– Blood of the Earth
(Release date 21-06-2010).
Many a hawkfan must have let of a sigh of relief upon hearing, beginning of this year, that a new Hawkwind
studio release was in the making. It was about time, as notwithstanding the steady stream of compilations and bootlegs, there hadn’t been an official studio release from them since “Take Me to Your Future
”, five years ago. This combined with the fact that the band’s touring activities had also been considerably less than previously, in the first decade of the new century, must have made the more nervous fans ponder, whether the feared end had finally come in sight.
Fortunately none of such forebodings have proven to be true, accompanying the new record this year the band is also on the road more extensively and staged a massive three day Hawkfest Festival on the Isle of Wight
, at the end of August
(Where exactly forty years ago to date they had made their first claim to cult fame by squatting their way in at the legendary 1970 festival over there).
New Line Up & New Record Company.
As so often has been the case in their career, Hawkwind
has been struggling with the line up since the end of the nineties again. With “Blood of the Earth
” it seems a more stable period has been entered once again, with the line-up now consisting of Dave Brock
, guitars, keyboards and vocals, Mr Dibs, bass and vocals, Niall Hone, guitar and keyboards, Richard Chadwick, drums, percussion and sequencers and Tim Blake
, keyboards & electronics. This seems to be quite a compatible bunch, (with the possible exception of Blake
), as well in age, musical direction and lifestyle, so, it could last for quite a while.
Another prominent change is to be found in the new label. Early this year the band signed up with Eastworld records. Hawkwind
has never been known as great lovers of Record companies, and such has resulted in frequent label changes and several, only partly successful, efforts to set up their own recording company. The deal with Eastworld carries a lot of promise to also be durable, as the company's and the band's outlooks on life and music have a surprising lot in common.
Blood of the Earth
, a monument of musical professionalism.
The work on the album was in fact already fully completed in the first months of the year, and if it had been up to Eastworld alone, the record would have been released as early as April
10. But on urging of the band such was postponed to 21 June
, the summer solstice. For those who know the band well this is no surprise, solstice at Stonehenge
is the holiest of holy in European Shamanism, of which the band is a clear exponent.
However this delay gave Eastworld and Hawkwind
time to set up a well-oiled pre-release promotion, which has absolutely paid of, as initial sales outdid everything Hawkwind
albums had managed for the last 15 years or so. Not long after the first release a second edition appeared containing a live bonus CD, with solid recent live recordings of several of the bands classics. But the highlight of the bonus CD is certainly a more than hilarious “self-interview” of the band, poking utter fun with the art of depth interviewing.
The production work of the album is absolutely outstanding, and in this respect it might be the best that Hawkwind
has ever achieved. No, wonder, if one combines the chain of highly digitalized private studio’s of the band with the clear expertise of Eastworld. It makes the whole thing sound licked, a little to licked here and there for an old hawkfan like me. So, could we please do a live album next time boys, I want to have at least something to criticize …………..
Where however the album doesn’t score high is in its sleeve design. It’s not bad, but kind of a monotonous silvery blue, depicting the vehicle Hawkwind
for once not as a space ship but indeed a medieval sailing ship, making its way over a quiet ocean in between two rows of identical earth goddess figurines, stretching their arms skywards, standing on connected silver balls that top poles anchored in the sea. It’s OK, but nothing to gain extra kudos with.
The musicians and the music, more professionalism
Some of the younger hawkfans and a few of the older ones were at first slightly disappointed, as the album contains neither any great artistic innovations, nor a return to the very heavy seventies sound, that some have been hoping for in vain for years. But, to be realistic, such could not be expected from a band that has been around for 41 years and has produced, not counting the very numerous bootlegs, over 130 releases.
For those who listen to the album with a neutral ear, all the characteristic elements of Hawkwind
are there, although more accent was laid on some than on others. Heavy guitar riffs are there but sparsely. Most striking feature however is the return of the elaborate soundscaping with which Hawkwind
first experimented on the album “Hall of the Mountain Grill
” back in 1974, and which was build out fully from the early 80’s on. It is not difficult to see the origin of such: Tim Blake
is back. And
I dare say that his synthesizer skills are at least on par with men like Klaus Schulze, Jean Michel Jarre and others. That Blake
has remained more obscure than them has everything to do with the fact that he is not a good soloist, needing a band around him. Well, here you are Tim! He is blooming like seldom before on Blood of the Earth
. A very strong enhancer for this is found in the new solo guitarist Niall Hone, who proves himself most skillful in slow going, very atmospheric, here and there almost eerie, soloing, which goes along so well with synthesizer dominated music.
