Van Der Graaf Generator


special introductory paragraph
The Aerosol Grey Machine
The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other
H to He Who Am the Only One
Pawn Hearts
Time Vaults
Still Life
Maida Vale
World Record
The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome
Now and Then
Real Time
Live at the Paradiso
Live at Metropolis Studios 2010
A Grounding in Numbers

Note: I apologize for this page being incomplete. I let it go live without reviewing every single album. If you click on a link and it doesn’t take you to an album or the review doesn’t exist yet, I’m working on it!

I first heard of Van Der Graaf Generator because Mark E. Smith, John Lydon and Nick Cave all claimed they were fans of the group.  Although now I absolutely love their stuff, initially I had trouble getting into them because their sound is so weird!  On one hand they appear to be just another progressive rock group to have emerged from some British art school in the late 60s that wanted to extrapolate on their chops and push the musical envelope a little further. However one listen to any of their classic albums tells a different story.

First of all singer/composer/guitarist/occasional pianist Peter Hammill has no ordinary voice. At times his singing is so high, feminine and wussy, he makes Jon Anderson seem like a tough guy while other times he caterwauls like a police siren or a screeching woodwind instrument while delivering his lyrics in a highly melodramatic fashion. Second of all, and although they would make their songs a tad more accessible, Van Der Graaf Generator songs tend to violently bounce between sublime, quiet piano music and ragingly loud, discordant, free jazz noise thanks to the musical skills of pianist/organist Hugh Banton, saxophonist/flutist David Jackson and percussionist Guy Evans.

And then there’s Peter Hammill’s lyrics; at times they’re clever and sophisticated like Brian Ferry, other times extremely bizarre and pseudo-philosophical and yet at other times, filled with self-pity. Personally though I prefer the ones about the killer fish at the bottom of the sea.

The Aerosol Grey Machine – Mercury – 1969


Okay, I lied.  They didn’t start off with the aforementioned lineup.  The members listed on the back of The Aerosol Grey Machine include Peter Hammill, Hugh Banton and Guy Evans but, unfortunately, David Jackson wasn’t in the band yet.  Therefore there were no noisy sax blasts that would appear as early as their next album and make their music that much more fun.  Instead we have a Keith Ellis on bass and Jeff Peach on flute.

While there is definitely early signs of the type of music Van Der Graaf would become more famously known for throughout The Aerosol Grey Machine, for the most part, the album has a serene, late 60s vibe to it.  Most of the songs consist of pretty acoustic guitar strumming and simple, gentle melodies accompanied by piano and occasionally flute.  Banton’s Farfisa does appear on the album, especially on darker songs like “Necromancer”, the tail end of “Aquarian” and album closer, “Octopus” while “Into a Game” definitely uses sad minor notes.

But, overall the album is happy and hippie-dippie sounding.  There are “show-offy” moments of flute and organ solos but the beats and song structures remain pretty normal.  That’s okay though!  The songs are still great!  Peter Hammill’s unmistakable high pitch voice is already in place but he he doesn’t caterwaul and shout as aggressively as he would on subsequent releases.

On a lyrical tip, even here we see signs of what would come; specifically “Necromancer” is about a “white magician” warning off a those into the “black arts”, a theme which would be revisited as early as the group’s next album but, for the most part, it’s just hippies-laying-in-flower-field-la-dee-da lyrics.  It was the late 60s, whadaya want?

Did I mention the song “Necromancer”?  It goes, “I am the Necromancaaaaahhh!!!”  It’s cool!

The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other – Charisma – 1970


Apparently, The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other is supposed to be the real Van Der Graaf Generator debut album; I guess the first one was supposed to be a Peter Hammill solo album but then the rest of the members became part of the official band?  This here second Van Der Graaf Generator album is closer to what you and I have come expect from the group and it’s AWESOME! I think one thing people other than me tend to not notice, if you replaced David Jackson’s saxophone with an electric guitar, Van Der Graaf Generator would sound like a slightly weirder heavy rock band. For the most part Jackson plays rhythm sax, preferring catchy riffs over endless soloing while Hugh Banton backs it up with little melodies on his keyboard. Goes to show that this band is more about sound, mood and melody than crazy arrangements and complicated time changes. There are a few on the album but none that seem to be too mind boggling, I don’t think.

The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other consists of six songs of varying lengths. Most of them move from part to part in a natural but by no means boring fashion, with several building in intensity until coming to their cataclysmic conclusions. Both opener “Darkness (11/11)” and the Inquisition, persecution towards black and white magic practitioners epic “White Hammer” end with especially noisy, discord. I guess I should also mention that Van Der Graaf are slack on guitars; Hammill plays some catchy little, individual note melodies on his acoustic during the quieter parts of album closer “After the Flood” and Robert Fripp contributes some wicked, fuzzed out licks on “Whatever Would Robert Have Said?” but, as you might have guessed, the majority of the instrumentation is handled by sax and keyboard. Jackson also jams out on his flute along with playing corny, renaissance King Arthur melodies.

Possibly the biggest turnoffs for potential fans might be the songs “Refugees” and “Out of My Book.” The former is a soft, piano driven piece accompanied by high pitch, feminine singing and the latter contains aforementioned renaissance era flute. However, if you can see past that, then you might enjoy these for what they are; very pretty and melodious songs. Also check out Banton’s kewl church organ tones at the beginning of “White Hammer.”

And if you want a specific example of what deep, important matters concern Peter Hammill, check out these lyrics:

In the year 1486, the Malleus first appeared
Designed to kill all witchcraft and end the papal fears
Prescribing tortures to kill the black arts
And the hammer struck hard

Malleus Maleficarum slaughtered and tortured
All those under suspicion, as the inquisition ordered
Burning black hearts and innocents alike
Killing the mad, such was the power the hammer had

Though Hexenhammer was intended to slay only evil
Fear and anger against magic overspilled
They also killed those of the white

So for two centuries and more they tried to slay
Both the black and the white arts but spirits override pain
For every one that the torture took, two were hid secure
And so the craft, yes, it endured

Love and hate lived on in the face of fear
Hexenhammer’s force died
And the real power became clear

White Hammer no more is beaten, now it begins to beat
And the gray, once oppressor now at good hands, faces defeat
And the black, too, shall bow down to the power above
Black hate beats gray but supreme is
The white hammer of love, the white hammer of love

Some might say that those lyrics are nerdy.

H to He Who Am the Only One – Charisma – 1970


H to He Who Am the Only One is a heavy album that doesn’t rely on distorted guitar riffs. That’s what makes this band so unique – that the saxophone is primarily a rhythm instrument, playing what would amount to heavy metal riffs if played on guitar.  Also H to He Who Am the Only One is the record that made me a fan. The big noticeable change from The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other and H to He Who Am the Only One is an overall higher reliance on whacked out, abrupt time changes and way more instances of noisy free jazz. If I’m not mistaken these elements are what many find off-putting about the band and possibly why people like John Lydon and Mark E. Smith like them so much.

For instance, opening track “Killer” begins with this killer, angry riff played on sax and organ.  A brooding voice then sings “So you live at the bottom of the sea and you kill all that comes near you/but you’re very lonely because all the other fish fear you/and you crave companionship and someone to call your own/because for the whole of your life, you’ve been living alone” before the organ plays a tense, dramatic build up and then the first verse comes back in, followed by the organ part and then it changes to this happier, rockin’ part and then the crazy sax part comes in, prompting my friend Zach to remark, “Edwin, it’s too early and I’m too hung over for this free jazz freak out!” Also, both Ian O’Brian and I noticed how the end of each line, where Hammill goes, “you-oo-oo-oo-oo-oooo” sounds a little like the end of the “Iron Man” riff.

After a brief, six minute detour into the soft, piano ballad “House with No Door”, the rest of the album caries on in similar fashion as “Killer.” All of the songs (including “House with No Door”) are great but individual parts are worth noting – the whirling, organ intro and similarly noisy Hammond breakdown to “Lost”, the flute/organ interplay and tense, angry build ups in “The Emperor in His War Room”, the spacey noises and driving riff in “Pioneers over C” and many other fine examples!

And yes, it may be difficult to take Peter Hammill seriously with his overwrought and melodramatic vocals and ridiculous lyrics like “live by sword and you will die so/all your paths shall come to naught” but I’ve personally come to enjoy his vocals and lyrics quite a bit. Especially the man blasting off and getting lost in space theme of “Pioneers over C”, which takes place in the futuristic year of 1983, no less!

“It is so dark around, no life, no hope, no sound!”

Pawn Hearts – Charisma -1971


I don’t know which album I’d tell someone to listen to first if suggesting a Van Der Graaf Generator album because between what I and other people prefer differs but if I’m trying to make someone vehemently hate the band, there’s no better album to do that with than Pawn Hearts.

