Down The Hole, Bumped Her Head And Bruised Her Soul: A Day Of Hawkwinding

Legendary psychonauts Hawkwind formed in 1969, and after 49 years and a roughly equal number of line-up changes, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Dave Brock is the only original member left in the band. Of course, Hawkwind are famed for having once featured Mr Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister in the ranks. But no matter who’s played what or when for Hawkwind, the space rockers have essentially followed the same transdimensional flight path: oozing magick and madness.

Hawkwind have brought brain-twisting joy to legions of baked, fried, and otherwise sky-high and astral-traveling fans over the years. And the band’s intoxicating influence on metal—see artists like Neurosis, Bong, Om, Ufomammut, Oranssi Pazuzu and a million other heavyweight psionic explorers—is all too apparent. Umpteen electronic, stoner, punk, and psychedelic rock groups owe a huge musical debt to Hawkwind as well, but people often forget just how revolutionary Hawkwind were.

Black Sabbath’s arrival may have signaled the death knell of hippie rock utopianism, but Hawkwind’s mix of kaleidoscopic electronics, primitive metal, and their visionary proto-punk attitude was plenty dark and hedonistic, too. Hawkwind mined esoteric and arcane veins, and their second album, 1971’s In Search of Space, slammed into the Top 20 UK album charts with considerable countercultural impact.

Hawkwind wanted to free their fans’ minds and unshackle their last remnants of conformity as well. The band’s anarchic music sparked that process, and plenty of weed and LSD helped things along. Hallucinogenic concerts sealed the deal with third-eye-expanding light shows, waves of electronic stonk, and pounding space rock mantras. (And visual artist Stacia’s body-painted dance routines set plenty of wild hearts aflame in the early 70s, too.)

If you’re a fan of psychic warfare or pixie dust, Hawkwind’s got tales galore to share, but they mixed streetwise stories in amongst their sci-fi and fantasy fare as well. Their commercial heyday extended from the early 70s to the early 80s, and their continuing creative arc has admittedly been a roller coaster ride at times. The band have shown mesmeric flourishes while steadily producing new music, but they’ve also released piles of unimaginative filler and a gazillion unnecessary live and compilation albums.

To their credit, Hawkwind have maintained a hardcore cadre of fans throughout their career, and they’ve seen a resurgence in crowd numbers and media attention in more recent times, as their 30th album, 2017’s Into the Woods, managed to receive plenty of critical applause.

But all that praise isn’t the focus of this Hawkwindian feature. Instead, some of the Last Rites crew have gathered below to focus on Hawkwind’s legacy. We’re shining a light on a number of bands who’ve been inspired by Hawkwind’s intergalactic and/or wizard-battling missions. Sure, a couple of underrated albums from Hawkwind’s golden years are featured below, but they’re included mostly to help set the mood. After that, it’s bands who’ve carved out psych-fuelled routes to the stars, while tipping their respective hats to Hawkwind along the way.

So spark whatever you need to spark—or ingest whatever you need to ingest—it’s time to crack open the cosmic egg, man. [Craig Hayes]

Hawkwind – Doremi Fasol Latido (1972)

My love for Hawkwind’s 1972 release, Doremi Fasol Latido, is eternal. But even I would have to admit that it isn’t as revered as other heyday Hawkwind releases like In Search of Space, Space Ritual, Hall of the Mountain Grill, or Warrior on the Edge of Time. Partly, that’s because Lemmy and drummer Simon King joined Hawkwind before Doremi Fasol Latido’s recording, which brought a new dynamic to the band. But Hawkwind also took a rawer musical approach on Doremi Fasol Latido.

Lemmy actually joined Hawkwind thinking he was going to play guitar. But he ended up playing bass, having zero previous experience in that role. Lemmy found a swift solution for that issue, though—he simply cranked the volume on his amp and played his bass like a rhythm guitar. That down-and-dirty fix quickly became a signature part of both Hawkwind and Motörhead’s sound.

