Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Albums of 1973: Hawkwind: Space Ritual


Release Date: May 11, 1973

Members: Dave Brock (guitar); Nik Turner (saxophone, flute); Lemmy (bass, vocals); Dik Mik (electronics); Del Dettmar (synthesizer); Simon King (drums); Bob Calvert (vocals); Stacia (dancer and visual artist)

Produced by Hawkwind

Side One: Earth Calling; Born to Go; Down Through the Night; The Awakening

Side Two: Lord of Light; Black Corridor; Space is Deep; Electronic No. 1

Side Three: Orgone; Upside Down; 10 Seconds to Forever; Brainstorm

Side Four: Seven by Seven; Sonic Attack; Time We Left This World Today; Master of the Universe; Welcome to the Future

Hawkwind stood out as a unique voice in British rock during the 1970s incorporating elements of psychedelia, progressive rock, science fiction, and proto-punk.  Throw all these elements together and one gets "Space Rock." Sci-Fi writer Michael Moorcock often contributed lyrics for Hawkwind; their live performances were improvisational blending technology with poetry. They've built a daunting catalog over the decades (35 albums) with a rotating group of members. 

Hawkwind already released three studio albums prior to their genre defining 1973 live album Space Ritual taken from two concerts performed in December of 1972. The album begins with "Earth Calling," an aural track of spaceship sounds setting up the listener for what's to come. Then the hypnotic and sonic attack of "Born to Go," lyrically about escaping to space as a place to break boundaries, counterculture meets Sci-Fi:

We're breaking out of the shell
We're breaking free
We're hatching our dreams into reality

"Down Through the Night" continues with infectious bass riffs, imagining a space bound crew of immortals in a state of hypersleep. Another poem, "The Awakening" muses on the state of hypersleep and the new form humanity might take, "a clear century of space/away from earth." 

"Lord of Light" has Utopian visions of "from the realms beyond the sun," bass driven with a long saxophone solo. "Black Corridor" is another spaced themed poem, possibly inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey. "Space is Deep" combines electric guitar, synth, and more space age poetics, "Electronic No. 1" serves as a synth interlude. 

"Orgone Simulator" borders on industrial-psychedelia rock, the lyrics muse on a futuristic technology (virtual reality) that gives one a sense of omnipotence. "Upside Down" explores the disorienting haze of space travel, all distortion and ennui. Another spoken word track, "10 Seconds of Forever" imagines a space traveler looking back at their life.

"Brainstorm" is evocative of a paranoid astronaut with brooding lyrics about fears of being turned into a machine and losing one's humanity. Musically it's a rush of muscular electronic noise and ethereal landscapes with relentless powder keg drumming.

"Seven by Seven" is Wagnerian in scope and theme. Moorcock contributed verse for "Sonic Attack" a dark vision of space travel and potential future incarnations of humanity. A war song for the space age, "Time We Left This World Today" breaks into chants amidst an electric fog. Nietzsche type lyrics on "Master of the Universe" point the way towards a modern metal sound. "Welcome to the Future" was the final track on the 1973 release (reissues added more tracks) serves as a benediction of sorts from the future.

Space Ritual is a unique experience for those open to it. Hawkwind's aggressive and occasional melodic sound offers a splintered vision of the future. Galactic travel serves as both a means of escape and freedom but could also spell doom for humanity where it will lose itself in technology and repeat the mistakes of the past on a cosmic scale. 


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