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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Hawkwind

The Chronicle of the Black Sword

Review by Gary Hill

Hawkwind had a friendship with the science fiction author Michael Moorcock – he actually joined the band at one point. It should seem no surprise, then that they would do a concept album based on his Elric series. This disc came during the group’s more metallic period and therefore rocked out pretty heavily. It is a concept album and quite a successful one and does a nice job of representing this era of the group.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Song of the Swords
A mysterious keyboard droning leads this off. Then the band launch into a mean sounding metallic grind over which the lyrics ensue. This is a crunchy, smoking number that has a classic Hawkwind sound on the chorus with layered vocals. A swirling guitar solo follows in quick order. This is strong opener for a great disc.
Shadow Gate
More sedate keys, with the sound of birds serve as the first sounds here. Then a chirpy sort of swirling guitar line enters followed by another, more melodic keyboard line. Guitar weaves lines of melody over this backdrop as it carries forward. This keyboard-based instrumental is pretty typical of this type of track that the Hawks generally put on various albums. It’s more of a mood piece than anything else, but does feature some solid melodies.
The Sea King
Another metallic Hawkwind tune, this one rocks out quite well, and I’ve always liked it a lot. The chorus on this, with its riff based structure and keys weaving over the top is a nice touch. The track features some interesting guitar lines and some trademark whirring keys. This is one of the highlights on the album.
The Pulsing Cavern
Here we get another keyboard based instrumental interlude. This one has a definite mysterious and majestic tone. It’s pretty, but also dark. While the keys are the main focus there are other instruments in the mix, too.
Elric The Enchanter
Percussion opens this one and the first vocals are sung over this accompaniment. It moves out to a less heavy jam that is another solid one. The chorus here is once again the strongest part of the cut with its layers of sound. From there they lead out into a more riff oriented prog progression. This cut really has a lot more changes than a lot of Hawkwind tracks, which often times derive a lot of their power from the overlayers moving in subtle ways. Those over layers on this one, though, add an air of exotic mystery a lot of the time. This is another highlight of the CD.
Needle Gun
While this one is a little on the generic side it’s always been a favorite of mine because it’s so darn catchy. It’s a metallic romp that’s a lot of fun.
Zarozinia
“Zarozinia” is not an instrumental, but actually a keyboard driven ballad. This is a beautiful cut that is quite dramatic. It’s another of my favorites from the disc. It is classic Hawkwind.
The Demise
The sound of an explosion leads this one off. Then other odd sound effects join. A distorted, processed echoey voice is thrust amongst a lot of strange sounds and laughter. This cut is really just a short transitionary one.
Sleep of a Thousand Tears
Here the band launch into a triumphant sounding, crunchy Hawk jam that’s quite effective. They drop this down to a keyboard-dominated interlude later that’s a nice touch. The jam that fires up from there also works very well.
Chaos Army
This is a short piece that connects the two songs. It’s basically a noisy keyboard solo that picks up a lot of percussion (still keys, I think) towards the end.
Horn of Destiny
Another crunchy rocker takes over from there in typical Hawkwind fashion. They pull it down for a keyboard and effects laden guitar dominated interlude for good effect mid-song. The same noisy keys from “Chaos Army” appear here, too. Those keys take it for quite some time until a processed scream ends the piece.
Arioch
This is a frantically fast almost King Crimson like jam. It’s a nice change of pace and includes some intriguing changes in almost neo-prog fashion – you might think of Dream Theater if you are hearing this for the first time. They run this through a number of alterations and turn it dissonant at times. This one is a smoker, and I believe ended the original release of the album. You might also think of some of Rush’ material like “La Villa Strangiata” when you listen to this piece.
The War I Survived (Live)
The first of two live tracks added to the end of this disc, this scorcher is another hard-edged fast paced Hawk jam. I’ve always really liked the studio take on this, but this one is a little too fast and not very clear in its execution. The chorus pulls together nicely, though. The segment where various members of the band get solos and such is nice, though.
Voice Inside Your Head (Live)
They close the disc with this live instrumental cut. It’s another from the smoking hard-edged period of the group. They drop it back to a space segment, though. While having these two songs is a nice addition, I personally think the disc would probably be a stronger cohesive unit without them.
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