Thundering (and stargazing) Doremi Fasol Latido tracks like “Brainstorm” and “Space is Deep” delivered hard-hitting and primordial prog metal, and surging synths and aggressive riffs and percussion combined to set a hypnotic pace throughout the album. Doremi Fasol Latido‘s influence on the tripped-out accent and trance-like momentum of abundant metal and acid/stoner rock bands is incalculable. (And plenty of noise, drone, and grungier bands cite Doremi Fasol Latido as a crucial inspiration, too.) Sure, the album is rough around the edges, but its resounding echo is still heard to this day. [Craig Hayes]

Hawkwind – Levitation (1980)

Hawkwind have always been popular with metal fans (riffs, drugs, nudity, aliens and sorcerers—what’s not to love?) and the band’s 1980 album, Levitation, ticked all the boxes for rivetheads. Hawkwind had been shaken by yet more dramatic changes to the line-up before recording Levitation, and it was their first studio release following the exit of vocalist and lyricist Robert Calvert. The record could well have been a total fucking disaster, but much of its high-octane success comes down to the adrenaline-pumping and NWOBHM-friendly guitar work of six-string hero Huw Lloyd-Langton.

Ex-Cream drummer Ginger Baker dug in and pounded the hell out of the skins on Levitation, and the album saw Hawkwind jettison much of their Arcadian frolicking for a much harder urban attack. Urgent anthems like “Motorway City”, “Who’s Gonna Win the War”, and the punked-up title track featured fiery riffs and even more scorching leads. (And tense and driving guitar was tightly woven around cosmic synth on “Space Chase”, “World of Tiers”, and grunty electro-rocker “Dust of Time,” too.)

Sadly, Hawkwind struggled to follow up on Levitation’s creative success, and one could argue that this was the last truly classic Hawkwind release, even if 1985’s The Chronicle of the Black Sword, or 1992’s Electric Tepee still satisfied plenty of diehard fans. Levitation is a sizzling slice of red-hot psychedelic rock, and Hawkwind were one of the first heavy bands to use digital recording technology to capture the album’s crisper and punchier sound. In that sense, the space rockers were once again ahead of the times. Although, Levitation also marks the final time you could ever say that about Hawkwind. [Craig Hayes]

Witch – Witch (2006)

There was a time in my life when I appreciated stoner/space rock a lot more than I do today. Any number of reasons can be blamed for the separation, but the nuts & bolts rationale mostly deals with the fact that the 2018 version of me simply lacks the patience needed to deal with much of the genre’s largely repetitive jam band mentality. There are exceptions to that rule, of course, but generally speaking, if you’re ten minutes into a song that just spent the last five minutes frying a monotonous lead over a looped bong hit and there’s still ten minutes left to wander, I’d rather mow the neighbor’s yard with a pair of scissors. Generally speaking.

Accordingly, most of my time spent with the sons and daughters of Hawkwind today is awarded to those who divvy trippiness with a little more…discretion. Witch is just such a band, and their self-titled 2006 debut offers all the raw, burned-edged psych rock that a band like Hawkwind peddled to perfection, but it manages to do so in a tidy 40 minutes spread out over seven wholly independent songs—that last element being key.

If you’re unfamiliar with the band, there’s a fair probability that you’re at least aware of one of their members, J. Mascis, whose signature approach to feedback has been showcased on enough Dinosaur Jr. albums over the years to award him a signature Fender guitar. With Witch, he returns to his original instrument of choice, the drums, and his role adds the perfect level of punch, kick and energy to make sure these songs never become too wrapped in extraneous THC highjinks and endless EMS-VCS3 weerp-weerp-weerping.

Something that Witch works to their advantage here that unfortunately becomes diminished with record #2 (2008’s Paralyzed) is the added dose of early Sabbath/Vitus doom that colors the psych-rock edges. Actually, it’s more than just an adornment, as most of the riffs throughout Witch have some semblance of Iommi or Chandler, but it’s definitely more pronounced during the album’s darker, slower cuts, like the fantastic ode to Hallow’s Victim that kicks off “Black Saint,” or the plaintive Sabbath nod that is the closer, “Isadora.”