Having once again a fine line-up around him gave Dave Brock
the opportunity to retreat more to the background, a position he has loved throughout his career. Still, in all the composition work you can clearly hear that he is the mastermind behind the music of Hawkwind
, like he always has been. Few words need to be spent on Richard Chadwick, solid as ever and by now almost as much as Brock the musical face of the band. Through
years of hard work and perfecting his ways he has earned himself a position with the best drummers in metal and rock, and as far as space rock is concerned, he stands without competition.
Most complex to describe, is the bass work of mr Dibs, who dominates the stage scene with his imposing bulk and possibly even more imposing beard, but he does not so with his bass guitar. With in the past Lemmy and Alan Davey
having been the most well known bass players of Hawkwind
, everyone identifies the brutal dominance of the Rickenbacker bass with the bands music. Dibs preference for the much gentler sound of Jazz basses is a clear break with this tradition. Whereas men like Lemmy and Davey were in the habit of using the bass as kind of an independent solo instrument, one could say that for the first time the band has a rhythm section in the traditional sense. It takes power out of the sound but it gives Blake
and Hone plenty of space for soundscaping, besides that Chadwick and Dibs fit each others playing very well.
The Songs: Solidity instead of experiment
The album sets out with two heavily orchestrated and rather dark tracks, “Seahawks” and “Blood of the Earth
”. As their topic is the deplorable state in which mankind has brought mother Earth
it is understandable that the atmosphere is rather somber. Hawkwind
’s pessimism with the state of affairs in the environmental sense is well known
The next track, “Wraith
” will surely make the lovers of the heaver Hawkwind
a little bit happy as it here and there reminds of 1970’s tracks. The follow up, “Green Machine
” I feel personally should have been left out, as it is really an un-Hawkwind
ish track, to mellow and to orchestrated, although objectively judged, certainly well done.
5 “Inner Visions
” says a lot about the message of the album: Blood of the Earth
is less focused on the outer space, a common feature of Hawkwind
themes of the past, but much more on the contemplative, the inner space. It’s like returning to earth after a long space journey and finding the planet in a sorry state. The atmosphere of the song is dark and mysterious and reminds a little of “Hassan I Sahba”, good, sometimes almost wailing, guitar work. “Sweet Obsession
” is a cover of a Brock solo song of the 1980
’s and is played in a remarkably similar way. Certainly, lighter stuff compared with the rather inaccessible other tracks on the album. Already for a long time the band is no more in the habit of releasing any singles, but if they did this would be the logical candidate.
No. 7, “Comfy Chair” is certainly not the strongest on the album as the first part is a bit of a disappointment, the vocals making an uninspired impression and the structure of the song is such that your all the time expect it to explode at a certain point, which unfortunately it never does. Keyboards in the second, instrumental, part are great though.
But than comes “Prometheus” which make your forget all the pondering about that this or that could have been done better. A real Hawkwind
jewel about the hero and friend of mankind from Greek mythology.
Quality is now kept up well with “You’d better believe it”, first version of which was released back in 1974 on their “Hall of the Mountain Grill
” album. Since then there have been several alternate versions of it, but for sure this latest version can compete with all the others!
The last two numbers “Sentinel
” and “Starshine” mark a return to the dark, mysterious and slowly developing songs with which the album begun. But, solidly played and excellently produced. A worthy exit of this, the 26th, studio album of the band.
All in all Hawkwind
is not only holding its ground with this album, but even expanding it where it comes to refinement of the compositions. Sure, it’s not their best or most sensational ever, but certainly not one of their lesser ones.
For me newcomer Niall Hone wins the “artist of the album” price: A very skilled solo guitarist, who knows how to create an atmosphere. He gains your respect and admiration by convincing, not overwhelming.
Gletscherwolf, 12 September 2010