The original space rockers and author Michael Moorcock join forces for a seminal concept album.
“That album was a fuck-up from start to finish” – Lemmy Kilmister.
Hawkwind’s 1975 opus Warrior On The Edge Of Time was to be Lemmy’s final outing with the psychedelic cosmonauts. That he was subsequently jettisoned from the line-up after his drug-related arrest on the Canadian/US border may well have influenced his unfavourable appraisal. Certainly, his opinion is not one shared by the majority of Hawkwind followers who consider Warrior… to be an all-time career highlight.
Due to protracted legal issues, its first official CD release has been a long, long time coming, causing some to wonder whether they would ever be able to replace their scratched vinyl and anaemic bootleg CDs with a sparkling, bolstered remastered version. So, in 2012, when Cherry Red off-shoot Atomhenge announced that Warrior… was finally receiving the deluxe special edition treatment, all card-carrying space cadets had much cause for celebration. For not only was a digital revamp planned, the set would also include a new remix by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson – acclaimed for similar work on classic albums by Jethro Tull and King Crimson – and a plethora of bonus tracks.
Loosely based on Michael Moorcock’s 1970 fantasy novel The Eternal Champion – with lyrical and vocal contributions from the author – Warrior… is yet another example of Hawkwind’s insatiable appetite for musical evolution and experimentation during the 1970s. It possesses a sound and atmosphere as distinct from the previous year’s Hall Of The Mountain Grill as that album was from its own studio predecessor Doremi Fasol Latido. A spacious, lush production lends the record an enthralling aura of majestic magnitude, ensuring that notable epics Assault & Battery and Magnu are allowed to free reign to spin their extravagant, mystical tales. The former makes for a thunderously powerful opener, awash with phased Mellotron over a mighty dual-drummer/Lemmy rhythm section, and punctuated with evocative, weaving flute melodies (so gloriously 1975!). Brock’s unique folk-tinged vocals had never been so charged with fiery conviction as he quotes portentous lines from Longfellow: “Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime”. A rousing monolith of sound that melts sensuously – via Lemmy’s favourite Hawkwind instrumental passage – into The Golden Void which exudes a world-weary sorrow before a marching riff and sense of passionate yearning mark a return to intensity.
Magnu, as most long-term fans will agree, is one of the band’s crowning achievements. An immersive, monumental space rock spectacular. With a grinding proto-metal riff and mesmerising rhythm at its core, the rest of the expansive soundscape becomes increasingly alive with Arabic-flavoured violins, snaking saxophone, and electronic exotica. For over eight minutes, you are at the heart of a maelstrom, intoxicating sounds and beguiling eastern melodies coming from all directions. It’s ‘head’ music but far from the relaxed vibes of the average spliff-party soundtrack. This is turbulent, tense material that staunchly refuses to be relegated to the background.
If the rest of Warrior… never quite scales those heights, it nevertheless contains plentiful other evidence of Hawkwind’s genius circa 1975. The jazz-prog of Spiral Galaxy 28948 seeks to confound those who would sneer at the band’s supposed lack of dexterity. Not-so-subtly recalling Dave Brubeck’s 1959 standard Take Five, it casts graceful, whirling keyboard arpeggios over a 6/8 beat underpinned by Lemmy’s sinewy, exploratory bass. We’re a long way from the distorted four-string thrash of Ace Of Spades, folks! The propulsive motorik simplicity of Opa-Loki reminds us of Brock’s admiration for krautrock revolutionaries Neu, while The Demented Man belies its garish horror comic title, proving to be a touching, mournful acoustic ballad that hints at another art-rock contemporary – Pink Floyd. Elsewhere, Nik Turner’s Dying Seas is wonky space-pop delirium stalked by ominous sax and baleful, acid-fried vocals whereas, jarringly, Kings Of Speed adopts a far more straight-forward grimy rock ‘n’ roll approach. A strange choice as the closing track on a record distinguished by an ethereal aura and elaborate production, Kings Of Speed remains an engagingly sweaty biker anthem, its conventionality subverted by a C&W hoedown violin solo! Thankfully, Hawkwind have never been skilled at repressing their innate eccentricity.
As respected as Warrior… undoubtedly is, there is one significant aspect that famously divides Hawkwind fandom: the three spoken word pieces that punctuate the running time. Backed by abstract percussive clattering and eerie electronics, Turner and Moorcock theatrically spout philosophical ruminations that, beneath the over-arching fantasy theme, seem to allude to the downfall of late 60’s counterculture. To the newcomer, these sequences may be thought-provoking at best; hysterically overwrought at worst. To the long-term fan, they are likely to be an irritant that interrupts the flow of the music. Ultimately though, for good or ill, they are an essential part of the album’s character.
In its newly revitalised 2013 boxset form, Warrior… is more formidable than ever. The remaster gives a welcome sheen to music that, due to its layered complexity, always demanded impeccable sound quality. But, with apologies to purists, it’s Steven Wilson’s remix that should be every newcomer’s introduction to the record (if not the Hawkwind discography as a whole). With his customary light touch, Wilson respectfully draws out previously submerged nuances in the recording and gently boosts the EQ. The result is a more airy ambience that suits the material perfectly, opening-up the overall sound to staggering effect.
The bonus tracks, which are divided between the original and remix discs, are a slight disappointment. Alternate versions of the controversial spoken word pieces and bootleg-quality 1975 live recordings are only worth a cursory inspection by the hardcore. On the positive side, the well-recorded Spiral Galaxy 28948 demo is a fascinating glimpse at the origins of a Warrior highlight, and the birth of Motorhead as a song / concept / attitude is celebrated with three different versions. It has to be said that the original – plagued by lethargic Lemmy vocals and unnecessary violin/sax embellishments – pales next to the far less familiar, incendiary Brock-fronted version where gnarly guitar takes centre-stage and blistering synths do battle in the mid-section.
Accompanying the two CDs, the boxset includes a DVD containing Wilson 5.1 surround remix and a flat 96hz transfer of the master tape. Unfortunately, current technical limitations prevent me from commenting on the 5.1 mix but, so far, the reception has been enthusiastic. Also included is an illustrated booklet featuring a new Brock interview where previously obscure nuggets of trivia are revealed. Lastly, the contents are housed in an attractive hinged box featuring the original front cover artwork.
Overall, the whole package is more than worthy of such an important album in the Hawkwind discography and a landmark in 1970’s rock music. Highly recommended to established fans and the casually curious alike.