It’s not as if the group was particularly accessible in the first place but this three song, 45 minute long LP is one dense and challenging piece of work!  When I first heard the album, I immediately liked the noisier bits.  The album’s opening track “Lemmings (Including Cog)” starts with a soft part, prompting a lady friend of mine to laugh out loud and exclaim, “is that a GUY?” but then the noisy “dee-do, dee-da” part abruptly comes in and the song gets all loud and the sax starts bleating away but then it gets quiet again.  And it’s this ugly/pretty, loud/quiet, scary/pleasant motif which dominates the record.

When the songs aren’t loud, Hammill sings in his wussy, high pitched voice over light piano melodies or acoustic guitars for minutes at a time.  What the hell is this crap?  And it sure doesn’t help that the third song “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” is a 23 minute, ten part medley!  You have to listen closely to suss enjoyment out of the record but it sure does pay off. There are a lot of things to listen for – bits, dodads, sounds, melodies, Hammill’s “ah-ah-ah-ah” imitating the distorted Farfisa organ during the loud part in “Man Erg” for instance, the sound of the ship horn in the fourth minute of “…Lighthouse Keepers”

I guess you can say Hammill uses his voice as an instrument, going up and down the note scale as a saxophone or trumpet might do. I guess this influenced John Lydon’s singing style in Public Image Ltd. 

And check out some of these lyrics. They’re surprisingly violent and dark!

“Greasy machinery slides on the rails
young minds and bodies on steal spokes impaled
cogs tearing bones
cogs tearing bones
iron-throated monsters are forcing the screams
mind and machinery box press the dreams.”

“But stalking in my cloisters bang the acolytes of doom
and Death’s Head throws his cloak into the corner of my room.”

“When you see the skeletons of sailing-ship spars sinking low
you’ll begin to wonder if the points of all the ancient myths are solemnly directed straight… at… you…”

Indeed Hammill’s lyrics are philosophical and apocalyptic but I’ll be damned if I understand what they’re about!

Then the band broke up and got back together a few years later.


special introductory paragraph
In Search of Space
Doremi Faso Latido
Space Ritual
Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters (by Robert Calvert)
Hall of the Mountain Grill
Warrior on the Edge of Time
Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music
Quark, Strangeness and Charm
25 Years On (by Hawklords)
Live Seventy Nine
Sonic Attack
Church of Hawkwind
Choose Your Masques
The Earth Ritual Preview EP
The Chronicle of the Black Sword
Live Chronicles
The Xenon Codex
Space Bandits
Palace Springs
Electric Tepee
It Is the Business of the Future to Be Dangerous
The Business Trip
White Zone (by Psychedelic Warriors)
Alien 4
Love in Space
Distant Horizons
In Your Area
Spaced Out in London
Take Me to Your Leader
Take Me to Your Future
Blood of the Earth
Stellar Variations (by Hawkwind Light Orchestra)

I apologize that I don’t have reviews yet for every album after The Xenon Codex. I’m working on it.

I came to Hawkwind through the “obvious channels”… I’m a huge Motorhead fan and wanted to check out the band that Lemmy was in prior.  Also John Lydon was (is?) a huge Hawkwind fan back when he was a long haired, black denim jacket wearing, rock ‘n’ roller (he was also a HUGE Alice Cooper fan btw).

I don’t even know where to start with Hawkwind.  A lot of people call them a prog rock band or a space rock band but that’s way too simple a way to describe their vast catalog.  The band has always been led by multi-instrumentalist and singer Dave Brock.  They’re comparable to the Fall in that they’ve rotated through a ton of members, released a whole heck of a lot of  studio albums in addition to various live and singles/outtake compilations and all of it seems to rely on repetition of simple but catchy melodies.

There are few hardcore Hawkwind fans out there and the reason this might be the case is because it’s sorta hard to market a band who’s sound runs the gamut from driving rockers to electro-techno-synth music to acoustic prettiness to god knows what and all thrown together at random.  Are they rock?  Electronic?  Metal?  Progressive?  Furthermore, unlike your typical metal bands who put some monster on the album cover and sing a song or two about said monster, Hawkwind dive head first into their science fiction world, creating whole concept albums about Elric’s sword and time wizards and dragons and fables and then re-enact these on a live stage with actors, lighting and film projectors.

I must fit into somewhere in their hardcore fan base since, after I purchased all the so called “essential” releases, my curiosity got the best of me and I found myself buying every single Atomhenge reissue because I’m like that and I like the photos and expansive liner notes all that sheeyit and here I am letting “Baron” Dave Brock suck my coffers dry as I buy every Hawkwind and related ever released!!!   Please read on and I will describe all (well maybe not ALL since a few were consolidated into reissues) of their wonderful albums!

Hawkwind – United Artists – 1970


A group of hairy hippies got onstage sometime in 1969, called themselves Group X and jammed “Eight Miles High” by the Byrds and a few months later renamed themselves Hawkwind because Nik Turner, the sax player, hawked loogies and broke wind and it was gross.  So there you go, that’s why they’re called Hawkwind even though originally they were called Hawkwind Zoo but I haven’t been able to figure out why.

Dave Brock sings and plays guitar, Turner does sax, Hugh Lloyd Langton plays second guitar, Dikmik Davies twirls nobs and makes wishy wooshy noises, John Harrison plays bass and Terry Ollis drums.  Don’t memorize those names since they will change frequently.  And don’t yell at me for not mentioning the original lead guitarist Mick Slattery!  There I mentioned it!  Now, then, Hawkwind’s first album is very psychedelic but it’s not “space rock” yet.  Maybe I’d call closing track “Mirror of Illusions” somewhat science fictiony but it just as easily could be the typical, druggy nonsense other acid droppers were singing about so, I don’t know.

What I do know is how strange the album begins because it’s not strange at all!  This so called electronic, spacey band begins their first album with an entirely, effects free, acoustic song called “Hurry on Sundown”!  And it’s fantastic!  Dave Brock proves that he don’t need the heavy psych, electronic effects nonsense to write a great, catchy song!  He uses that stuff because it sounds cool but strip all that away and you have very basic catchy songsmithery going on!  “Hurry on Sundown” is just acoustic guitar and harmonica with your typical rhythm section accompaniment and lyrics about Brock’s time as a “busker” which is a fancy word for a panhandler that wears gypsy clothes and asks people for money.  But I suppose that’s what you did on the streets of Ladbroke Grove in the late 60s and that type of behavior was acceptable and that squatting in a dirty tenement was “cool” back in the day.  As were dayglo colors and LSD wasn’t harmful.  Anyway…

The album turns waaay psychedelic man; like you’re totally in one of those underground clubs with whirling strobes and painted naked ladies like I see in all those 60s soft core stag films I’ve been watching lately.  Sure they may list seven tracks on the album but it’s not like these are songs.  They’re just part of one long jam session which allows every member to shine; lots of sax and guitar soloing, “time sweeps” (the wishy wooshy noises) and the very occasional lyrics – “Be yourself/See yourself” – you know hippie dippy garbage like that.  It sounds good though!  I mean, it’s fun to listen to and since it’s been whittled down from a larger jam session, only the best, most interesting stuff is kept.  It’s for the most part very listenable if not a little tedious during the lengthier jams.

Also I absolutely love how “Paranoia” is divided into different sides as a “Part 1” and “Part 2” with that simple, eerie little riff that sounds like the buildup to a very bad acid trip, stops dead as if your record is warped and then starts back up in side 2 as a weird voice moans “higher” or “hiya” or something.

I should probably mention the reissue bonus tracks since there will be no other place to mention them.  “Cymballine” is a straight Pink Floyd cover and “Kiss of the Velvet Whip” is a very good song, just a straight forwardish rock tune that’s very catchy.  The other two include an earlier version of “Hurry on Sundown”, which features aforementioned original lead guitarist Mick Slattery but, the album version is way better so who cares?  And Brock’s solo cover of blues classic “Bring It on Home”?  Do you really care about that?  Nahhhh…

In Search of Space – United Artists – 1971


Woa, Hawkwind went through a few lineup changes!  One might be provoked to wonder why the group felt it necessary to replace their lead guitarist with a second guy who plays with nobs and make Dave Brock the sole guitarist for the group but, ya know, whatever… the real big change, as far as I’m concerned is replacing original bassist John Harrison with former Amon Duul 2 bassist Dave Anderson.

