Chattanooga prog rockers Glass Hammer release 17th album

Glass Hammer
photo The Glass Hammer lineup on "Valykrie" is, from left, Fred Schendel, Kamron Alan Shikoh, Susie Bogdanowich, Steve Babb and Aaron Raulston.

Studio albums

* Journey of the Dunadan (1993)* Perelandra (1995)* On to Evermore (1998)* Chronometree (2000)* The Middle Earth Album (2001)* Lex Rex (2002)* Shadowlands (2004)* The Inconsolable Secret (2005, rerecorded in 2013)* Culture of Ascent (2007)* Three Cheers for the Broken-Hearted (2009)* If (2010)* Cor Cordium (2011)* Perilous (2012)* Ode to Echo (2014)* The Breaking of the World (2015)* Valkyrie (2016)Live albums* Live and Revived (1997)* Live at Nearfest (2004)* Double Live (2015)Live DVDs* Lex Live (2004)* Live at Belmont (2006)* Live at the Tivoli (2008)* Double Live (2015)

Even before the internet made it easier for musicians to live just about anywhere in the world and still have a worldwide reach, Steve Babb and Fred Schendel found a way.

The two formed the progressive rock band Glass Hammer in Chattanooga in 1992, and they've been recording in the same Sound Resources studio they own in East Brainerd for the last 20 years. Two weeks ago, they released their 17th studio album, "Valkyrie," a title based on the female figures in Norse mythology that choose who lives and who dies in battle.

Glass Hammer also has released four live DVDs and three live albums. All sold well enough that making music is Babb and Schendel's full-time job. They also record other artists in the studio, in addition to handling all Glass Hammer business there.

"The first album paid for this studio," Babb says.

In fact, the pair has done well enough that they're selective about where and when they travel to perform live.

"We really don't go on the road unless it makes sense," Babb explains.

For the uninitiated, prog rock emerged in England in the late '60s with such lysergically-altered bands as Pink Floyd and the Moody Blues, but hit its popularity peak in the early '70s with Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, King Crimson and Genesis, among others. Perhaps the best-known example to the general public is Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," which has sold 45 million copies since its release in 1973.

From the start, prog rock fans have been fiercely loyal, not only to their favorite groups but to their listening media. They like actual CDs. Babb says he expects to sell about "several thousand" hard copies of "Valkyrie." To that end, Glass Hammer offered signed copies to fans who pre-ordered the album; Babb says it was the best pre-sale they've ever had, but he declines to give numbers.

The CD hit No. 2 on Amazon's Hot New Releases three days after it dropped. Half the sales are in the United States with the rest in places like Turkey, Cypress, Mexico and Europe, Babb says.

The fans' excitement for "Valkyrie" is, in part, because Glass Hammer - which has used several musicians, including current Yes lead singer Jon Davison, on previous releases - has turned again to Susie Bogdanowicz on lead and backing vocals. The rest of the lineup is Kamran Alan Shikoh on sitar and electric, acoustic and classical guitar and Aaron Raulston on drums.

"It's always been me and Fred as the core and we've had other people come and go," Babb says. "Susie is very popular with fans."

And like many of their previous releases, "Valkyrie" "is a full-blown concept album" that follows a soldier who goes off to fight a noble war and, for whatever reason, can't return home, Babb says.

"Our fans like that," he says, and reaction to the CD has been almost entirely positive.

"I'm getting emails and letters from people who say they can relate to it," he says. "Some of the reviews have said things like we've come down to Earth with things people can relate to, so maybe I went too far."

One of those fans is Bradley Birzer, an American Studies professor at Hillsdale College in Michigan who maintains the online prog site He's been a prog fan since 1973 and a Glass Hammer fan for 14 years. He describes "Valkyrie" as "simply outstanding."

"The genre has been in full revival since roughly 1995 - with very intense fans," Brizer says. "And Glass Hammer has been one of five or six main bands in this revival, along with Spock's Beard, Flower Kings, Marillion, Big Bit Train and The Tangent.

"I love GH because of the passion, intensity and intelligence [Babb and Schendel] offer on every album. Not to sound cheesy, but they are truly progressive, and they get better with age, but GH especially so."

Glass Hammer albums, while always prog rock from a musical standpoint, have lyrics that deal with science fiction, religious themes, fantasy and life issues. Babb says that, these days, fans tend like the ones that deal more with real-life topics than far-out fantasy.

Their first album, "Journey of the Dudadan," for example, was based on the story of Aragorn from J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings." On "Valkyrie," the lyrics are deliberately vague.

"It doesn't really say why or if he can't return physically or mentally," Babb says. "I wanted to dedicate the lyrics to people who have survived trauma and for those who support them."

Like some previous Glass Hammer albums, "Valkyrie" goes into some "dark places, but comes out on the other side. We always look for the hopeful," he says.

Fan Dennis Cussan from Spring Hill, Kan., appreciates the band's optimistic attitude.

"This has been a special band to me for years now, going way beyond just good music," Cussan says. "Because of their values and what they ultimately believe matches up with mine, I can completely let myself go where they want to take me.

"It was no accident that I found this band at the absolute worst point of my life. So the depth of the lyrics - often dealing with loss, fear, trauma, confusion, chaos but leading to hope, restoration, reconciliation and eternal security- is a big part of why I love them and adds a huge element to their music, whereas a lot of prog bands lyrics are pretentious, meaningless or negative."

Babb found Davison, who is from Laguna Beach, Fla., in a Yes cover band called Roundabout, and asked him to be a part of Glass Hammer in 2009. Davison recorded three albums with Glass Hammer then joined Yes in 2012.

Babb says it wasn't his or Schendel's intention to be a Yes copy band - they only did Glass Hammer originals - but some fans felt that's the direction they were headed with Davison.

"We explored that sound as far as we could," he says.

"Valkyrie" was recorded live for the most part inside Brainerd Presbyterian Church rather than in the studio. It's the first time in a while they've been able to record with all the musicians in one place at one time.

"For the most part, it's a band of people that haven't lived in the area," Schendel says. "The drummer lives in Nashville and the singers have lived all over the place, so getting everyone in the same place hasn't been easy.

"It was like herding cats before."

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.