Hawkwind Space Ritual: Album Review

Hawkwind Space Ritual

Photo:By Andrew King [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The early 1970s was the crowning age of sci-fi pop music. Although for the science fiction subculture, the same period was hit and miss. The time period between film releases like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars was considered a science fiction wasteland, but not for the world of classic rock music. A wide range of groups came along with intergalactic overtones during this period, including Sun-Ra, Parliament, Chrome, and David Bowie.

A number of artists tried to break into this realm of other worldly influence on modern music, but none did it as unique as the band Hawkwind. The album Space Ritual in 1973 ( and later as the Space Ritual: Collector’s Edition remastered in 2007 ) cemented Hawkwind’s place as legends in classic rock history.

Hawkwind drew from a variety of literary, philosophic and contemporary music influences to create an original style that would precede future movements, such as post-punk, industrial and heavy metal. The band combined futurism, astrology, mystical trance modalities and quantum metaphysical themes into their lyrical choices. Their music crafted itself around the ideologies and theories from Pythagorean celestial mathematics, in particular, the ‘music of the spheres.

Space Ritual was recorded live at two independent concert dates in December 1972. The combination of performances in London and Liverpool create some very solid performances by Hawkwind, both capturing the band in their prime and demonstrating the elements which made them a cult phenomenon. Originally advertised as “88 minutes of brain damage” in 1973 music media, Space Ritual: Collector’s Edition has included new footage and outtakes while still peaking at just under two hours of musical madness.

First time listeners might have system shock listening to the variations Hawkwind chooses to sift through musically. Their music is a collection of paradigm shifts that range from monolithic density to cosmic guitar loops, all of it weird to be sure. This is what makes Space Ritual all the more listenable, the live interplay of Hawkwind’s 1972 lineup is astounding. This included Nik Truner on saxophone and vocals, Simon King on drums, Dave Brock on guitars and vocals, Dik Mik on effects and electronic treatments, Del Dettmar on synthesizers, and rhythm guitarist turned bassist Lemmy Kilmister of later Motörhead fame. Also composer and poet Robert Calvert is featured doing his tribute to Michael Moorcock and Huw Lloyd-Langton, along with contributions by Harvey Bainbridge and Dikmik in the audio electronics department.

Many of the tracks are long free-form pieces that offer high-frequency distortion mixed with moody atmospheric electronica. The album opens with the tracks “Earth Calling” and “Born to Go,” the first being a roaring feedback laden intro that is followed up by 10 minutes of starfighter assaults on the mindscape. Next comes “Down Through the Night” which offers frightening bass lines spiraling like an electromagnetic vortex of sonic thrills, after this is the interstellar poem with by Calvert called “The Awakening” that is filled with ramblings from other galaxies.

The rest of the album is an endurance test for the listener, although well worth it, if you can afford the drugs necessary to stay afloat. “Lord of Light,” is one of the strongest cuts, showing off Nik Turner and his saxophone prowess. After this come the Michael Moorcock inspired “Black Corridor” and a zero-gravity guitar monstrosity by Dave Brock entitled “Space Is Deep” ( a personal favorite of this writer ). There are several audio generator pieces shorter in length, namely “Electronic No. 1,” “Upside Down” and “10 Seconds of Forever,” but the real meat comes in two more lengthy soliloquies.

“Orgone Accumulator” is an acid rock meets punk-pop tribute to Wilhelm Reich and Canned Heat, it is a welcome break from Hawkwind’s stylistic full speed metallic white noise. The final original track is “Brainstorm” and it showcases the inherent prog-rock combination of sonic guitar leads, time warping electronics, bass shock waves and musical juxtaposition that Hawkwind does so well.

For the remastered Space Ritual: Collector’s Edition over 40 more minutes of music have been added on a second disc. The most interesting tracks are “Sonic Attack” which is a collaborative song by several Hawkwind associated artists, and two different versions of “Master of the Universe,” a track that features some great guitar work by Dave Brock and the band.

As live albums go Space Ritual is a quintessential example from the sci-fi space rock era. As a classic rock album, it is a timepiece that will never be outdone for it represents a point when electronics and analog still reigned king, long before the digital age. In spirit, Space Ritual repents the purest aspects of classic rock and stands out in its originality, orchestration and raw angst. As a band, Hawkwind broke doorways to the mind and music open across the world, but still are as underground as ever today.

For those just beginning their exploration of space rock, Hawkwind is a must hear and the sacred text behind many modern followers in the sound stream. And for the long term fans of Hawkwind, the album Space Ritual is a classic rock epiphany of many sonic grooves on an inner plane. Hawkwind bridged the gap between psychedelia and heavy metal music. In an age where science fiction had become the fact behind our modern legends, the band Hawkwind was legendary.

 

Hawkwind Space Ritual: Album Review article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022

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  1. Avatar Blake Hall May 21, 2016

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