Among the pleasant surprises of 2010 were a new studio album by the veteran psychedelic rock band Hawkwind, fortuitously hot on the heels of the 3-way tribute split Hawkwind Triad by Minsk, US Christmas, and Harvestman. While Hawkwind still release live recordings on a pretty regular basis, their last studio outing was five years prior.
Any new Hawkwind album is going to be judged against such classics as Hall Of The Mountain Grill and Warrior On The Edge Of Time, even when the comparison doesn’t really fit. People seem to ignore, willfully even, the progression and changes (inevitable, especially given the notorious lineup changes) that an honest assessment of their 40-year catalog would reveal, even as their commitment to mind-expansion and space exploration stays true to Dave Brock’s vision.
Blood Of The Earth is a very different album to what Hawkwind got up to in the early ’70s, and it’s arguably a better album than a lot of the studio material they came up with later. One thing that caught my ear was what sounds like an influence from the sounds of UK dance rock from Madchester to grebo to big-beat to digital hardcore and things in between. And why not? Hawkwind were pioneers in the use of synthesizers in rock music, and their early “Space Ritual” live shows formed the blueprint for raves. The persistent electronic rhythms on a number of the tracks on Blood Of The Earth are integrated with natural drums to form a foundation on which to build the kind of wild jams we love Hawkwind for, yet always gratefully reigned into a single-digit number of minutes. A generous layer of untamed synthesizer noises is applied over the more uptempo rocking tracks, bringing a sonic density approaching that of Pigface’s Fook/Notes From Thee Underground period, while on the slower numbers the synths take on more of a new-age feel. Flanged guitar licks that sound like ’80s fighter jets peek around all the corners. There are various elements that seem “retro” until you consider that Hawkwind basically invented them in the first place.
The track that is closest to the driving space-rock sound Hawkwind pioneered and that is still most immediately associated with them is the punkish “Wraith,” where the lead vocal (not sure if it’s Brock, or Niall Hone, who has co-writing credit) bears a pleasingly aggressive resemblance to Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke, or alternately (oddly enough), Chris Connelly’s work with Murder Inc. This voice returns later on “Prometheus,” another of the album’s highlights.
If there’s a down spot on the album, it’s when they lack a bit of fire on a remake one of their classic early-’70s songs “You Better Believe It,” and throw in an aimless slow “Maggot Brain”-like jam in the middle of it, seemingly apropos of nothing. But on another revisitation of old material, they rework “Sweet Obsession” from a 1984 Dave Brock solo album to a pounding digital hardcore/Andrew WK beat, capture a bit of the spirit of Hawkwind’s late-’70s period when they began to trade warlike space opera for sci-fi whimsy, add some festive synth-horns, and wind up with another one of the album’s highlights.
Hawkwind have done a nice job of combining elements from throughout their history on Blood Of The Earth. It’s not a perfect album, neither is it a “return to form,” but I think it’s greatly underrated.