All Alone 06:06
All For Love 06:55
Snowblind Girl 07:44
Standing At The Gate (Of Zagzagel) 05:03
8. In The Shadows 3:41
9. It's Love 13:25