If I were to sit you down and tell you Hawkwind’s latest studio album, Blood of the Earth (Plastic Head) is an uncharted journey into synthed out psych-osis, would you be the least bit surprised? Not if you were aware that the Dave Brock-led band has been bringing listeners on similar journeys for over 40 years now, having started in 1969 and never looked back as they sped through the cosmos, endlessly trading in members, endlessly documenting their course through studio albums, live records and archival releases, resulting in a discography well past 75 entries and showing no signs of slowing and an influence nearly as far reaching as the Milky Way itself. To be blunt: if Zeus, God of Gods, were a band, he’d probably be Hawkwind.
Joining Brock who vocals, guitar and more on Hawkwind’s first studio album in half a decade is longtime drummer Richard Chadwick, bassist/vocalist Mr. Dibs, keyboardist/vocalist Tim Blake and guitarist/keyboardist Niall Hone. Dibs, Blake and Hone represent a newer contingent in Hawkwind, the latter two brought aboard in 2008 to help fill the void of Jason Stuart, who died that year following a brain hemorrhage but appears recorded on Blood of the Earth nonetheless. The band sound dynamic and lively across the 10 tracks of the album, songs loaded with synth flourishes and psychedelia but still brought occasionally to earth with solid riffs and vocal structures, and though it’s clear Brock is leading the expedition, each member contributes ably to the material. As for what it sounds like, well, it’s Hawkwind, isn’t it?
And by that I mean Hawkwind is space rock, by definition. Very nearly every act in the genre who has come since them has worshipped – some more plagiaristically than others – at their altar. From the sweet classical keyboard and lead guitar melodies of “Green Machine” to the ambient noise of the title track and tripnotic freak out of “Wraith” or the vaguely Eastern vibe of highlight cut “Prometheus,” on which the vocals seem to be standing in triumph over both the music and our minds, Blood of the Earth is essential, elemental Hawkwind. It’s true their days of hard-line innovation are most likely behind them, but listening to the interplay between what’s commonly regarded as electronica and synth washes on “Inner Visions,” it’s clear the spirit to create and influence is still as prevalent in Hawkwind as it ever was.
“Sweet Obsession” is such a gleeful semi-punk conjoining of human and technological components, it’s a wonder to discover Brock wrote it for his 1984 solo album, Earthed to the Ground. Another revisited piece on Blood of the Earth is “You’d Better Believe It,” which originally appeared on Hawkwind’s Hall of the Mountain Grill in 1974. There are two bonus tracks, depending on whether you get the vinyl or CD version, the instrumentally atmospheric “Starshine” being common to the CD. It works surprisingly well coming off the faded ending of official album closer “Sentinel” before it, the two transitioning so smoothly one to the next it’s easy to forget they’re different tracks.
The wide open post-centerpiece “Comfey Chair” pairs rushing synth lines with tired, quiet vocals, which, though incongruous sound-wise, lends the track a movement without which it would fall flat, and though it takes more than one listen to fully appreciate, Blood of the Earth proves to be of considerable depth and complexity on repeated outings. It is an excursion longtime fans of Hawkwind will enjoy, and newcomers too provided they bear in mind that what Hawkwind does, Hawkwind invented, and the sundry acts they may have encountered since who’ve made use of similar sonic tactics trace their source back to the seminal British act. Hawkwind’s colors on Blood of the Earth come across as luminescent as ever, and the canvas on which they’re painted seems to be permanently expanding. Perhaps not a starting point for newbies, but a definite treat for the converted.
Tags: Gods, Hawkwind, Plastic Head, UK