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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Litmus

Planetfall

Review by Gary Hill

Fans of Hawkwind, rejoice, Litmus has arrived to help to fill your space rock craving. These guys are about as close as you can get to Hawkwind without Dave Brock and company actually being on board. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Hawkwind should be very flattered. This disc really sounds like what mid-era Hawkwind would have produced had they had just a bit more crunch in their music and pulled a little more pure prog into the mix. Hawkfanatic that I am, I can tell you I’ll be following these guys with equal abandon from here on out. This is one of my favorite discs of the year.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Destroy the Mothership
Space keyboards start this in fine fashion. These undulate and grow. A voice that sounds like a Cylon from the old Battlestar Galactica gives the order to destroy the Mothership. The band launch into a scorching hard-edged jam that reminds me a bit of “Assassins of Allah” mixed with “Brainstorm,” both songs from Hawkwind. This screamer is a great way to lead things off. It includes some incredible bass work and a killer guitar solo.
Tempest
The riff that leads this off (encircled by space keys) feels a bit like “Silver Machine.” The cut shifts a bit darker in a way and this is crunchier than anything Hawkwind ever did, but not by much, but you’ll definitely find yourself in a Hawkzone here. The vocals even convey that sense and spirit. They move this out into a killer jam later that has more of a progressive rock space rock tone to it, and I hear hints of psychedelia in the mix. Keyboards take it after a crescendo and pull it into the next cut.

Lost Stations
More crunchy jamming starts this off, but keyboards bring melody in over the top. The vocals come in and the music drops back in response. This reminds me a lot of something from the Warrior At The Edge of Time era of Hawkwind. Certain sections here remind me more of Hall of the Mountain Grill. This might well be my favorite track on show here. We have a stellar vocal arrangement, layers upon layers of keyboards swirling and dancing around and all built upon a backdrop that is a smoking hot space rock progression. It just doesn’t get much better than this. As the rock sound falls away it is replaced by weird keys that eventually turn to a chirping sound to actually end the track.
Under the Signs
Killer hard rocking textures lead this one off with a touch of Eastern tones. While the Hawk keys still wander over the top, and no one would ever mistake this for metal, it’s the most metallic sound we’ve heard so far. We get some killer keys peaking on this. Then they drop it way back up and come back up to a pulsating jam that feels like “Master of the Universe.” This turns into a total very early Hawkwind-like jam. This becomes such a killer early Hawkwind inspired jam. It’s like Doremi Fasol Latido on steroids. At over fifteen minutes in length this epic is the second longest track on the disc. They turn this towards the end into a weird, doomy grind that’s an interesting change up.Towards the end keyboards take it into space that threatens to end the piece. Instead they pound it back out into a reprisal of the song proper.
Planetfall
This rises up from the lull formed by the crescendo that ended the previous track. It comes in with a more psychedelic ballad approach. The keys wandering over the top and the vocals, though, keep the Hawkwind sounds at the forefront. This doesn’t move far from its origins, but instead gains everything from intensification. This wanders straight into the next piece.


Psychic Projection
Coming out of the last one, keys dominate this one for a time. This powers out into a killer Chronicle of the Black Sword era Hawkwind-like sound. It’s another killer track on a disc that has no weak ones. This turns into one of the highest energy jams on the disc and is a sheer powerhouse. Once again this segues straight into the next cut.
Singularity
If Hawkwind did a song with Black Sabbath it would probably sound a lot like this scorcher. The bass dominated section is more purely Hawk-like in sound. This turns into a major spacey jam as it moves on. It’s just plain another killer track.
Helios
Waves of keyboard textures start this one off and hold it alone for a time. Eventually percussion joins and other lines of keys take prominence. Recorded sound-bites of speaking show up in the mix. This never really moves from this general ambient, sound-effect oriented keyboard dominated state, but moves through some interesting variations in its execution. This is probably the least Hawkwind-like track on the disc.
Expanding Universe – Twinstar Pt. 2
At over 17 minutes in length this is the longest track on the disc. It rises gradually upward from the sounds that ended the last number. The guitar sound at first comes across as a dark metal, but then takes on a sound not unlike a more stripped down take on “Assassins of Allah.” By the way, yes, I know that song has another title, but it was also released under this name and it’s easier to spell. This grows ever so gradually. It alters into a very triumphant sounding mode that takes it for a while. Then they thunder out into a metallic Hawk-like jam that combines Electric Wizard with the Hawk-meisters. The vocals here almost remind me of Gary Numan, but still have a Hawkwind type texture as well. This moves out into a more standard rock abandon, but with Hawk-type keys sweeping over the soundscape. A thundering droning takes over and waves of keys soar over this backdrop. It shifts out into something more purely metallic, but still the keys remain – sort of like an early Metallica riff with space-keys laced over the top of it. This eventually drops back down to something more akin to old Hawkwind, but elements of metal still creep into the mix. They pound through with this new segment for quite sometime in a metallic take on older Hawk drones. At around twelve minutes in a smoking, hard rock and roll guitar solo takes it in new directions. Still the keys and Hawkwind-like rhythm section keep it firmly grounded in space rock, but hints of metal show up on this backdrop. The vocals return around the thirteen and a half minute mark and we’re back to the earlier modes of the number. After a time in this mode it moves back to more sedate structures to finally take the track to its close. All you can say when this is over is, “what a ride!”
Machine Age
Here we get a more raw, fast and furious slab of space rock. This is a pretty killer cut, too. It’s a little more punky, and is probably the least “spacey” of anything on the disc. Keys swirl up mid-song and move the song temporarily in new directions. Then a killer guitar takes it. From here it works its way into more noisy space for a time before returning to the main musical themes, with a frantic bass line to continue. Here’s where it starts to resemble older Hawkwind. Waves of keys swirl here and there mingling and playing counterpoint with the spoken vocals. The chorus returns to ground it. Keys segue it into the next track.
Far Beyond
Here we get another fast paced chunk of Hawkind inspired space. The overlayers have a bit more of pure progressive rock sound to them and this is extremely hard-edged and fast. The chorus has an almost poppy hook to it. This turns into a killer guitar dominated jam later with the Hawktones all over it, still. The guitar solo turns very tasty. The bass creates a droning sound in the backdrop for a time, then swirls out in a dancing pattern to hold the cut down in a new way. This turns into a rather metallic buzzing sort of approach as it continues. Then it drops back to just bass drums and keys before firing back up in the fury that came before. Keys swirl and scream across the top. This has a controlled chaos sort of texture to it. They resolve out into a segment that feels a bit like the harder rocking sections of “Spirit of the Age,” then move back into that chorus. A rather punky rock and roll guitar solo takes it before they end it with a crescendo.
Planetfall/SETI
This instrumental fades up and continues some of the musical themes from earlier in the album. It drops back to just keys for the "SETI" part. This begins to resemble radio signals and white noise and the like. This is appropriate since SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) is the group that sends out radio signals to space in hopes of getting a response back. While this is kind of cool, I think that the reprise of “Planetfall” would have made a stronger conclusion without this little piece of ambience.
 
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