I’m not really a big Amon Duul 2 fan.  I think they’re interesting to listen to for a few minutes and then it just seems like you’re listening to an endless jam session with a few interesting sounds.  And I’m talking about the classics like Phallus Dei and Yeti.  In fact when I listened to those two albums I thought they sounded a little like Hawkwind only not as good.  And I guess the reason for that is because of Dave Anderson’s unmistakable basslines.  So thank the gods that Anderson quit Amon Duul 2 and joined Hawkwind for a few months to record the bass on In Search of Space before leaving his axe behind and being replaced by LEMMY!!! But I’ll get to that in a moment. First let’s talk about the second Hawkwind album.

Describing it is actually pretty easy.  There are six songs that can be put into three distinct categories.  “You Shouldn’t Do That” and “Master of the Universe” are early blueprints of the “space rock” sound.  I honestly don’t know any bands who sounded quite like this but “space rock” as defined by Hawkwind involves a repetitive driving beat and a basic three chord riff repeated over and over and over again while piles of spacey effects are layered on top.  Add a few improvised jams on guitar and sax to the stew and there you go.  The only problem hereon in is that the rhythm section is a bit too jazzy to make you bang your head in an acid/pot haze like you’d be inclined with the material on the group’s very next album.  I mean, sorta but not as aggressively, which further illustrates how important Lemmy and Simon King were to the group’s sound.  Also “You Shouldn’t Do That” starts the album and it’s 16 minutes long, so, if you’re not ready for that, you might wonder why this damn song keeps going on for so long and what’s this band’s problem!  But I assure you they were on drugs on some sort!

But what does the rest sound like?  Is it a sharp departure?  No, silly… it all fits together in a constant haze of spaced out acidy sounds…  “You Know You’re Only Dreaming” – as the title would seem to indicated – and “Adjust Me” are go nowhere piles of acidy noises, wah wah guitar and various effects – including the vocal kind.  These songs show that the group is still in the psychedelic la la land of the first album.  But that’s not a bad thing necessarily.  In fact, it’s quite amusing hearing the tape speed up as Dave Brock’s voice gets higher and higher at the end of “Adjust Me” in a manner similar to the end of “War Pigs.” It’s awesome!

The other two songs are, what seem to me at least, to be 12 string acoustic songs that would be folk tunes if not for the multiple effects layered on top.  These are very pretty songs and I believe one has a flute.

On the lyrical tip “Master of the Universe” is the only real sci fi song on here.  The group was already friends with Michael Moorecock and they covered their albums in spacey imagery and include a neato “star log” with the original vinyl packaging but really didn’t get into the sci fi shit until their next release.  You could argue that “Children of the Sun” is sort of sci fi-ish but lots of bands were singing this type of “hail the sunshine” material but none of it seems so specific and pulpy if you get me.

One last thing I’m gonna mention since it’s not gonna get mentioned anywhere else.  The CD reissue includes “Silver Machine”, its b side “Seven by Seven” and a song called “Born to Go.”  These songs feature the Lemmy/Simon King rhythm section and are exactly what people refer to as “space rock.”  “Silver Machine” might, in fact, be the quintessential Hawkwind song and Lemmy sings on the darn thing to big ups!

Doremi Fasol Latido – United Artists – 1972


And begins the prime Hawkwind era… is what I would say if I ended my Hawkwind collection with the Lemmy years.  But now, I kid, Doremi Fasol Latido is possibly the finest Hawkwind LP you’re going to encounter.  I say “possibly” because I’ve found it difficult to decide which I do, in fact, like better; Doremi or the not yet released Warrior on the Edge of Time.  You see, Doremi Fasol Latido is the first Hawkwind album I’d ever heard and, you can bet your bottom dollar, I wanted to hear more!  Oh yeah!

I guess my first impression is “what exactly am I listening to?”  One of my friends jokingly described the music as a bunch of guys making marijuana induced noise in someone’s basement on the spot and then releasing it.  The group is harder and heavier now but how do I describe this?  Heavy metal-modal jamming?  Is that how you’d describe space rock?

So, yeah, Lemmy and Simon King have replaced Dave Anderson and Terry Ollis and you can tell from the getgo that this group rocks a lot harder than the last lineup.  Opening track “Brainstorm” kicks in with that basic, catchy three chord riff and soon as you can say “blast off!” Lemmy and Simon King (perhaps in a manner reminiscent of Scott Asheton) just pound away for 12 straight minutes as Dave Brock lays the wah wah solos on thick between Dikmik and Del Detmar wishing and wooshing away.  There doesn’t appear to be any sax on the song and this is unfortunate but it does make its appearance on the album elsewhere.  Also – and I’ve had trouble with this before – but I think Nik Turner sings the song.  The vocals are very robotic and perfectly compliment the music and I don’t think Dave Brock sang in this way.

Just like before the songs all run into each other but it’s clear where one stops and the next starts.  They literally just alternate between driving heavy and effects covered acoustic songs across the album’s seven tracks.  When I was younger I might have thought, “for a band who calls their fans ‘heavy metal kids’ there sure are a lot of acoustic songs on this album” and “how can any self-respecting punk rocker enjoy so much flute?”  But now I feel the acoustic songs do a wonderful job offsetting the heavy tunes.  Brock shows he can actually play that guitar and not just fire off three distorted chords.  The only exception to this heavy/acoustic on/off pattern is “One Change”, a minute long “interlude” of pretty classical music played on “space piano” by one Del Dettmar.

But that isn’t what you came to Hawkwind for, now is it?  On a specific tip, lessee: “Lord of Light” has some killer hypnotic whirling bass playing, “Time We Left This World Today” has an awesome bass solo that rivals the one in “Stay Clean”, “The Watcher” does feature Lemmy on lead vocals although you might not think so but THAT’S HIM!

So yeah, with Doremi the group became a wicked awesome, heavy proto punk/proto metal/psychedelic space rock/art rock band.  There was like nobody who sounded like this.  I mean, there were a ton of hard rock and prog rock bands on the market with their own eccentricities but this was some pretty unique stuff.   Nowadays everybody wants to just copy Sabbath but who could have come up with something like this?  I could bitch about the somewhat thin sound but I’m not going to.  I’ll chalk it up to the technology they had and the limited funds they had at the time.

Oh, I should mention the bonus tracks “Urban Guerilla” and “Brainbox Pollution.”  The former is a tune sung by Rob Calvert and is about radical activists setting off bombs.  The latter is an anti-drug song strangely enough for Hawkwind (at least at the time).  On both the group lays off the psychedelic effects and just some straight ahead, major chord rockin’ (albeit with some sax thrown in on top).  That’s the most I’m gonna say about these tunes.

Space Ritual – United Artists – 1973


A live album!!!  Unless I get an express ticket to Europe there ain’t much of a chance I’ll ever get to catch Hawkwind live, which is a damn shame.  From their live videos on youtube, their shows must have been a riot.  The early version of the group managed to cram six musicians on a tiny festival stage and position them in a way where it sort of looked like they were the crew of a starship.  For the most part they just rocked out like the smelly, long haired, speed freaks they were.  But, it seems that the electronic section of the group was supposed to give the impression that their “audio generators” were meant to resemble control panels.  All this went on while the audience was assaulted with nonstop strobes that, in certain circumstances, could induce seizures.  Also huge breasted, dayglo painted nude dancer Stacia pranced about the stage for good effect.

I can only speculate but Space Ritual sounds like a very good account of what the band sounded like live.  The double LP contains one song from In Search of Space, five from Doremi Fasol Latido (no “The Watcher”, the jealous bastards!), one single track (not “Silver Machine”, assholes!) and ELEVEN completely new songs!  But the caveat is that of those eleven, only three actually count as actual songs.  But still, three is still pretty a good amount of new songs.  I’ll explain what I mean in just a moment.

So, okay, as evidenced by their albums, the group’s song structures are pretty loose.  They kick into the main riff and a song can go on as long as the members are ready to throw down a guitar, synthesizer or sax solo and that approach is brought to life on Space Ritual.

The sound is fantastic!  The focus is on rocking your fuckin’ head off, man!  So, even though there is a concept and numerous Rob Calvert speeches – those are the other tracks but I’ll get to those in a minute – through the whole thing, the album makes you bang your head almost nonstop.  Brock’s guitar is super loud in the mix and nicely distorted.  Maybe they did studio overdubs, I dunno.  But it still leaves enough “space” for the other instruments to mix in or, I guess, pile on top nicely.  Furthermore there is no acoustic guitar on the album.  That would have been insane, wouldn’t it?  For Brock to constantly switch back and forth between electric and acoustic guitar like he does on the albums?  But no, it’s raw and live, so much so it wouldn’t even take the keenest ear to spot the mistake in “Master of the Universe.”  They just kept it!

