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Hawkwind - Blood Of The Earth CD (album) cover

BLOOD OF THE EARTH

Hawkwind

 

Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.68 | 126 ratings

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djfake
4 stars The Return of the Mighty Hawkbrand

Forty years on, Hawkwind could be viewed more like a brand than an actual musical group. As one of the oldest continuous-running rock groups out of England, it's a small miracle that they still exists. The band has sufferred as much turbulence as it has clear sailing, surviving more lineup changes and record labels than one could possibly remember let along count. Of course, it's not quite the same band today as it was in 1970, but Hawkwind's status as true legends is undeniable, just as their legacy as psychedelic pioneers is now part of Rock-n-Roll's history. And with any group with that long of a history, there's quite a story. Listen up...

Back in 1969 Dave Brock, with Mick Slattery, Terry Ollis, John Harrison, Nik Turner and Michael "Dik Mik" Davies, formed what would eventually become Hawkwind. Signed to United Artists, the early 70s saw the band quickly rise from a gate-crashing underground mystery to a full-powered space machine through a series of exemplary albums, including the classic Space Ritual and the perennial out of print Warrior At The Edge Of Time. All rose into England's album charts' Top 20s, with the single "Silver Machine" b/w "Seven By Seven" driving all the way to the UK No. 3 in June of 1972. Even the likes of science fiction author Michael Moorcock and future Motorhead supremo Lemmy Kilmister logged into the band's ranks. Their notoriety however was due more to their fantastic live set, which remains the penultimate definition of British psychedelic space rock. Forged by a driving-rhythm, the band would explore the psychedelics of inner and outer space with primal uses of electronics, hard-driven guitar, and a nude dancer, Stacia; a kind of repetitive, pre-metal groove set to science fiction, yet one adored by Hawkfans the world over. Lineup changes though plagued the band, and by the mid-70s Hawkwind had morphed again, with the eccentric Robert Calvert now front and center. This edition of the band was equally relevant, issuing another round of slightly more musical albums for the legendary Charisma Records, all again charting in the band's native UK.

The constant throughout Hawkwind's first decade was guitarist Dave Brock, the so-called "Keith Richards of acid rock". Never one for flash, his solid rhythm guitar and distinctive voice helped define their sound, but foremost he reigned as the band's primary songwriter. By 1980, Brock was firmly in control. For the excellent Levitation, the band added synthesist Tim Blake, formerly of Gong and friend from the old Ladbroke Grove days, and oddly enough, Cream's Ginger Baker. Turbulence would define this decade for the band, yet with each lineup change, Brock continued to steer the group through album after album of competent Hawkwind music well into the late 80s, drifting closer and closer to heavy metal, and picking up bassist Alan Davey and drummer Richard Chadwick along the way. Members left and returned, and Hawkwind would even front a female vocalist for short time, performance artist Ms. Bridget Wishart. Released in 1993, Electric Tepee was a strong set, but the music had by now moved into a trance/techno direction. Several albums later, singer Ron Tree was added in an attempt to return to the band's hard rockin' roots, but by the end of the 90s, new music was no more and the Hawkwind franchise was born.

Brock, along with Davey and Chadwick, would henceforth rely on their laurels, gearing up the Hawk machine for annual jaunts across England's countryside in the summer, and often culminating in an annual December tour and Christmas show at London's Astoria Theatre. Relations with past members soured to the point of lawsuits following a disastrous "Hawkestra" gig in 2000, prompting Turner, Ollis and Slattery et al. to launch the parallel Space Ritual brand. Take Me To Your Leader, an album of mostly new material, appeared in 2005, but by most accounts it was just a little less than okay... Brock still forged on, touring with Chadwick, an itinerant Blake, guest vocalist Arthur Brown and a host of other Hawks, both past and present. Yet throughout the 2000s, the band's fans remained loyal, more than satisfied with an annual fixation of nostalgia, and even without new music, the Hawkwind franchise continued to prosper.

Forty years on, we land in 2010, with a new album entitled Blood Of The Earth. So it's not without trepidation that we meet its arrival. Here, Brock, Chadwick and Blake are joined by bassist Mr. Dibs and guitarist Niall Hone, a lineup that spent the last two years touring the Hawkship across England's green and pleasant lands, and one that spent the last year and half making this record. (There's even rumors they may come to the US in 2011.)

The album opens with a throwback sample and immediately we're reminded that this is Hawkwind. The electronics begin to percolate and bubble, until a firm bass line and solid beat launches "Seahawks" on its way. It certainly has the Hawkwind vibe, and as it plays out, there's little doubt that this is the Hawkbrand of old. Next, the title track transcends into atmospheric washes, over which UK television personality and Hawkfan Matthew Wright mumbles an atypical apocalyptic science fiction, until the track blasts into the excellent "Wraith". Here the band kicks into high gear, alternating their classic quick tempo rocker with something that sounds much closer to Gong's psychedelics! The open chords of "Green Machine" present an elegiac number, but it's Hone's graceful lead guitar that gives the track its beauty. Blake's "Inner Visions" lays down a heavy groove, revealing the sonic depth of the album's immaculate recording. He's a mercurial figure, no doubt, yet it's hard to believe that it's been thirty years since he's graced a Hawkwind studio album; a very welcome return.

"Sweet Obsession" is a Brock solo number from 1984 and certainly a throwback; fortunately it's just a little off-kilter from the rest of the album. On the other hand, Brock's "Comfy Chair" tone poem really plays out. He's has always had a way with those melancholic acoustic numbers and this new offering is no exception. In addition to provide the deepest sub-bass, Mr. Dibs (Jonathan Derbyshire) offers a vocal to "Prometheus", with Hone again providing some real grit on guitar. It's got a eastern flavor that really bounces over its funky little groove. The track is part of the new stuff to the Hawkwind fold and it certainly works, though "You'd Better Believe It", originally on 1974's Hall Of The Mountain Grill, continues the trend of rebranding a Hawk track from old. Why it's included is anyone's guess; to gauge the rest of the album? So we revist the original? Or just to remind us, after all that this is, dammit, Hawkwind? Regardless of the intent, it's a brighter, uptempo rendition, with a nice funky breakdown that rides an electric piano and gurgling synths. "Sentinel", like "Wraith" and "Prometheus", is another track from the "new" songwriting team of Darbyshire, Hone, Chadwick and/or Blake. Hone again shines, as does Chadwick's deft drumming. The track starts the album's final descent, resting the Hawkship return from this latest journey. Continuing the downward glide, the closing track "Starshine" (a bonus on some versions of the album), features former keyboardist Jason Stuart, who sadly passed away at an early age in 2008.

Throughout Hawkwind's long and torturous history, the band has flirted with metal, punk, techno, and whatever forms of music one can imagine, yet all the while maintaining something distinctly Hawkwind. It's a tried and true brand, and one that we're quite fortunate to still have with us. On the new album, the band's past and present have converged into something that's right here and right now. Sure it sounds like Hawkwind ? but would we want it any other way? Blood Of The Earth is a triumphant return to the studio for the band and the brand. Enjoy the journey.

Charles Snider Author, The Strawberry Bricks Guide To Progressive Rock

djfake | 4/5 |

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