By Adrien Begrand
Hawkwind’s influence on rock music has been immense, but it seems that metal has really picked up on space rock over the course of the last decade, not only when it comes to strictly old school prog bands like Litmus, Black Mountain, and Astra, but more forward-thinking bands as well, such as Minsk, Zoroaster, and Nachtmystium. There’s something about that hard-charging yet trancelike music, that psychedelic lyrical imagery, the occasional acoustic forays, and of course, those unmistakable swirls of oscillating electronic tones that sound wickedly cool on record and practically make you dizzy when heard at ear-bleed volume live; there’s something there to appeal to the freak folkers, the indie rockers, the prog rock nerds, and metalheads alike. And when you listen to Hawkwind’s seminal 1971-’75 period, including such albums as In Search of Space, Doremi Fasol Latido, Hall of the Mountain Grill, and the timeless Space Ritual, you can’t help but think that this stuff would sound absolutely amazing when reworked in the metal milieu.
Well, that’s exactly what three talented bands have done on Neurot’s superb new release Hawkwind Triad, as North Carolina psychedelic sludge band US Christmas, Neurosis guitarist Steve Von Till’s solo project Harvestman, and talented Chicago band Minsk offer their own takes on 11 great Hawkwind tracks. It’s an idea that might seem disjointed on paper, but remarkably, although each band has their own unique strengths, there’s a cohesiveness to this record that you never see on most other tribute albums. All three bands put their own stamp on the originals, but at the same time, the reverence for Hawkwind is always present, and nobody ever strays too far away from that space rock sound. This isn’t like Beck and other indie musicians pretentiously turning a jubilant INXS song into a smug, mopey dirge; these musicians know just how powerful this music is, and they do their very best to capture that feeling.
US Christmas’s approach is the most straightforward. Taking that classic Dik Mik “audio generator” sound and going absolutely nuts with it, they crank up the volume on some of Hawkwind’s more riff-oriented fare. As a result, the performances of “Master of the Universe”, “Orgone Accumulator”, “Psychedelic Warlords” and “You Shouldn’t Do That” absolutely smoke, the sextet settling into an unrelenting, vicious groove to the point where you feel they could just keep going for hours if they could. Von Till’s song choices, meanwhile, tend to focus on Hawkwind’s mellower fare, his understated versions of “D Rider”, “Down Through the Night”, and the Lemmy classic “The Watcher” working well, his growled voice taking on a Tom Waits-like quality. Top marks, though, go to Minsk, however, as they take on a pair of epic tracks and turn in triumphant performances of each. “7×7” is ferocious, Yakuza frontman Bruce Lamont contributing some terrific saxophone solos, and the towering 12 minute “Assault and Battery/The Golden Void” is undoubtedly the strongest track on the entire CD. Meanwhile, their version of the acoustic number “Children of the Sun” is surprisingly effective, the conga percussion and Lamont’s flute an inspired touch.
Only does Harvestman’s reading of “Magnu” verge on sounding ordinary, but that’s but a small hiccup on an otherwise outstanding one-off. Those already familiar with Hawkwind will get an enormous kick out of what these three bands have done here, and for listeners who have never heard Hawkwind before, this is a very cool introduction to that great band, and hopefully this CD will send kids scurrying to used record stores (and more likely torrent sites) in search of the originals. It’s very rare that we get a tribute album this strong, and Hawkwind Triad is the best such release since the 2007 Eyehategod tribute album For the Sick. It’s a keeper.