The originally acoustic “Space Is Deep” and “Down through the Night” are played on electric guitar with distortion and even have a driving rhythm section behind them.  “Brainstorm” now has Nik Turner’s sax playing.  But probably the most notable improvement is with “Master of the Universe”, in which the Lemmy/Simon King rhythm section make the song rock so much harder than it did in its original Anderson/Ollis studio incarnation.  Not that I’m knocking those guys; for many years that’s the only version I knew of and it sounded fine but then, when I heard Space Ritual in its final stretch, that song came so freakin’ fast and aggressive, I was like, “woooaaa!”, no joke!  Granted Simon King only knows two drum beats but damn he does them well.  Just “thumpa-thumpa” the entire time.

What about the new songs, you ask?  “Born to Go” is classic Hawkwind space rock; catchy major chord riff, pounding rhythm and tons of effects on top.  “Orgone Accumulator” is a generic blues rock progression that goes on for nine minutes with Rob Calvert singing about  the contraption of the song’s name and “Upside Down” is Hawkwind’s most straightforward proto metal song – just a basic, heavy Sabbathy riff.  Conclusion?  Two of the new songs are great and one is ehhh… I should also mention that Rob Calvert, considered by this point to be a semiofficial, seventh member has an excellent singing voice.  Notice how I never described how Dave Brock sings?  He sings just fine; hits notes and all but Rob Calvert has so much more personality.  Thusly the group made the correct decision when they eventually hired him as a permanent lead vocalist.  But by then Lemmy was long gone and the group had stopped using drugs.

Ohhh, so the other eight aforementioned tracks are spoken word pieces containing science fiction gibberish about sonic attacks, the philosophy of space and what exists in the five seconds of forever.  The group felt that the pre-planned, sci-fi stage banter warranted their own tracks.  Okay it’s not really “stage banter”; it was meant to capture the whole “space ritual” theme.  Oh, what am I complaining about?  Simon King’s little speeches or poems or whatever you want to call them don’t kill the momentum of the live experience and are pretty unique, especially compared to the standard “how is everyone doing tonight?”

Speaking of momentum-killing, between song speeches from Rob Calvert…

Robert Calvert – Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters – United Artists – 1974


I’m totally okay with considering the Rob Calvert solo album Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters part of the official Hawkwind catalog considering that the then current lineup played on the album and Rob Calvert had already sung for the group and would again sing for them in the future.  Also the songs “The Aerospaceage Inferno”, “The Right Stuff” and “Ejection” were played in later live sets.

But does it really count as a Hawkwind album?  Let’s see.  Lemmy, Del Detmar, Simon King and Nik Turner all do their thing while Dave Brock plays on only one song, “The Widow Maker.”  Former Pink Fairies guitarist Paul Rudolph plays on the rest and he does a fine job imitating Brock’s simple, driving chord riffs and wailing wah wah.  Also Brian Eno contributes his signature synthesizer squeaks and squelches at appropriate places.

With that said Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters is still a bit of a different type of album than the group was used to making.  Rob Calvert became obsessed with the Luftwaffe and so wanted to make a whole album about it.  Great, right?  Hawkwind are known for concept albums.  There is only one, tiny little problem… MOST OF THE SONGS AREN’T EVEN SONGS; THEY’RE SKITS!!!  Of the seventeen tracks listed on the back, only eight are actual songs.  And of those eight only the four mentioned above sound like the classic Hawkwind we know and love.  In fact, I’d rank “Ejection” as one of the group’s finest.  And the production is clearer than some of the Hawkwind albums proper, fancy that, huh?  The guitars and drums sound really crisp.

Let me stress Robert Calvert has a great singing voice.  It’s much smoother and has more personality and range than that of Dave Brock’s.  It works really well with the Hawkwind style and Calvert writes great lyrics and tells great stories (for example, “Urban Guerilla”).  But, I guess my issue is that I didn’t get the album to hear Calvert play acting.  Who was this supposed to appeal to anyway?  Certainly not the long haired speed freaks that listen to Hawkwind?

Oh yeah, Arthur “I am the god of hell fire!” Brown is on it, cool huh?  Arthur Brown’s pair of contributions “The Song of the Gremlin (part one)” and “The Song of the Gremlin (part two)” don’t sound like Hawkwind at all but like Arthur Brown.  In fact the second part is just like one of the bombastic theatrical pieces you’d find on one his albums, which ultimately means that, “The Song of the Gremlin (part two)” isn’t a song at all.  But it has musical accompaniment so, whatever, we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

And there’s “Hero with a Wing” and “Catch a Falling Starfighter”, the former is a piano/synth ballad and the latter just marching drums with chanting; both sound like they could be Arthur Brown songs.  So there you have it; a hybrid of Hawkwind and Arthur Brown about flying… actually that would be fine and kind of interesting since I like Arthur Brown but, ultimately, I wish the album had more SONGS on it, ya know?  I mean come on, Lemmy plays on it!

Hall of the Mountain Grill – United Artists – 1974


All righty, we’re back to the fourth legit Hawkwind studio album.  Dikmik Davies left but in order to keep the band at six members, they recruited Simon House to play synthesizer and violin.

Hall of the Mountain Grill sounds very dense with sounds of all type filling every nook and cranny of space (aural not outer).  Technically you can say that about all of their albums but, for some reason, Hall of the Mountain Grill is even more striking in this way.  This is probably because it’s not as heavy or headbangy as its predecessor, focusing more on the “space” than the “rock.”  Don’t get me wrong; it’s still rock but Dave Brock’s guitar isn’t as heavy or distorted as on Doremi and it’s almost always buried under the other instruments. I’m assuming the effect they were going for was that of serene, spacey head trip rather than a rocket ship flight through the stars. Also, overall, it seems like the band worked a little more on the arrangementss rather than just having members solo at random over one continuously played riff.

There are heavier moments on the album, such as Lemmy’s effects drenched stomper “Lost Johnny” (which he would take with him to Motorhead) and the pounding, space rockers “You’d Better Believe It” and “Paradox.” Also opening track “The Psychedelic Warlords (Disappear in Smoke)” has some neat psychedelic guitar effects and bass/sax instrumental interplay. In addition to that, Simon House and Del Detmar each perform a pretty instrumental, solo piece.

But overall the album is less about riffs and more about textures – with sax and violin doing less jamming and more coloring around the sound canvas if you get me. So, if you’re looking for your Hawkwind to rock, Hall of the Mountain Grill ain’t for you. But if you and your buddies wanna sit around, smoking the ganja and stearing and the lava lamp for a little while, then get it!

Also I read that the band named the album after a joint they all hung out along with Marc Bolan and David Bowie

Warrior on the Edge of Time – United Artists/Atlantic – 1975


Del Detmar left the band leaving Simon House to hold down the fort on all non-rock instruments save for sax and flute, those being handled by Nik Turner.  They also added a second drummer named Alan Powell probably so they would look more symmetrical on stage.  I’m kidding; it’s cuz Simon King was sick so they got Alan Powell to fill for some gigs and decided to keep him as a second drummer after King recovered.

If you’ve never heard a Hawkwind album before, best place to start is probably with Warrior on the Edge of Time. Doremi Fasol Latido is great but, to the uninitiated, can seem a bit repetitive with all those noises and solos and such while Hall of the Mountain Grill is too buried under effects and lacks the driving rock elements. But basically Warrior on the Edge of Time finds the right balance of all of these influences. Dave Brock’s guitar is pumped up louder in the mix this time, Simon House uses a wider variety of synthesizer tones and the Powell/King clomping, stomping duel drum approach is awesome – especially on “Opa-Loka”!

The band also hired science fiction writer Michael Moorecock to write some lyrics and deliver a couple of hilariously dated retro-futurisic monologues between some of the song songs.

But ultimately the album consists of space rock tunes that you can bang your head to and a couple detours such as the pretty, 12-string acoustic number “The Demented Man”, with its soothing sounds of seagulls and ocean water and the whirling Moog dominated, prog jam “Spiral Galaxy 28948.”

There’s lots of neat stuff on the album: Lemmy’s catchy bass intros to “Assault and Battery Part I” and “Dying Seas”, the tribal percussion in the spoken piece “Warriors” and Simon House’s use of eastern scales in “Magnu” for instance. The only song I have issue with is album closer “Kings of Speed” – the violin jam sounds cool but that chorus just doesn’t cut.

Unfortunately Lemmy’s writing contribution, “Motorhead” never made it on the album.  It was originally released as the b-side to the “Kings of Speed” single but every reissue hence has included as a bonus track.  Shortly after the album came out, the band fired Lemmy and we’ve never heard from him since.

Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music – Charisma – 1976


The title Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music is not Hawkwind trying to be egotistical jerks but is meant to pay homage to pulpy science fiction and fantasy dime store novels from 1930s and 40s.  But it could just as easily be paying tribute to 50s E.C. comics like Weird Science and Weird Fantasy or 60s and 70s Warren magazines of similar vein.  It also has a bunch of fake ads!