It’s the Hawkwinding we’re gathered here today to wed, though, and Witch’s debut dished enough lo-fi acid in those leads leads LEADS to trip the balls off the ghost of Tim Leary six feet under. If you can’t at least catch a contact high off the cosmic dust blown across your dome by opener “Seer,” you must have Tipper Gore in your family tree. And the mind-expanding lead at the heart of the otherwise fiery “Soul of Fire” that drifts all the way to its closing seconds is pure space, baby. Tack the decidedly different, nasally-but-cozy-as-hell vocals from guitarist Kyle Thomas to the overall program and you’ve got a page torn from the Hawkwind treasury that’s unique enough to get labeled as some kind of “indie sounding” trip to Saint Psybbathhawk. High, but not high enough to think the government’s tapped the leftover meatloaf in the fridge. [Captain]

Comets on Fire – Field Recordings from the Sun (2002)

Comets on Fire have been on hiatus for a number of years now, but the garage/psych/noise rockers produced some intense music in their prime. Comets on Fire’s 2002 freakout, Field Recordings from the Sun, was recorded on four tracks, and the raw blast of acid-scorched jams sounds like MC5 careering head-on into Hawkwind. Much of Comets on Fire’s earliest music mixed fiercely overdriven sonics with more celestially minded strolls, and the band’s feverish tracks stretched time while wrapping fuzzed-out riffs around all sorts of Echoplexed-to-fuck weirdness.

Comets on Fire’s music grew increasingly composed as time went on. But even after signing to Sub Pop and releasing more structured (and higher profile) releases like 2004’s Blue Cathedral and 2006’s Avatar, Comets on Fire still delivered a hard-psych riot. Tune in, drop out… you know the dealio. [Craig Hayes]

Monster Magnet – Spine of God (1991)

For the record, it should be said that nobody ever accused Monster Magnet of subtlety. But while New Jersey’s scuzziest disciples of Hawkwind have pledged a clear fealty to space rock, they have also injected plenty of garage swagger from the Stooges and MC5 over their nearly three-decade career. Dave Wyndorf & co.’s Monster Magnet began their career with an essentially perfect four-album run that includes Spine of God (1991), Superjudge (1993), Dopes to Infinity (1995), and Powertrip (1998).

But for my money, Spine of God still reigns supreme in part because the band was still working out exactly how to blend their disparate influences. This means that some of the songs swerve from a stoner rock groove into psychedelic effects overload with little warning, or from chunky riffing into a spacey free jam. The overwhelming impression, however, is of a band simply having a blast stuffing all the sounds and drugs they can fit into a single, unruly package. “Nod Scene” flutters between acoustic strumming and phased vocals on the one hand and grunge-adjacent riffing on the other, alongside some of Wyndorf’s gleefully crude, often free association-style lyrics (“Pussy scratch ‘n sniffing a Playboy / Christ, I’m a good-lookin’ man.”). “Black Mastermind” and “Sing’s a Good Man’s Brother” both bring in a touch of Sabbath-style blues riffing and some tightly rolled tambourine.

But on Spine of God as on so many of their finest albums, the Magnet really shines on the longer-form scuzz-freak explosions. The chorus of the title track has a hugely swinging swagger, but the song as a whole remains one of Monster Magnet’s finest achievements, with a modal verse structure tinged with sitar, whispered threats, static, feedback, and other unidentifiable bad-tripping sounds. Album closer “Ozium” rides a chintzy sounding synth up a neon escalator to glory, sounding at times like a more self-aware Velvet Underground. And just like Hawkwind at their prime, the song unspools into a droning, repetitive jam that aims just as fervently for outer space as it does for the dirt at your feet. Monster Magnet differs somewhat from many other similarly space/psych minded acts because so much of the focus is on Wyndorf’s beat pornographer charisma, but that’s a huge part of what makes them an unironic success: Wyndorf really sells the whole package with a wink that’s less in-joke than invitation. After all, as he sings on “Snake Dance,” “Go go go / I’m so fucking stooooooooooooooned.” [Dan Obstkrieg]

White Hills – Heads on Fire (2007)

Prolific New York duo White Hills were top challengers for the 21st-century space rock crown for a time. I say ‘for a time’ because the band’s earlier releases, like 2007’s Heads on Fire or White Hills’ 2010 self-titled album, are really where Dave W. (guitar and vocals) and Ego Sensation (bass and vocals) locked into their most Hawkwind-like grooves. White Hills’ hypnotic rock is built from dense layers of fuzz and reverb, and the band mixes heavier guitars with more ambient instrumentation and effects, all of which means their tempo is often as motorik as it is space rockin’.

