|Sonic Attack Atomhenge reissue CD review
Atomhenge continue their reissuing of long-unavailable Hawkwind albums with 1981's Sonic Attack and
1995's Alien 4. Of these two titles, only Sonic Attack is provided with extensive extras and so it's the one
that gets the Starfarer pennies (and review). My understanding is that Alien 4 has just one bonus track
which has previously seen the light of day on a Dave Brock solo album, so I didn't buy that.
As has become customary, the mail order service from Cherry Red and album packaging from Atomhenge
are exemplary. This album comes with a cardboard sleeve for the CD jewel case and a 24-page booklet,
which I haven't read yet - but a quick shifty reveals it contains sleeve notes by Mark Powell, a few familiar
period photos of the band, lyrics, credits and extra detail concerning provenance of the unreleased / bonus
tracks. Which is very welcome, since I attempt to keep track of this stuff for hairy-arsed Hawkwind fans
As is my normal practice I won't attempt to review (much) the original album, which comprises Disc 1,
other than to note the enhanced audio quality. Familiar as this NWOBHM-inflected album is, I noticed some
new things about it such as the rhythm guitar chording in the coda to Angels of Death, and how much this
album is a duel between Dave Brock's brutal, overdriven riffing and Huw Lloyd-Langton's taut, glossy lead
guitar. It might be the Hawkwind album that has more of Huw on it than any other. The contest between
them extends beyond the arrangements to the songwriting, with Rocky Paths and Psychsonia exemplifying
Huw's contribution while Angels of Death and Streets of Fear are in the mould of classic Brock numbers
(not that the credits entirely bear this out). But Living On A Knife Edge and Lost Chances completely
integrated these two very different styles.
The bonus tracks on Disc 2 open with the 7-inch single versions of Angels Of Death and Transdimensional
Man, which aren't all that rare now. Angels Of Death in this format is most notable for fading out
prematurely but Transdimensional Man is always welcome to the ear and was far too good to have been just
the B-side of a single. Things get interesting with the 3rd track in, the "first version" of Sonic Attack. Of
course the first version came out in 1972, featuring Bob Calvert's insouciant yet bleak vocal narration. This
is not a patch on that, featuring Dave Brock denunciating the lyrics over a fairly pedestrian synth backing.
He does all the usual things on this, mangling the word 'simultaneously' by pronouncing it as
'simewtaneously' and much is lost in the atmospherics by the narration of the words as if they were to be
used for the famous four-minute warning of nuclear annihilation which inspired Michael Moorcock's lyrics.
[An aside this, but I never believed the government would have made any attempt to warn the unwashed
populace of armageddon. We would all have gone to a fiery Valhalla in blissful ignorance.] Of course the
track Sonic Attack didn't really work on the original album for which it was named, either, where Harvey
Bainbridge's stentorian exhortations over a rolling musical backing also paled in comparison to the relatively
minimalist Calvert rendition. Brock's narration avoids the pitfall of overelaborating as Bainbridge's did, but
both are missing the subtlety of Bob Calvert's arch, knowing delivery on the original 1972 version.
Out Of The Void is the next title on Disc 2. This is an instrumental piece, all keyboards over a galloping
drum machine, which is recognisable as an embryonic take on one of the Church Of Hawkwind tracks, I
think 'Experiment with Destiny'...which subsequently acquired a voiceover from Harvey Bainbridge along
the lines of "People function...dreaming their dreams..." It's fairly brief and gives way to the extended
version of Lost Chances. Which sounds like a completely different, rather than merely an extended version
of the track, opening with a murky, swirly, flanged rhythm guitar and perhaps greater prominence awarded
to the keyboard parts in the mix. Overall it comes across as a far more guitar vs. keyboards affair, with
Harvey's swoops and arpeggios recalling the Stonehenge Decoded track that was to appear a couple of years
later. The ending is different too, fading out with Huw warbling away.
The 'alternate version' of Streets of Fear is less hard-edged than the one that (rightly) made it onto the
original album, but is otherwise not very different from what we already know. This one should be filed
under the title of "an interesting stage in the evolution of a Hawkwind number." It does do another long
slow fade with lots of Huw's lead guitar, which is starting to seem like a pattern on these bonus tracks.
Except that Devilish Dirge (next up) is nothing like that - it, like Out Of The Void a couple of tracks back, is
an early version of something that was to appear in final form on the Church Of Hawkwind album, namely
the almost-title-track, 'The Church'. This one is a bit more thumpy -that drum machine again- with some
buzzing, droning guitar accompanying the keyboard melody. The End Of Earth City is similar in that it
prefigures The Fall Of Earth City from the Church Of Hawkwind album (it and Sonic Attack were recorded
in the same sessions, after all) but offers a sonically murkier, softer signature than the final product. The
version here has a less histrionic vocal delivery and a dreamlike faded coda which brings to mind the moves
the band made on Paranoia way back on their first album.
The Speed Of Light is the name afforded to the demo version of Transdimensional Man, and it has a lighter,
more keyboard-dominated arrangement that contrasts with dark, treated vocals. The keyboards go all
interestingly vampish towards the close of the song, in a way that's almost jazzy. But the closing number,
an extended version of Living On A Knife Edge resets the template that is now becoming discernable as the
key to these bonus / unreleased tracks. It is longer than the version that appeared on the original Sonic
Attack album, with an extended intro and some quite different sounding guitar - darker, mushier almost, and
with greater depth of effects (flanging or phase-shifting, here). The song structure seems pretty much as
the final version was to observe, with the extended instrumental middle section prefiguring the lovely coda.
And then there is an extended section of this too, which is instrumental, and devolves into a staccato,
understated resolution. Which is also the end of Disc 2.
One problem that Atomhenge have made for themselves is living up to the quality of some of their earlier
resissues, and this one is not quite in the top tier, for my money. What it does do is present some hitherto
unheard material that is notable more for how these songs developed than as titles that stand up on their own
merit. Of course it is still a must have album for the serious Hawkwind fan. But you knew that already,
didn't you :-)