By this point the band went through quite a few changes.   The most important ones were Lemmy being replaced by former Pink Fairies guitarist Paul Rudolph and the band hiring Robert Calvert as full-time lead singer and lyric writer, a very good move artistically.  Although still good musically, Lemmy’s absence is immediately noticeable for the lack of driving bass. It seems with his absence that the group had absolutely no clue what direction to go in.

Most casual listeners won’t notice a HUGE difference when hearing the album’s pair of opening tracks “Reefer Madness” and “Steppenwolf.”  Both still contain the quintessential Hawkwind ingredients; Brock’s repetitive driving guitar, Simon House’s Moog synth noises and electric violin, Nik Turner’s saxophone and the duel clomp stomp of drummers Simon King and Alan Powell – albeit that in both cases, the tempo is a sluggish.  These are very good songs and a good way of saying, “hey, we’re still Hawkwind, guys – maybe a little more accessible but what’s the problem?”  In fact Nik Turner plays a wonderfully catchy hook during the chorus of “Steppenwolf.”   Actually that’s worthy of note since Turner has never before played a repeating sax hook before.  He’s soloed just fine but damn, that’s good and memorable, I say!

And furthermore what sets these two songs apart is the introduction of Robert Calvert.  He’s got more range and personality than Dave Brock and he’s a clever wordsmith not unlike Alice Cooper.  “Reefer Madness” was obviously inspired by the 1936 scare film with the same name and “Steppenwolf” is a nine minute epic about turning into a werewolf.  I don’t need to defend my love for a song about turning into a werewolf; if you can’t see the cleverness in lines like, “I am a wolfman/I am a Manwolf/ a freak, a fiend, a figment of mind” then, you just don’t get it.

However, after the 1-2 punch of the opening tunes, the album goes all over the damn place with no particular focus or direction.  Three of the songs are instrumentals first of all.  And two of those – “City of Lagoons” and “Chronoglide Skyway” if you must know – are total Pink Floyd knockoffs; and I mean the slow and dreary Pink Floyd that Johnny Rotten hated.  I actually don’t see the point in the latter; it has that epic feel to it, like you’re watching some mid 70s sci fi movie like Zardoz or something but, I dunno, it’s kinda dull.

Then you’ve got “The Aubergine that Ate Rangoon”, a fun piece of Roxy Music-style art funk,“Kerb Crawler”, an attempt at dumb, 70s hard rock like mid-70s Deep Purple, complete with high pitch wails during the chorus, “kerrb crawwwlllaaa!!!” but not actually any good and the surprisingly pretty yet kinda strange piano/synth rocker “Kadu Flyer”, about a guy flying through the world in his flying machine that really does evoke the mood and majesty of sailing the skies of the world and ends in some middle eastern violin solos.

So yeah, not exactly my favorite Hawkwind album if you couldn’t already tell

Quark, Strangeness and Charm – Charisma/Sire – 1977

They fired Nik Turner?! But he’s the saxophone player and the flute player and he sings some of the songs and he’s got a really cool voice! In seven short years, Dave Brock has become the only member to have played on every Hawkwind album. They also fired bassist Paul Rudolph and second drummer Alan Powell but then realized they still needed a bassist so they got Adrianne Shaw from some band called Magic Muscle who I’d never heard of.

Moving into the future, the group has jettisoned all their various genre jumping exercises and produced an album that, at least to me, seems to try to incorporate that new punk rock thing, that new German electronic music and Brian Eno production into their space rock sound. Without a doubt, Quark, Strangeness and Charm is a major improvement over Astounding Sounds in both cohesion and songwriting.

It’s also considerably more energetic and sprightly.  With the exception of “Fable of a Failed Race” and “The Forge of Vulcan”, these songs are just straight ahead rockers with catchy, repetitive riffs with modern synthesizers and violins used to color the sound. On “Spirit of the Age”, Brock uses a phased guitar effect. On “Hassan-I Sabbah” Simon House plays middle eastern melodies on his violin. The title track is a toe tapping, three chord, glammy rock song with some boogie piano in background. And “The Forge of Vulcan” is an electronic number that has a clanking sound (hence the “forge” part) behind a wall of whirling synths and somewhat points to the group’s future direction.

Lyrically there are references to Philip K. Dick, the post-apocalyptic, Roger Zelazny novel Damnation Alley, the Jordanian Civil War and the group’s own somewhat naive but hopeful counter cultural past. But the most interesting lyrics come from the title track, a humorous account of astronomers and scientists who failed at scoring with women. What kind of person would have this kinda crap on his mind and feel the need to share it with the world?

Copernicus had those Renaissance ladies
Crazy about his telescope
And Galilean had a name that made his
Reputation higher than his hopes
Did none of these astronomers discover
While they were staring out into the dark
That what a lady looks for in her lover
Is Charm, Strangeness and Quark

See what I mean?  Is that something anyone would ever think to write a song about?

25 Years On (as Hawklords) – Charisma – 1978


Don’t balk at the name; it’s the same band.  They used the Hawklords moniker, from my understanding, due to some managerial conflict.  The CD liner notes aren’t totally clear here but, the point is that the Hawklords’ 25 Years On LP is most certainly to be considered the next Hawkwind album.  Well actually it’s supposed to be the next, next Hawkwind album but I’ll get to that when I talk about PXR5, you see.

What the liner notes failed to explain is why Adrianne Shaw was no longer involved with the group.  Simon House got an offer from David Bowie so that left Calvert, Brock and Simon King.  And then, for some reason, Simon King decided he didn’t want to participate in it halfway through the session so they got Martin Griffin, who, in turn was part of a band called Ark which also included bassist Harvey Brainbridge, who replaced Shaw on 25 Years on.  It should also be noted that Calvert, Brock, Brainbridge and Griffin were briefly in a band called the Sonic Assassins right before 25 Years On was made and I think Steve Swindells, who takes Simon House’s place on 25 Years On, was the keyboardist in that as well.  Incidentally he came from a band call Pilot.  But Simon House does play on a couple tracks on 25 Years On, just not as a full time member.  If any of that is incorrect, feel free to notify me.

I get the impression from the grey album cover photo of a rank ‘n’ file worker and the industrial plan insert that the album is supposed to have a dreary post-industrial vibe like Metropolis or something.  Actually I just read that in the liner notes.  If that is the intent of the album, then the Hawklords fail miserably.  Leave the dreary, post-industrial world to the pros – Throbbing Gristle, Einsturzende Neubauten and Killing Joke.  However, if the intent was to put out an album with excellent songs, containing melodic, hooky synth and guitar leads, then the group continues to deliver.

And there-in lays my biggest beef with 25 Years On: the packaging.  It doesn’t SOUND grey at all!  Like all Hawkwind albums, it’s extremely colorful with instruments and melodies and above all Hawkwind is just too damn happy for this type of material!  The song “25 Years” tells the depressing tale of a factory worker who never realized his goal of flying and just works his days away.  Yet the song is a fist pumping, major chord rocker sung in an excited manner!

Right so, the album is produced clean and new wavey but the group departs from the standard Hawkwind formula by writing more concise material.  There are no space rock, repetition vamp songs and way more acoustic guitars.  But ultimately the eight songs can be broken down into four distinct categories:

  1. Acoustic w/ synth accompaniment – “Psi Power” is the album’s extremely brooding opening track, in which a first-person narrator tells his sad tale about how his psychic gift soon turns into a burden.  “The Only Ones” is a neat, somewhat melodramatic tale of Icarus but I don’t know what the futuristic parts have to do with anything.  Also Simon House has a neat violin solo in that one.  And “(Only) the Dead Dreams of a Cold War Kid” tells a tale of counterespionage.
  2. Pink Floydy hypnosis music – It may be a bit of a stretch to refer to “Free Fall” as such but that bassline is pretty hypnotic.  Plus the song is about jumping out of a plane to your death for no reason at all.  “The Age of the Micro Man” sends the depressing message that we’re all ants in the hill or cogs in the machine yet still doesn’t sound too upset to reveal this fact.
  3. Full on guitar rock – Aforementioned “25 Years” and “Flying Doctor” (both of which are back to back at the end of side one and start of two respectively), the latter a humorous, punky song about an Australian doctor who gets high from the contents of his medicine cabinet.  Also it has a didgeridoo that keeps going “boingy, boingy, boingy” over and over again.  Oh and this hilariously violent verse: “A Sheila in the bush by a Koolahbar tree/Needed an urgent appendectomy/The Flying Doctor like a true Australian/Performed the operation with a sardine can/He made a rough incision and tried to chew it out/He had no anesthetic, so she started to shout/She started to shout, when he was chewing it out/She started to shout, he tried to chew it right out/He balled up his fist and scientifically socked her/Look out you’d better duck, Here comes the Flying Doctor” – cool, huh?
  4. Electronic, robotic noise – I suppose it’s worth mentioning “Automaton”, which contains robotic noises that increase in speed, pitch and intensity before giving way to “25 Years.”

