Hawkwind Triad CD review

Featuring U.S. Christmas / Harvestman / Minsk - Neurot Recordings 2010 .  Thanks to Dave Brown for
this review
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I bought this album after reading a thread on the Yahoo Hawkwind Group.  I was intrigued.  I don't
normally buy tribute albums as I generally find them a mixed bag, with a few nuggets among the dross.  
However "Hawkwind Triad" seemed to be getting a favourable reaction from some fans, so I took the risk
and parted with my hard-earned cash.

Blimey!

The first thing I'll say is that if you're not particularly a fan of the United Artists era of Hawkwind, you may
not like this album.  However if you are familiar with the albums from "In Search of Space" through to
"Warrior on the Edge of Time", and you think "Space Ritual" is the pinnacle to which Hawkwind have never
quite soared as high again... then this CD is definitely for you.

All the tracks are from at least one of those albums, and  the first thing you notice is that they are faithful
renditions of the versions on those albums. Hence "Master of the Universe" sounds like the "In Search of
Space" version, not the "Space Ritual" one, "Down Through The Night" is definitely a cover of the track
from "Doremi Fasol Latido", and so on. The second thing that comes through in these recordings is the
familiarity and respect that the three bands have for the material.

However, it's what these three bands do with the material that (in most cases) makes this such a good
listen. All the chords and vocals are where you expect them, and you can immediately sing along with each
track the first time you play it, but it's the WAY they're played...

You know when Star Trek visits the Mirror universe, and everything's the same but different? This is what
Hawkwind might sound like in the Mirror Universe. This is Hawkwind refracted through The Looking Glass
by three competent bands who obviously have a fondness for the EMI years. Like listening to Hawkwind's
Evil Anti-Matter Twin, there is a cavernous Gothic majesty to these renditions of familiar songs that was
always potentially there, but never fully realised by Hawkwind themselves, except perhaps on "Space Ritual".
Hawkwind songs are often covered by similar "psychedelic" or "space rock" bands, but these three come
firmly from the "Metal" and "Grunge" end of the spectrum, making this album all the more interesting for
the fact that these songs aren't being played much differently to how they were 40-odd years ago.  
Hawkwind were already playing in the style of Goth and Grunge in the 70s...they just hadn't realised it.

U.S. Christmas
-Master of the Universe
-Psychedelic Warlords
-Orgone Accumulator
-You Shouldn't Do That

Self-described as a "psychedelic rock" band, U.S. Christmas's (aka USX) sound is typified by distorted
guitars, wailing screeching vocals and a deep "wall of sound" aural landscape.  Of the three bands here,
USX probably approach the closest to the "Space Rock" genre, which may be why they have the most
success with their covers.

"Master of the Universe" is (as previously mentioned) a take on the version from "In Search of Space", and
it captures the slow brooding menace of the original perfectly. Conversely, unlike Nik's somewhat low-key
vocals, USX singer Nate Hall's voice is high-pitched and shrieking, which may not be to everyone's taste,
but lends this version a startling originality.

"Psychedelic Warlords" is slightly more restrained vocally, but then that's not saying much for USX, and
this version "opens up" the landscape of the song more than the original, filling any available gap with
enough synthesizer bleeps and burps to warm any Hawkwind fan's heart.

"Orgone Accumulator" and "You Shouldn't Do That" also do USX proud, and show that the band has a deep
respect and "feel" for this era of Hawkwind.  However playing both with USX’s trademark full-
production aural assault does leave less room in the mix for vocals (particularly noticeable during "Orgone
Accumulater" where unlike Bob Calvert's almost spoken delivery, USX have to scream to be heard).  This
vocal style does give USX's contribution an urgency and excitement that perhaps didn't exist on the
originals, but all four tracks still fully deserve to be played at high volume.

Minsk
-7X7
-Assault & Battery/The Golden Void
-Children of the Sun

On the other hand, while also describing themselves as "psychedelic metal", Minsk tend somewhat towards
the "doom metal" end of the genre, with the psychedelic aspect of their sound being more tribalistic than
USX.  Sadly they don't do Blanga that well, and so their take on "Assault & Battery/The Golden Void" is a
missed opportunity.  Although on it does sound interestingly as if it's been done by "Cradle of Filth", to my
mind Minsk seem uncomfortable playing the iconic “Warrior" track, and have produced a slower and
more flatly-paced version.

"Children of the Sun" isn't much better...but then it isn't much worse either, sounding pretty much identical
to the original (not a particularly dynamic track anyway), with Minsk's vocal style accurately mirroring Nik
Turner's.  However Minsk redeem themselves with "7X7" which is by far their best effort - an atmospheric
and well-paced cover of the live "Space Ritual" version that suits their doom-laden style well.  Each time I
play it I almost expect it to segue into "Sonic Attack"!

Harvestman
-D Rider
-Down Through The Night
-The Watcher
-Magnu

Harvestman is is actually Steve von Till, guitarist and singer with doom-metal band Neurosis, recording
under his solo nom de plume".  Von Till's solo work tends to feature folk and acoustic influences, and this
shows in his choice of covers.

Harvestman's vocals are distinctly American, so his cover of "D Rider" differs noticeably from the
"Mountain Grill" version featuring Nik's very English vocals.  However musically it captures the pace of the
original version excellently and Dave Brock's compact rhythm guitar style well.  â€œDown Through The
Night" is also a faithful rendition of the Dave Brock version from "Doremi�, compete with synth swirls
and background "wind" effect.

"The Watcher" however, falls somewhat short.  Although it retains that disturbing minimalism from
Lemmy's acoustic version, it perhaps travels too far (and too slowly) in search of that extra edge of 21st
Century bleakness, and this combined with the flat growling vocals make it a somewhat turgid cover.
"Magnu" on the other hand is a resounding success, perfectly evoking that "howling winds of eternity" feel
of the original.  Held together with an excellent imitation of Brock's forceful riffing, this is Blanga at its best,
and a track that deserves to be played loud.

All in all though, there are far more hits than misses on this CD, and tracks like "You Shouldn't Do That"
and "Magnu" in particular could be live Hawkwind with guest vocalists.  I put the CD on for the first time in
the car and went out to do the weekly shopping. By the time I was on the way back I had the volume
cranked up, the windows down, and was singing tunelessly along!  If you like "Space Ritual" and "Doremi",
you will love this CD, and you may well find yourself revisiting and reappraising the lost "UA" era of
Hawkwind.

-Dave Brown