White Hills capture the otherworldly spirit of Hawkwind by mixing phantasmagorical explorations with far-out supernova jams, all the while paying tribute to Hawkwind’s legacy of “dystopian futurism.” If you’re a fan of deep space or inner space voyages, all of White Hills’ early releases deliver rocketing satisfaction. And the band’s 2011 album, H-p1, also features plenty of smokin’ songs. [Craig Hayes]

The Cosmic Dead – The Cosmic Dead (2011)

The self-titled full-length debut from Glaswegian quartet The Cosmic Dead was 80 minutes long, and the album’s final track, “Father Sky, Mother Earth,” featured 40 minutes of astral-planing and amp-melting madness. Releasing an album or a song that long is a creative gamble, but The Cosmic Dead succeeded in their astronomic endeavours and made their love of monumental psyche-fucking odysseys abundantly clear.

The Cosmic Dead have released a swag of live and studio recordings over the years, and the majority have featured epic-length tracks constructed of blown-out lysergic rawk. However, that’s not all there is to the band. The Cosmic Dead have also born witness to collapsing galaxies and darker revelries, and like Hawkwind in their heady prime, The Cosmic Dead often work heavyweight hypnotic riffs over and over while conjuring shadowy psychedelic visions.

The Cosmic Dead unfailingly deliver colossal and imaginative songs that’ll satisfy your appetite for genuinely far-out, long-form, and acid-spiked stonk. But there’s also a continual tension in the band’s music, where darkness struggles with light, and it’s from that creative clash that The Cosmic Dead’s most mind-crushing music emerges. [Craig Hayes]

Acid Mothers Temple – New Geocentric World of Acid Mothers Temple (2001)

The Japanese psych rock scene sprang up at much the same time it did in other parts of the world, with a pair of its most influential bands, Les Rallizes Dénudés and Flower Travellin’ Band, each getting their start in the late ‘60s. For this initial generation of Japanese bands, then, it could hardly be said that they were influenced by Hawkwind; rather, it’s likely more accurate to say that they, like Hawkwind, were responding to similar trends in psychedelic music at the time.

Those early roots eventually bloomed into an incredibly prolific scene of psychedelic music in Japan, including all manner of space rock, prog rock, noise, and other avant-garde offshoots over the years. While Boris is likely the name Western metalheads are most likely to be familiar with, some of the most prominent and artistically fruitful acts from this later wave of Japanese psych rock skew far away from metal. One of the most prolific contemporary acts is Acid Mothers Temple (often stylized as Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O.), an unabashedly psychedlic rock band led by guitarist Kawabata Makoto. (Also highly recommended from this more modern class of artists are Ghost and Boredoms. Try Lama Rabi Rabi from the former and Vision Creation Newsun from the latter for a brief crash course in expanding the inner eye.)

With a discography as dense and varied as the Acid Mothers Temple, there’s almost no wrong (or right) place to jump in, as their music spans the gamut from contemplative drone to pastoral folk to pure, blistering Hawkwind space rock to incredibly abrasive, long form free jazz/psych freak-outs, often all within an album or even within a given song. Although my personal favorite Acid Mothers release might be their 2012 tribute to Miles Davis’s late 60s/early 70s electric phase, Son of a Bitches Brew, a more rounded introduction to the band’s impossibly dense world of sound is 2001’s New Geocentric World of Acid Mothers Temple.

New Geocentric World gets straight down to the business of blowing your square mind into an undulating rainbow of concentric circles on the twenty-one minute opening track, “Psycho Buddha.” If ever the spirit of Hawkwind’s landmark Space Ritual was present, it is here. The rhythm section stays tightly locked into a hypnotic, repetitive hyperspeed groove while all manner of shrieking chaos rains down from all angles. Makoto weaves in a slow-moving solo of almost one-third speed wailing around halfway through, but by that time, we’ve already seen mountains of additional percussion, various saxophones and flutes, bagpipes, and a panoply of effects. The jam continues underneath for all twenty minutes, but eventually Makoto’s guitar grabs more and more of the frame, letting loose with feedback while a swell of static and drone gradually builds. It’s simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating.

The rest of the album is as sprawling and scattered as that first is focused. Shorter pieces like “Space Age Ballad,” “Mellow Hollow Love,” and “Universe of Romance” are calmer but no less weird, playing at times like the meeting point of the Beatles and Fairport Convention at their strangest, but always with an additional sheen of bizarro space effects and random noise. “Occie Lady” sounds like a garage rock homage, but its eight minutes are splattered with the harshest frequencies of red-lined drums and effects pads panning wildly from one side to another. And then, if that wasn’t enough diversity for one already overstuffed album, the closing track “What Do I Want To Know (Like Heavenly Kisses Pt. 2)” is a fifteen-minute drone symphony that brings a brilliantly chaotic album to a satisfyingly calm resolution.

