United Artists 1975 / Atomhenge 2013
The crowning crystallization of the Ladbroke Grove troupe’s poetic justice and cosmic vision.
This band have always been riding a paradox – their hippie scruffiness still goes against the well-honed grain of progressive rock – but only a few of their peers were able to fly as far where the HAWKS dare.
Somewhat belligerent from the off, despite their peaceful streak, the band totally turned into intergalactic nobility on their fifth LP polishing sonic aggression and taking it to the wholly new level for the lines by Shelley, Longfellow and Michael Moorcock to meet the most memorable melodies. Covered previously with aural patina, now the album received its due remastering – and, on expanded editions, Steven Wilson’s remix that gently shifts emphasis from the vocal harmonies to the lead voice as well as from Nik Turner’s reeds to Dave Brock’s axe – to sound refreshingly retro-futuristic as befits the work of such stature.
From the arresting attack-and-release of “Assault And Battery / The Golden Void” on, the sextet roll on a magnificent chug, the urgency of Simon King and Alan Powell’s drums embroidered with hazily rendered synthesizers passages and anchored with Lemmy’s booming bass that grooves fiercely in the kraut funk of “Opa Loka.” Gothic in its plexus of jazzy sax and rumbling guitar riffs which reach their zenith in the “Magnu” percussive, folk-kicking shamanism – getting additional deranged minute in a new mix – and the fiddle-spruced “Dying Seas,” but easy on the ear in a pop fashion. The album’s ever-expanding universe holds bluesy moodiness and the pregnant tension that’s so wonderful in the flamenco-like elegance of “The Demented Man” wherein Simon House’s meandering keyboards add serenity to the birds-tweet backdrop.
Here the “Dark Side Of The Moon” sort of lunacy is in play, with an adventurousness factor at the fore even when thunderous soundscapes build up in the art-pop bliss of “Spiral Galaxy 28948” or surround Moorcock’s recital in “The Wizard Blew His Horn” and “Warriors.” But then closing single “Kings Of Speed” rocks and rolls high enough, especially on the voiceless bonus take, to reconnect all the fantasy spaceballs to the band’s local scene, although it turned out to be not so glorious in the case of Lemmy who’d soon be caught with the song’s titular drugs in America and thrown out of the group to mangle up the theme in “Ace Of Spades” by his new ensemble taking its name from that ’45’s B-side, “Motorhead,” which the bassist wrote. Its sax-spiked original, adorned with a jig-shaped solo from House, shares the space on this reissue with an instrumental run-through and a psyched-up, guitar-heavy version with Brock at the mike, alongside assorted demos, previously unreleased tracks such as the country ditty “On The Road” that harks back to the collective’s early days, and live cuts from 1975.
There, the scruffiness takes its pride of place again and gets edgy, as the HAWKS have always been – still are. Yet “Warrior On The Edge Of Time” remains their most brilliant prize: of only for a moment, the hippies snatched the Grail.