Arise is a technical exploration for truth and purpose that in many ways creates a flip-side to Babb’s barbarous and mystical quest in his Skallagrim tale

Arise
Glass Hammer
www.glasshammer.com
Sound Resources / Arion Records
9 tracks / 59 minutes

Expect the unexpected from Glass Hammer’s latest project. Even though I think a review of much of their recent work could start out with that same sentence, the brand’s new musical journey, Arise, might actually be the album to finally shatter the mold. The word ‘brand’ was not a typo since Glass Hammer has now become more of a concept than what we might think of as a conventional rock or prog band, with the prolific Steve Babb now becoming the hub around which all things Glass Hammer swirl and function. Up until now it could be said that Babb and fellow musician Fred Schendel formed the creative nucleus of virtually all Glass Hammer projects, but on Arise Schendel is credited as a contributor rather than co-creator, and that only on one song (“Rift at WASP-12”). The result is a hard rocking prog epic with a science/fantasy theme and spiritual overtones – a technical quest for truth and purpose that in many ways creates a flip-side to Babb’s barbarous and mystical quest in his Skallagrim tale.

As the songs unfold (and there are helpful hints in the accompanying booklet) it becomes obvious that the theme here is very much an examination of the limits of technology and human intellect in the face of a supernatural God. A.RI.S.E. stands for the Android Research Initiative for Space Exploration, an information-gathering artificial intelligence whose sole purpose is the gathering of information. Much like V’Ger / Voyager in Star Trek the Motion Picture, the mission seems to only succeed in finding that human intelligence is a dead end without a personal God experience. Does Babb’s Android Research Unit find fulfillment? Do androids dream of electric sheep? 

On this, their 21st studio outing, Glass Hammer enters the nebulous realm of ‘space rock,’ but never gets so spacy that they stray far from the more visceral realm of rock and roll. This is perhaps the band’s heaviest material and there’s an overall feeling of seventies guitar-jams winding through the album, starting right from the first sounds of wailing, distorted guitar on the pulsing, wordless opening track, “Launch of the Deadalus.” This is followed by the deliberate, heavy introduction to “Wolf 359,” where the grunge of the musical soundscape is offset by the clear, clean vocals of Hannah Pryor. Pryor delivers the lyric: “They say that God is watching over me, I’m not sure what He wants or what He hopes to see,” which set up the idea that this is about a lot more than simply exploration of space. 

“Mare Sirenum” is an appropriately synth-driven instrumental – a mood-setting electro-groove, which provides a breather leading into the heavy, inexorably building, somewhat sinister opening of “Lost,” which evolves into a more melodic piece with Pryor singing some of the album’s most poignant lyrical moments. 

There’s a slight middle-eastern feeling about the decidedly rocking “Rift at Wasp-12,” which features a processed vocal by Babb and a very classic-rock era guitar solo near the end. Things get very heavy again with “Proxima Centauri B” – Hanna Pryor gets to exercise her rock chops and Babb’s bass is speaker-ripping strong. A few minutes into the track the wah-wah guitar gives way to a bluesy/jazzy approach that’s about as earthy and funky as Glass Hammer has ever been. 

Undoubtedly, the last two tracks will get a lot of attention. “Arise” clocks in at 11:44 and the instrumental climax, “The Return of the Deadalus” at a whopping 16:50. In both cases there’s more of a live jam feel than I’ve heard on any Glass Hammer album. The penultimate track, “Arise,” is a lyrically hopeful piece (“The darkness fled my heart then turned to light / The sun upon the waves shines so bright”) backed by outstanding musical moments. Randall Williams’ drums are delightfully high in the mix both here and on the final track and are a treat to. Babb is at the top of his form on bass, both melodic and commanding. I can’t say enough about the guitar work of Reese Boyd throughout the whole project but his work on these last two epics really shines. He switches from heavy wailing acid-rock licks to jazzy, blues-drenched passages seemingly without effort.

All lyrics, story and text on Arise are by Steve Babb. The album is beautifully produced by Babb and is a sonic pleasure. All music is by Steve Babb except “Rift at WASP-12,” by Babb and Fred Schendel. 

Steve Babb: Keyboards, rhythm and Lead guitars, percussion, vocals                                                                               
Hannah Pryor: vocals                                                                                                                                                                            
Reese Boyd: lead and rhythm guitars                                                                                                                           
Randall Williams: drums                                                                                                                                                                 with Fred Schendel: guitars and drums on “Rift at WASP-12”

The protagonist in this musical journey has moments of light, of darkness, of confusion and clarity – moments that mirror all of our own spiritual quests. Like all good stories, you, the audience will fill in the blanks, but Babb and Glass Hammer pave the way with powerful music and a thought-provoking setting. Arise and order yours soon. 

-Bert Saraco

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