Monday, October 3, 2016

Glass Hammer: “Valkyrie,” A Review

     Most “concept albums” disappoint me. That’s because of my acquaintance with the very best of the breed: The Who’s Tommy, Gentle Giant’s The Power And The Glory, Al Stewart’s Past, Present, and Future, Spock’s Beard’s Snow, and Glass Hammer’s extraordinary Lex Rex.

     It’s hard to believe it’s been fourteen years since Glass Hammer released Lex Rex. That record was my earliest acquaintance with them. It also proved to be the start of a warm and edifying email exchange with composer and bass virtuoso Steve Babb, one of the two original members of the ensemble. Since then the band has experienced several personnel changes and has experimented with a number of themes and motifs, but has remained faithful to a strongly narrative style.

     Valkyrie, the band’s latest, challenges the heights both of conceptually oriented modern music and Glass Hammer’s highest previous achievements. The embedded tale is that of an unnamed soldier lured into the bowels of the most terrible war in modern history: World War I. Whether he was seduced by a mistaken sense of duty or by an unacknowledged desire for adventure, his embroilment in the interminable conflict, endlessly voracious of men’s lives and futures, precipitates him into black despair, making him question whether he can – or will – ever return to his home and his love.

     As usual for Glass Hammer, there’s a great variety of rhythms, arrangements, harmonic and melodic approaches. Though the music is complex and frequently challenging, it’s never dissonant. The libretto is a thing of cut-crystal elegance that makes following the story straightforward, albeit not effortless. As with previous Glass Hammer compositions, keeping the libretto insert in hand greatly improves the listener’s enjoyment. Though not as openly inspirational as Lex Rex, the ultimate theme is equally uplifting: the power of love to heal a soul that appears broken beyond repair by the sufferings it’s endured and the tragedies it’s witnessed.

     The CD is $15.00 when ordered directly from the Glass Hammer website. I cannot recommend it highly enough.


Dr Judy H said...

I've always appreciated a well-crafted concept album, increasingly rare though these are; in addition to those you've listed, Quadrophenia; The Wall; Hand.Cannot.Erase; and The Red Paintings' extraodinary The Revolution is Never Coming. Valkyrie has just arrived by mail to Rural Australia and it will be savoured in its entirety, libretto in hand!

Francis W. Porretto said...

I hope and trust you'll enjoy it as much as I did, Judy.