And there you have it.  It’s also noteworthy that many years later several ex-Hawkwind members got together and released an album titled We Are One under the name Hawklords.  I haven’t heard it yet and fans do not consider it canonical but, I’m sure it would be worth a listen, eh?

PXR5 – Charisma – 1979


So technically PXR5 probably should go before 25 Years On since that’s when it was recorded but, alas, the group had that one chance to finally release two albums in a row with the exact same lineup – Robert Calvert, Dave Brock, Simon House, Adrianne Shaw and Simon King – and it didn’t happen.  But, there was no way in hell that Dave Brock and Robert Calvert were going to let a full album go to waste so, they chose their favorite songs and it’s so darn good that I would consider it the strongest post Lemmy release they’d ever done!  That’s right; it only goes downhill from here.  Nah, I play, I play!  I love that Hawkwind band and everything it stands for!

The first, most glaring observation one can make is that opening track “Death Trap” is the Hawkwind punk rock song.  Three chord, fast – well 70s fast but you get the idea – simple drumming, ready for you to pogo your brains out!  It’s an excellent way to rev up your adrenaline despite the fact that it’s the only song with that level of energy.  Oh well; the rest of the album is still mighty excellent.  I mean, I suppose it’s all subjective, but I have yet to hear any Hawkwind fans bitch about PXR5.  It’s exceptionally melodic and hooky and the songs just sound good!  Is that a good enough recommendation for an album?  That the songs sound good?

To be perfectly honest the majority of the album consists of pop rock tunes awash in catchy, robotic, new wavey synths that provide the leads.  “Jack of Shadows” and “PXR5” especially fall into the “so catchy, how were they not hits?” category.  Also, the lyrics to “PXR5” seem to be a metaphor for kicking out former Hawkwind members;  I dunno, you tell me – “Two years ago our nova-drive failed and we drifted in space/But now repaired our motors run to continue the race/Three of our crew who were with us then did not survive/Their life supports could not take the strain and so they died”…

Meanwhile “Life Form” is all synths, meant to, I assume, sound like the noise a UFO invader might make.  And Robert Calvert doesn’t lose the chance to make his social statements with “Robot” and “High Rise.”  The former is a classic Hawkwind-style repetition space rock vamp in which Calvert uses a robotic voice effect.   Can you guess what the robots are a metaphor for?  Huh?  Can you?  While “High Rise” is another, weird, trippy, Floydy song about how the mechanical nature of a typical white collar office drives someone to either jump or be pushed out a high rise window.  In fact, here is a particularly great verse from that one:

Starfish of human blood shape
Tentacles of human gore
Spread out on the pavement from the 99th floor
Well somebody said that he jumped
But we know he was pushed
He was just like you might have been
On the 99th floor of a suicide machine

So, which one is it?  Jumped or pushed?  Ah, we’ll never know.  But who am I to question Robert Calvert?  I just sit back and enjoy the melodies, ya know?

Live Seventy Nine – Bronze – 1980


Hawkwind signed to Bronze?!  That means they share a label with Motorhead!  And Girlschool, who I’d listened to a couple times and were okay but nothing great, making me wonder if Lemmy loved ‘em so much or if it was just the novelty of young women tearing it up… something I care not to look any deeper into.

Prior to PXR5 being released the Hawklords toured and broke up and the remaining members Robert Calvert, Dave Brock and Harvey Brainbridge decided to be Hawkwind again.  They got Simon King back on drums, Huw Lloyd Langton back on lead guitar after a decade long absence – he was in some band called Widowmaker – and Tim Blake from Gong to play keyboards.  In The Filth and the Fury, Steve Jones called Gong a “dinosaur band.”  That’s one of those terms punks at time used to call those old, boring prog bands.  Have you heard anybody refer to a band as a “dinosaur band” anymore?  That’s like thinking you’re still cool if you act all rock ‘n’ rolly like Lester Bangs or something.

Oh then Robert Calvert quit and started a solo career again.  So, after four years, Dave Brock is the lead singer again.  According to the liner notes, the Live Seventy Nine album was recorded on a “make or break” tour that group self-financed.  It worked and they signed with Bronze for a whopping two album deal, releasing both this here live album and their next studio release Levitation.

Live Seventy Nine contains seven songs.  The counts go: one from Quark, Strangeness and Charm, one from Doremi Fasol Latido, one from In Search of Space, one single and three BRAND NEW!  Okay, the reissue also has a version of “Urban Guerrilla” but, for some reason that version doesn’t grab me as much as the original.  The sound is fantastically clear!  Huw Lloyd Langton shows how full a sound you’re gonna get if you have two guitarists.  But furthermore, all of his solos, though long and indulgent are very melodic.  New Keyboardist Tim Blake pulls out all the classic Hawkwind tricks; laser noises, synth melodies, etc.  But, considering he’s a trained musician, he knows how to play tastefully.

And, as the short, concise track list might indicate, there is barely any slowdown on the album; no between song banter, no segues, just song after energetic song.

Of the new ones, “Motorway City” would find its way onto the group’s next studio album, Levitation.   It’s a bit mellower than the rest but still great.  Opener “Shot Down in the Night” is a song so good at doing the Hawkwind thing that it’s a shame its only place, thus far is on Live Seventy Nine.  “Lighthouse” is mostly Tangerine Dream synths before the rockin kicks in more than halfway through.  As for the rest, “Spirit of the Age” has the main melody played on robotic, new wavey Devo synths before kicking in and – this part I’m totally confused by – either someone in the band is mimicking Robert Calvert’s vocal or it’s a recording, “Silver Machine” sounds the same except it abruptly stops.  “Brainstorm” and “Master of the Universe” sound close enough to their studio counterparts.

Then Ginger Baker replaced Simon King and they recorded Levitation.  Stay tuned kids!

Levitation – Bronze – 1980


Hawkwind replaced Simon King with “world’s greatest rock drummer” and grade-A asshole Ginger Baker and you know how these things turn out; at first it seems like a match made in heaven, an improvement over the original concept but then you realize that when someone is wholly recognized in his own right, he’s going to overstep his boundaries. But, I’ll get to that in a moment.

I first purchased Levitation roughly 12 years ago at the Dixieland Flea Market (and just the thought brings back wonderful memories of a virginal, teenage version of me making weekly visits, combing through the cheap VHS tape, worthless, old comic book and used CD racks). Back then we had no youtube and file sharing was relatively new (at least to technologically inept dumbasses like me) so, because most Hawkwind albums were out of print at this point, I had no way of knowing what the rest of them sounded like save for the few that I could buy (Doremi Fasol Latido, Hall of the Mountain Grill). I had no way of knowing how much of a departure Levitation was from what Hawkwind did up to that point.

Ginger Baker’s presence seemingly influenced Hawkwind to make a way more meticulous, note perfect metal album where every song has multiple sections, endless dual guitar interplay and lots of proggy synth solos. A few laser noises dance around the songs in order to keep with the whole science fiction theme of the group. But yea, it’s a metal album – albeit a more idiosyncratic and melodic one. Huw Lloyd Langton and Tim Blake solo a lot – perhaps too much at times – and Ginger Baker has to make sure his patterns are always atypical and that he throws in a fill nearly every couple seconds!

Personally I enjoy this approach and I’m glad they tried it once. The album is filled with excellent riffs and melodies throughout. Opening track, “Levitation” has about ten different parts, which is totally atypical for Hawkwind tunes. “Who’s Gonna Win the War” is one of those rock ballads that starts mellow and then gets heavy when the chorus comes and the drums play a marching beat behind shouts of “Who’s gonna win the war now/ Who’s gonna win the war?” “World of Tiers” and “Space Chase” are entirely instrumental. “Dust of Time” seems to sound like “The Unknown Soldier” by the Doors. And the band keeps the electro influences to merely the brief segue tracks “Psychosis” and “Prelude.” I should also mention “Motorway City” somewhere in there because it’s a very good song in which Baker sounds like he’s struggling to keep a 4/4 beat.

The lyrics have been reduced to generic sci concepts again. The first verse of “Levitation” goes “In the darkness I will shine/Cast not shadows or define/Walk on water float on air/There is no other to compare” and “Who’s Gonna Win the War” contains the lines “Radiations wastelands in the setting sun/Dust clouds, they are gathering to obliterate the guns.” See what I mean? At least it fits with the music and sounds cool. I’m not saying these are bad lyrics mind you. They just aren’t as clever as when Calvert was in the band.

