(updated 28 November 2016) Valkyrie (Arion Records (USA) SR3621, 2016) is the much-anticipated new Glass Hammer studio album featuring Steve Babb (bass, keyboards, backing vocals), Susie Bogdanowicz (lead and backing vocals) and Fred Schendel (keyboards, backing vocals).
The overall vibe of the album is much more "classic" Glass Hammer, more or less in line with the sound of their Three Cheers For The Lionhearted album. Prior to release, the band announced that it would feature much more of Susie's vocal work than prior releases, and it certainly delivers on that part, but the listener must be patient through long instrumental passages and take the time to fully appreciated the nine tracks and 67-minute running time. It is a symphonic progressive rock recording, complete with powerful allusions to both Yes and ELP throughout.
Valkyrie is a concept album whose lyrics tell the story of a soldier trapped in an endless war, and of the girl he left behind. There are deeper meanings for those that take time to digest the lyrics further. The band is joined by Kamran Alan Shikoh (electric, acoustic and classical guitars) and Aaron Raulston (drums). While the band have advertised Susie as taking over from Jon Davison as the band's lead vocalist, Steve and Fred are prominent through many of the tracks as well. The album is very strong instrumentally as well.
We get our first taste of Susie's lead in the second track from the album, "Golden Days." Harmony layers add depth and strength to the arrangement. Most of the album's tracks are quite long offering band members the opportunity to contribute to the mix. It was great to hear Susie's powerful lead vocal emerge in the epic-length "No Man's Land." The transition to the instrumental "Nexus Girl" is seamless.
As with the opening track, "The Fields We Know," the vocal lead for title track "Valkyrie" is sung by Fred Schendel (verify). Steve and Susie add plenty of backing harmony vocals and power to join the lush instrumental arrangements that bring this portion of the album to its preliminary conclusion.
An extended introduction gives way to Susie's stunning lead and harmony vocal layers in "Fog of War," where she is again joined by Fred and Steve's further vocal work. Listen carefully for her delicate solo parts that are interspersed within passages of all three singing and dense instrumentals.
Our standout track is "Dead and Gone, primarily a progressive styled ballad featuring Susie's stunning solo lead vocals throughout. In Glass Hammer fashion, ELP-styled instrumentals eventually build and textures change with the addition of Fred and Steve's harmonies, but the song gives way to Susie again making it one of the tracks on the album that clearly feature her voice.
"Eucastrophe" opens in a similar vein, delicately arranged, Susie's stunning vocal gliding well atop and acoustic guitar arrangement with keyboard washes but crescendos into a powerful progressive instrumental mid-track. "Rapturo" also opens with a slow moving, delicate and tender piano and keyboard instrumental leading the way. Susie's powerful and very moving vocal part joins midway through and -- perfectly accompanied -- delivers a stunning conclusion to the album.
Valkyrie is a well-produced Glass Hammer album, and one that for us, while moving the sound forward, returned it to a familiar blend we enjoyed before the lineup changes over the past few albums began. The last time we enjoyed Glass Hammer so much was with their track "Third Floor" from The Breaking of the World. Susie Bogdanowicz indeed remains one of the most talented female vocalists in progressive rock today and we are especially glad that she has contributed significantly to this new Glass Hammer release.