The release of DCC #100: The Music of the Spheres (is Chaos) is STILL looming on the horizon, so Dieter Zimmerman takes a look at the relationship between DCC RPG and music in a series of blog posts appropriately titled “The Music of DCC (is Chaos).” In this episode, he talks with Steve Babb, founding member of prog rock band Glass Hammer.
Prog rock band Glass Hammer released their 21st album in October of 2021: “Skallagrim – Into the Breach”. It’s the sequel to 2020’s “Dreaming City” album. Both tell the sword-and-sorcery-inspired tale of Skallagrim, a warrior who has lost his lover and most of his memory.
Glass Hammer formed in 1992 in Chattanooga, TN, where they are still based. In true prog rock fashion, the lineup of the band has changed several times over the years, but it’s always featured founders Steve Babb and Fred Schendel. Current members also include Aaron Raulston on drums and Hannah Pryor doing vocal work.
Sword & sorcery fantasy has always been a big influence on Glass Hammer songs. Babb cites Moorcock, Tolkien, and Howard as particular influences, but also recently dove into Clark Ashton Smith. “His vocabulary was as rich as his imagination, and his visions were both exotic and truly terrifying.” Howard’s “Valley of the Worm” and Poul Anderson’s “The Broken Sword” are favorites of his, as is anything by David Gemmell.
The band’s main musical influences are those you would expect: “Early on, it was all about Yes, Kansas, ELP, Genesis — the usual suspects,” Babb says. “Then, between 2010 and 2012, we did three albums with vocalist Jon Davison. He went on to become the singer for Yes, so those albums definitely show the Yes influence. Black Sabbath is a big one lately for us, as are Rush and Tangerine Dream.”
What about less obvious influences? “Hard to say,” replies Babb. “We’re certainly into metal, and our music is becoming more guitar-driven of late. There are countless influences at work in our music, but we’re sort of selective as to which ones we’ll allow to show through.” Despite (or because of) all these influences, Babb believes the band has a distinct Glass Hammer sound as well.
The name Glass Hammer has no particular meaning. Babb tells the story: “I found the name in a list of sci-fi books, turned to Fred Schendel, and said, ‘How about Glass Hammer?’ He said, ‘Sure.’ That’s it.” He goes on to say that over the years, the name has come to fit the band, though. “Not that we’re as useless as a glass hammer but it does highlight our drifting back and forth from really beautiful music and very heavy, edgy prog.”
In addition to a love of fantasy novels, Babb is a tabletop gamer as well. “I played D&D with a group of friends for many years. We dabbled in Adventures In Middle Earth too, but that fizzled out pretty quick. We did have one D&D campaign that was spread out over decades; I’m not kidding. Our DM did a fantastic job weaving our characters (each had an elaborate backstory) into an epic yarn.”
Not only that, their first musical project was two cassettes advertised in Dragon Magazine as “music for role-playing.” That project was known as Alternity Tracks and the two albums were “The Lair of the Wurm” and “Fortress of Fear.”
The S&S influence has become even stronger with the most recent albums that follow the story of Skallagrim, a warrior who has lost his lover and most of his memory. Though the character and story were created for the albums, the liner notes present the music as being “inspired by the Skallagrim novels”. “people began looking for the books only to find they didn’t exist! By the time they started asking me to write an actual book, I had already started. “
Babb gives the synopsis of the novel: “Skallagrim’s story begins as he wakes up in the middle of a fight for his life while his lover is being kidnapped. He can’t remember her name, though, as most of his memory has been stolen! The action doesn’t let up too much from there. He’ll fight ghouls, monsters, assassins, and sorcerers in the attempt to find his lover — all while trying to maintain his sanity!”
The first Skallagrim novel “Skallagrim – In the Vales of Pagarna” will be published in early 2022. “It’s a good sign (I hope) when you have people all over the world invested in your protagonist before you’ve ever written a book! They really related to him because buried deep down in the tale is a message about finding hope in the midst of despair. That’s something that everyone needs at some point in their lives.”
“Fan mail is always great to see.” Babb says, so if you become a fan, reach out and tell him so!