Sonic Attack – Active – 1981


Ginger Baker overstepped his boundaries and tried to usurp Hawkwind so they fired him. Tim Blake’s gone as well. The band replaced Baker with Hawklords drummer Martin Griffin but left a gaping hole where the synthesizers go. Rather than hire a replacement and have to pay five people, Dave Brock and Harvey Brainbidge decided to share synth duties along with their respective axe roles. And with four members this is the smallest Hawkwind lineup yet. But it’s also the *first* to record more than one album in a row!

With no need to show off technical skill, Hawkwind have more or less reverted back to a familiar and, personally, more enjoyable approach. I say more because the arrangement and playing on Sonic Attack are simpler and more closely resemble the earlier sound than what was on Levitation. I also say less because it’s now the 80s and the metal influences have crept in.

Although Sonic Attack is still pretty comic booky the album takes a turn for the Orwellian/Cyberpunky with songs about “speaking being a crime” and “every time I go out/I think I’m being checked out” and “your number is fed into a computer” and “walking through the street of fear” – you get it, telescreen watching you, big brother, Orwellian. A lot of that is thanks to contribution from Michael Moorecock, who the band employed again to write some lyrics. But again, the songs are great! I don’t know what makes me like this here Hawkwind so much but, these songs are just so easily enjoyable! They’re simple as all hell – I mean the riffs in “Angels of Death” and “Street of Fear” couldn’t have taken more than a few minutes to write – but the melodies and the way the second guitar and synth play around the main riff are so neat sounding!

Certain songs though still have a loose 80s metal – or, dare I say New Wave of British Heavy Metal – influence like Judas Priest but with neat synth washes. If I wasn’t prone to like that kind of stuff and if the lyrics didn’t have the dystopic thing going on, I’d have more issue with songs like “Rocky Paths”, “Coded Languages”, “Living on a Knife Edge” and “Lost Chances.” I also gotta say that it strikes me as kind of amusing the level of seriousness which Brock sings “future generations are relying on us/ it’s the world me made!” Maybe I’m just a cynical ass.

On a final note, which I guess I should have mentioned earlier, the opening track “Sonic Attack” has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the album. It’s a remake of a spoken word piece that appeared on Space Ritual. It’s fun, if a bit silly, hearing Michael Moorecock recite the “sonic attack” prose backed by air raid sirens, laser noises and an “urgent” four note melody played on robotic synths. DO NOT PANIC, THINK ONLY OF YOURSELVES!!!

Church of Hawkwind – Active – 1982


Imagine the hilarity of heavy metal kid from 1982 purchasing Church of Hawkwind after having been won over by Levitation and Sonic Attack and then hearing an album consisting of mostly synthesizers. That’s another reason why I love these guys! They don’t care about maintaining an audience! If you want to drink the Kool-Aid, great! If not, who needs you? Eventually Hawkwind albums would be a mishmash of styles ranging from head banging space rock to sample filled electro to a mixture of both and a bunch of other stuff in between. But, at this stage in the game, many probably thought of Hawkwind as belonging to the world of rock.

Even that’s a bit strange a claim to make considering synthesizers had already played such a large role in the group’s sound, just not to the extent of Church of Hawkwind. The reason for this bizarre excursion is that drummer Martin Griffin was sick with German measles so Brock, Langton and Brainbridge decided to play with their electronic toys.

Hawkwind throw the rock fans a bone with five songs as if to say, “hey, we’re still Hawkwind!” They are “Nuclear Drive”, “Star Cannibal”, “Fall of Earth City”, “Light Specific Data” and “Looking in the Future.” “Nuclear Drive” is the most memorable and the most quintessentially rock, doing what Hawkwind do best. Sample lyric: “I stepped inside the spaceship/a voice said ‘take a seat, man’/do you want to cruise the Universe/ go where no one else has ever been/ with your nuclear drive” – yep. The others are definitely more drenched in synth but no worse for it and “Looking in the Future” recycles the first verse from “Assault and Battery Part I” for no particular reason.

The rest of the album is mainly composed of computer sounding blip and bloop tracks which are colored with the occasional guitar bit or sample, such as the live news report of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination in “Some People Never Die.” Most of the songs are really short too. “Angel Voices”, “The Church”, “The Joker at the Gate” and “The Last Messiah” don’t even hit two minutes.

I really don’t know how else to describe this kind of music. This is German sounding electronic music. If you know what Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream sound like, then it should give you a pretty good idea as to how most of the songs go. Either I’m a mindless follower or Dave Brock and Harvey Brainbridge can do just as well at keyboard machines as they do with their respective stringed instruments. It makes sense though; I mean Kraftwerk started with standard rock instruments before going electronic so I don’t see why Hawkwind wouldn’t be capable of the same thing.

And on songs such as “The Phenomenon of Luminosity” and “Experiment with Destiny” Brock and Brainbridge do great jobs of layering various synth tones to create an ambient cosmic whirl. I suppose the same thing can be said about the other songs but this distinction especially stands out for me in these. Plus I like how drums fade in on “Experiment with Destiny.”

Choose Your Masques – Active – 1982


Initially I got really annoyed with Choose Your Masques because I thought, “why they hell are they using a gated drum effect? What is this, the 80s or something?” It turns out they had used a drum machine on most of the tracks allowing Martin Griffin the occasional fill. So, if the drums sound a little too robotic, it’s because they are!

But that doesn’t excuse why some of these songs are so, I don’t know how to say it… well I just don’t like this album as much as the rest of them? Right after Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music, this is another album where I think, “eh, if this is Hawkwind, I don’t know if I’d still be a fan.”

It seems like the metal influence has dissipated and the group has sort of attempted to go back to a familiar major chord/repetition vamp/space rock style mixed with the electronic synth sounds of the day. That’s fine; they’re always looking to the future and I’m cool with that. But aside from the dated sound they get from those 80s drums, I guess my other biggest complaint is that I don’t like these songs as much.

But let me start from the top; the album starts really strong with “Choose Your Masks” (why not “masques”?), which aside from sounding like Hawkwind doing Billy Idol (or vice versa?), has cool “dee-doo-doo” computer sounds. And there are for sure some other really great songs such as “Arrival in Utopia” and “Void City.” Now I’m cool with “Dream Worker”, “Utopia” – which is a different song from “Arrival in Utopia” – and “The Scan”; they are neat little collages, sample collections and interlude pieces but they hardly count as songs.

So where does that leave us? The original “Silver Machine” is one of Hawkwind’s all time classics but this new version adds nothing with its updated production and fake drums. It’s still a great song but why did it need to be remade? Furthermore, am I dreaming or is “Fahrenheit 541” just “Silver Machine” with different lyrics? Listen to them back to back! They’re the same song! That leaves “Solitary Mind Games” and “Welcome to Tomorrow.” They’re okay, I guess but the former is a really corny “serious” 80s style pop song and the latter sounds like Foghat with fazing and space noises. And you know that’s never a good thing.

Now, as a bonus! I’m going to talk about the Atomhenge reissue for a sec! If you feel at all as I do, then get it! The second disc has a whole bunch of songs that didn’t appear on the original album and are easily better than those that made the A list! I would easily take “Candle Burning”, “5/4”, “Radio Telepathy”, “Lato” and “Lato Percussive Electro (Earthed to the Ground)”, over some of the ones that made the grade.

Specifically “Candle Burning” is just a really hooky song. “5/4” is played in the time signature of its namesake. “Radio Telepathy” has lyrics that would be recycled a decade later for the song “Right to Decide.” And “Lato Percussive Electro (Earthed to the Ground)” is an electro/experimental song with Nik Turner playing sax on it! See? Better!

That recommendation does not extend to “Oscillations” or “Recent Reports”, which in both cases are really corny but, that’s why they are outtakes, right?

The Earth Ritual Preview EP – Flicknife – 1984


Forget what I said about Hawkwind abandoning 80s metal… If I’m not mistaken the lineup on The Earth Ritual Preview is Dave Brock, Hugh Lloyd Langton, Harvey Brainbridge and a couple session drummers. And Lemmy plays on the first song and it’s not any good! The guitars on “Night of the Hawks” are pumped up way loud since it’s metal but what is with that riff? That’s a three chord punk riff and they’re playing it at medium tempo! The rest of the song has guitar solos and other parts but I would never expect Hawkwind to write something that simple and derivative! Well, simple maybe…

Fortunately The Earth Ritual Preview is just a four song E.P. and thankfully the other three are good. “Green Finned Demon” is mostly keyboard driven but full of neat guitar solos and weird noises plus it’s, you know, about a green finned demon. “Dream Dancers” is just an eerie sounding synth collage. But “Dragons and Fables” is the album’s real winner! The guitars are run through a phasing effect and aren’t heavy but Brock or Langton play individual notes in the main riff while the synthesizer provides a “mystical” ambiance. If you find fantasy music to be really corny, you may not take this song seriously but I think it’s really good!