Acid Mothers Temple may not sound exactly like Hawkwind very often, but influence is a tricky needle to thread. Instead, if you sit with each of them closely you will soon notice that what truly binds them is a single, admirable trait: restlessness. [Dan Obstkrieg]

Naam – Naam (2009)

I’d estimate that 90% of the bands on Tee Pee Records’ roster have been inspired by Hawkwind at some point in time. Mind you, one could throw the influence of Spacemen 3, the Stooges and the almighty MC5 and Black Sabbath into the mix too. Point being, many of Tee Pee’s best bands fly the space rock flag while simultaneously waving kosmische, doomier, or punked-up rock ’n’ roll banners. Case in point: heavy psych crew Naam, whose music features multiple strains of swirling psychedelic rock, and whose 2009 self-titled full-length (and their follow-up concept EP, The Ballad of the Starchild) both feature lengthy forays into the darkest and doomiest reaches of deep space rock. Naam’s mammoth and mesmeric sound is groove-heavy and thick with a red-eyed haze, and while the band combine squalls of synth and effects with muscular psychotropic riffs, crisper prog and grittier and grungier rock all make an appearance as well. [Craig Hayes]

Nebula – Atomic Ritual (2003)

Nebula formed in 1997 when a couple of members of desert rock pioneers Fu Manchu exited that band after deciding that space rock was where it’s at. (I mean, that’s not factually accurate, but hey, it suits this narrative.) Like fellow steel-edged psych warriors The Atomic Bitchwax or Monster Magnet, Nebula draw a lot from high-octane ’70s rock, and they also inject hefty doses of proto-metal and biker rock into their sound. The band’s debut, 1999’s To the Center, was released by Sub Pop Records and featured plenty of fuzzed-out stoner rock, but future releases found Nebula quickening their pace and ramping up the feedbacking mayhem.

Nebula recently returned from a lengthy hiatus, so if you’re looking to reacquaint yourself with the band, 2003’s Atomic Ritual is the perfect place to start. There you’ll find Hawkwind’s influence lurking alongside the echo of The Stooges, Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath. Atomic Ritual resonates with raw, vintage energy, and the album features abundant production punch, thanks to the present-day studio wizardry of desert rock guru Chris Goss. 
[Craig Hayes]

SubArachnoid Space + Walking Timebombs – The Sleeping Sickness (1999)

I’m freaking out, man.

You are freaking out… man.

Released in 1999, this collaboration between instrumental psyche-rockers SubArachnoid Space and guitarist Scott Ayers (Walking Timebombs) was apparently recorded three years prior, far closer in time to the noisy, heavy, trippy, jammy psyche-rock of their debut than to the more polished sometimes-near-metallic post-rock of their closing. Regardless of chronology, The Sleeping Sickness is a brilliant journey through hypnotic psychedelia, rife with clanging and jagged guitar freakouts and space-rock drones.

From start to finish, The Sleeping Sickness is effectively one continuous piece, separated into sections named after variations on a theme, and it’s an enveloping listen, from tip to toe. By the album’s midpoint, its more than evident that the band’s improvisational weirdness is focused spot on, as squalling feedback of “Sick And Sleeping” sits atop calamitous drumming from Michelle Schreiber, leading into the Hawkwind-ian freakery of “No Sleep For The Sick.”

Still, as good as its first half is, perhaps not surprisingly, The Sleeping Sickness‘ true center lies in the two-part title track that effectively closes the album. (The actual closing track is a long bit of silence and then a much shorter song.) Over a bouncy droning groove from Schreiber and bassist Jason Stein, guitarists Ayers, Mason Jones, and Melynda Jackson toss off chiming chords and generally twisting spaciness, all weird angles, reverbed-out clashes, and oddball dissonant interjections, and the whole thing builds almost to a complete explosion before closing with just Schreiber’s lone drums, picking up the beat and taking it into the nothing, and then gone. The whole of The Sleeping Sickness is quintessential space rock, and space rock that actually rocks, hazy and widely expansive through a sheen of slightly doomy moodiness.

Come along and freak out, too. [Andrew Edmunds]

 

Posted by Craig Hayes

Semi-literate hobgoblin, full-time shark obsessive, old-school nincompoop.

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