Here, listen to it while looking at these HOT fantasy images!

The Chronicle of the Black Sword – Flicknife – 1985


Woo woo, new lineup alert! Dave Brock, Hugh Lloyd Langton and Harvey Brainbridge have been joined by new bassist Alan Davey and new drummer Danny Thompson. Brainbridge is now chief keyboardist! Woo woo! Fantasy images of women wearing almost nothing while fighting dragons are HOT! I’m not being facetious! I read Vampirella and think she’s hot too! I don’t think comic book chicks are hot since the artists draw them with boobs that are the size of bowling balls!

The Chronicle of the Black Sword is based on Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga which I don’t know very much about; I’ve read a Marvel Comics adaptation of The Dreaming City so I’d hope that would be enough background to get into this album. But there is no lyric sheet included so how the hell am I to know what is going on? Who is “Elric”? Who is “Zarozinia”? What is the “Black Sword”? Actually I don’t care about any of that stuff. I DO own a couple of Moorcock’s Rune Staff books and maybe I’ll read one some day.

Let me start with an unnecessarily insulting statement; “Needle Gun” is the worst song in the entire Hawkwind catalog. It makes “Night of the Hawks” look like a work of genius. I don’t know who they were trying to appeal to but if it’s the Bon Jovi crowd then shame on them. It’s such an irritating piece of pop metal crap that I just have to wonder. Actually it’s not too far from what Judas Priest put on the Turbo album so there’s a point of reference.

Now that I’m done insulting one of my favorite bands, let me talk about how The Chronicle of the Black Sword is a great Hawkwind album! Yes, it’s an 80s metal album. But it’s an 80s metal album done Hawkwind style! I know I dissed “Night of the Hawks” on the previous release but the group has managed to write basic fantasy metal tunes and alternate them with pretty synth pieces to create a unique and whole body of work (well, except for “Needle Gun”). All of the songs contain creative, melodic solos in their arrangements. And though the synth has a strong presence, …Sword is, by and large a guitar album.

So bang your head to “Song of the Swords”, “The Sea King”, “Elric the Enchanter”, “Sleep of a Thousand Years” and “Horn of Destiny.” Nod out to the Tangerine Dreamy pieces”Shade Gate” and “The Pulsing Cavern”; the latter employing a harpsichord or some similar sounding instrument. But don’t listen to “Zarozinia” unless you’re into cheesy synth ballads sung in an emotional manner to a fantasy character. So there you go; two duds out of eleven total. And I suppose “The Demise” and “Chaos Army” don’t even really count as songs since they’re just minute long “transition” pieces.

But otherwise, how can I complain? There are naked fantasy chicks on the inside of the album!

Live Chronicles – GWR – 1986


Brock and da boyz bring The Chronicle of the Black Sword to the stage! I don’t know if it’s ever been considered such but Live Chronicles is not Sonic Attack Pt 2. That version of Hawkwind was a drugged out group of guys who attacked their audience with light and sound while a huge-breasted nude dancer pranced around on stage and some guy spoke a bunch of retro science fiction mumbo jumbo. Some might argue they enjoy that version better because it was more raw and spontaneous. By 1986 Hawkwind had lost most of those members and have turned into a slick, polished and rehearsed rock ‘n’ roll/electronic/theatrical experience!

Of course, I can’t see any of it but from the photos it looks like it might have been a neat experience. Live Chronicles contains every song from The Chronicle of the Black Sword, one from The Earth Ritual Preview EP, two from Sonic Attack, one from Levitation, two from Warrior on the Edge of Time and one from In Search of Space. If you do your math that’s nineteen songs and there are a total of thirty listed. Anyone who knows Hawkwind this late in the game, knows that their live gigs are not just recitals of the album tracks. They mix songs around, include parts of some with parts of others, throw in a riff from here and there and reuse lyrics. In one interesting case “Elric the Enchanter” is split into two parts which are played in different segments of the concert. Also due to their use of fresh song titles (albeit with recurring themes), it’s tough to tell what counts as a song, a spoken piece or just a bit of instrumental music designed for the onstage experience.

One thing is certain and it’s completely obnoxious; “Choose Your Masques” is not the same song as “Choose Your Masks” from the album Choose Your Masques! It appears to be a mish/mash of musical ideas from different songs.

A second thing is certain: “Needle Gun” and “Zarozinia” are still lousy songs.

Look, I’ll be honest with you; I purchased Live Chronicles because I’m a completest but I only listened to it twice before sitting down and reviewing it. I enjoyed hearing modernized versions of classic Hawkwind tunes, especially those with Hugh Lloyd Langton providing a second guitar where one didn’t exist in the first place but I don’t know how often I’m going to sit and listen to the album. It’s neat but it’s long and I have other albums to listen to and other movies to watch. I do find it slightly irritating that Hawkwind will put completely new songs on an album sandwiched between older material with no mention of it.

With that said, the originals that aren’t narrations are “Dreaming City”, “Fight Sequence”, “The Dark Lords” (and I’m being generous with this one), “Moonglbum”, “Conjuration of Magnu” (still being generous here), ” and “Horn of Fate.” The song “Wizards of Pan Tang” is just part of “Brainstorm” (I’m assuming the format prevented fitting the whole song?) and as the “I’m being generous” parenthesized warnings indicate, these are really just electronic pieces than actual songs. Even “Fight Sequence” is more like a jam than a song but hey! I should probably mention the sound quality is great and all the instruments come through and every part is clear and audible but I figured that was a given.

If I didn’t like what Hawkwind did, I wouldn’t be a fan who would come back time and time again. But, objectively speaking, they do the same thing a lot on the same album. They play the classics sandwiched between instrumental pieces that either showcase the synth player, the lead guitarist or both. They make a lot of cool noises which sure adds a killer backdrop to the onstage proceedings but I can’t see what’s going on onstage! Now, I ask you, will the songs “Dreaming City”, “Moonglum” or “Horn of Fate” go down as all time Hawkwind classics on the level of “Brainstorm”, “Silver Machine” or “Master of the Universe”?

I leave you that question to ponder, friends.

The Xenon Codex – GWR – 1988


What is a “xenon codex”?

They’re not a metal band anymore, that’s for sure! Overall the band has left the world of sword and sorcery and blasted off into the future! At least that’s impression I get with the cover painting of a bird’s eye view of a city of the future and the female alien robot cartoon on the back. The album begins with energetic rocker “The War I Survived” but doesn’t kick up that kind of juice until seven tracks later on “E.M.C.” and maybe once more in closing track, “Good Evening.” So what do they do in between? A lot of of stuff! The Xenon Codex is heavy into synthesizers; be they creating melodies or just making spaceship noises. Hugh Lloyd Langton solos a few times on the album so he’s not forgotten and Dave Brock lays down those three and four chord riffs. It almost sounds like Tangerine Dream with singing and a beat! I dunno if that accurately describes the album so let’s examine by looking at some of the songs.

After the rockin’ opener “Wastelands of Sleep” is all ambient swishes and swooshes with some guitar and what sound like programmed drums. Also there’s a neat xylophone sound thrown in the mix. “Neon Skyline” and “Lost Chronicles” are the same song so I don’t know why they were separated into different tracks during the breakdown/solo segment. Otherwise, good song. “Tides” is a very mellow instrumental with the calming sound of waves and seagulls. Wasn’t there a song like that Warrior on the Edge of Time? “Mutation Zone” is just strange; it’s sort of Hawkwind’s attempt at some sort of electronic funk song. I dunno; it’s not a great song but it’s an interesting approach. “Sword of the East” has a neat spacey keyboard line that plays over otherwise very basic set of chords but, I like it even if it comes off a little cheesy. But the real hoot comes from album closing track and aforementioned “Good Evening”; that’s another weird one! While at first it sounds like typical Hawkwind with the driving riff and solos, there are a bunch of samples including distorted laughter and what sounds like some sort of printer noise and Dave Brock keeps repeating “mom and daddy said to me, ‘get a job'” over and over again before the song ends in a crash of cartoony sound effects.

So there you have it; another Hawkwind album. Most of it is good, some just okay but ultimately satisfying to my taste. The only complaint I have is that the group still uses that annoying and outdated gated drum effect which makes the snare go “duffff” as opposed to “pop” or “tat” like a snare is supposed to sound. Since Danny Thompson is always playing the same beat the same way the entire time, he sounds like a robot. And if that’s what they wanted then why not just employ a drum machine, which sounds like something I said earlier, oh well…

The saga continues in the roaring 90s!