|Warrior on the Edge of Time - Atomhenge reissue
As most probably already know, Atomhenge's reissue of the Warrior on the Edge of Time album comes in
three degrees of self-indulgence. For those who look no farther than obtaining this long-deleted album on
CD, there is a 1CD version. This provides the original of the 1975 vinyl album, plus a bonus track,
Motorhead (b-side of the 1975 single).
The next edition up is a 3-disc effort in a clamshell box, comprising 2 CD's and one audio-DVD. But for
those mentally deficient enough to cough up Â£75 (hi there!) the line-up is completed by the Warrior box
set. This adds a poster, three postcards, replica ticket from a 1975 gig, a colour booklet measuring 8" x 8",
the vinyl album, and a handsome box in which all this, the 2 CD's and audio-DVD are provided. The
booklet contains several rare but by no means previously unseen photos (where did they get these, eh?!) and
sleeve notes by Malcolm Dome, which contain a few "I didn't know that" nuggets of information. Overall,
lavish is the word.
Remastered 1975 stereo album mix:
-Assault & Battery / The Golden Void
-The Wizard Blew His Horn
-The Demented Man
-Standing at the Edge
-Spiral Galaxy 28948
-Kings of Speed
-Motorhead (b-side of 1975 single)
-Soldiers at the Edge of Time (Michael Moorcock version)
-On the Road
-The Wizard Blew His Horn (Nik Turner version)
-Spiral Galaxy 28948 (demo)
-Soldiers at the Edge of Time (Nik Turner version)
-Motorhead (Dave Brock vocal version)
-Kings of Speed (instrumental version
Aurally, this remastering job seems to have more punch in the mid-to-upper range, requiring a hasty
readjustment of the graphic equalizer from the M-shape that I usually favour to something more like a tilde
( ~ ). Assault & Battery's mix emphasizes the heavy, phased keyboards and, er, cowbell. On The Golden
Void, Nik's sax is low in the mix after the first chorus, but gradually wells to the surface as he starts to solo
soulfully -his undoubted best sax playing- but ebbs away in a couple of spots as he hits a few mundanities.
As this is not a new "mix" per se, but merely a remastering, one is presumably able to pick up details like
this on account of an enhanced clarity of the aural experience. There is a degree of trepidation regarding
what this will do for the next track, The Wizard Blew His Horn. The answer is that it is markedly
experimental in the way that the mix boosts, and then abruptly shuts off the wall of white noise behind
Michael Moorcock's strident vocals. I have largely come to dislike his occasional vocal contributions in
particular, and the often-Moorcock-penned spoken word pieces that Hawkwind do, in general: and the
Wizard Blew His Horn is an extreme example of both. But, it works far better than these prejudices of mine
ought to allow. There is a real menace in the pairing of effect-laden, twisted, elongated cymbals and synth
noises, with Moorcock's snarling. "The Snow Snake hissed! ...and the world turned Black!" manages not
to sound silly despite the lyrical constraints and more-than-faintly ridiculous concept of this, er, piece.
Opa-Loka also does something one might not have expected from a mere remastering job. There are two
options here, one is to emphasize the melodic upper layers, which feature diaphanous clouds of synthesizer
trills, meandering flute and wah guitar figurines. The other course, which is the one taken, is to focus upon
the Motorik rhythm of the thudding drums-and-bass combination. This is one-note vamp is sometimes
labelled as Hawkwind's closes approach to krautrock. It is as far as I know the only track featuring Dave
Brock playing bass, and his approach to it is unique - an off-the-beat thrumming that makes Opa-Loka what
it is. Simon House apparently played it when they did this one live, but it certainly would have been a
completely different number had Lemmy not fallen asleep in a chair the day it was recorded.
The Demented Man seems to do something similar in terms of the remastering coming across like a
different mix, but, by reason of being a proper song, the effect is less striking. Here, the vocals and
acoustic guitar are to the forefront, the seagull noises and lead guitar colourings being somewhat subdued.
It is perhaps slightly less satisfactory in consequence. But Magnu is as magnificent as ever, with perhaps
more mid-range snarling guitar noise in the apparent mix than before. There's that cowbell again in the
middle of the song, along with some muted guitar chording not noticed hitherto. The drum orchestra of
Simon King and Alan Powell really step to the fore in this remastering, but it's difficult to hear anything else
that's been relegated by way of compensation. When the second chant of "fear be diminished by the reign
of light" comes in, I recall that my old vinyl and Dojo CD copies had a sudden boost in treble frequencies as
this tension-laden passage builds, kicking over the triple-bass drum beats which crescendo into the coda and
fade out. That boost is not here, indicating it may have been a mastering fault on the original 1975
recording. However it's hard to say whether there is some treble that's been taken away from the coda, or
if it has been boosted (corrected) throughout the track. (My mucking around with the graphic equalizer
may not have helped, here.)
Standing at the Edge is not an old favorite (as noted previously) and seems to gain / lose nothing in
particular from the remastering. Perhaps the faded-out synth chords have some extra resonance, which
certainly applies to the opening notes of Spiral Galaxy 28948. This was Simon House introducing the rest
of the band to 6/8 time, and he dominates proceedings on keyboard and solo violin, though Dave Brock
carves himself a niche with his syncopated, almost jangling strum. Lemmy adapts well too, with a stately,
rolling bassline. Mr. Turner's warblings of flute are as per normal and various synths / keyboards whistle
and trill as expected.
Warriors is the last of the last spoken-word Moorcock pieces on the album (though I must listen to it all
three times, and to various bonuses on the theme, yet!) and the only audible difference is the stark noise-
gating on the treated vocals as they go utterly mad (even more than MM normally does) as this "number"
climaxes. Not that it's anybody's idea of the soundtrack to an orgasm, surely.
Dying Seas may have drawn the vocals a little deeper into the mix, stressing the growling, revving guitar
chords, synthy twitterings and occasional colourings of lead sax. As with The Demented Man, it's slightly
disappointing. Although this is probably because the ear has grown used to hearing the album a certain
way, and therefore entirely subjective.
Kings of Speed was always an anomaly on this album, being a straight-ahead rock song rather than the "lost
trance-rock classic" that most of the other tracks became. As is usually the case, when Hawkwind attempt
to be "normal", they fail - the wheezy, capering violin where most bands would have put a guitar solo gives
the game away. But what I always liked best about it was the absolutely killer rhythm guitar sound, which
could fell trees at 20 feet. It seems not to have boosted here, but the lead guitar overdubbing in the fade-out
seems quieter than before.
We are now into the bonus tracks, starting with the 1975 single Motorhead, featuring Lemmy's vocals,
baritone (?) sax grunting and a very organic sounding violin solo. These latter aspects sit rather oddly
alongside the power riffing of guitar, bass and drums. One thing it did do, on previous CD reissues of
WOTEOT, was round the album off a little more smoothly, coming after Kings of Speed which was
therefore less like an appendage hanging off the album proper. On this particular reissue, with a number of
further bonus tracks following, it also provides a nice transition to these 'extras'. The first of which is
Soldiers at the Edge of Time (Michael Moorcock version). This does what I expected, really - treated
Moorcock vocals given a similar effect to those of the other vocal pieces...overblown lyrics about death...a
few funny noises. Ho hum.
Next up, On the Road sounds like it should have been on the first album, or even something before it: this
could have been one of Dave Brock's busking numbers, featuring a trebly-sounding acoustic guitar and
harmonica. As befits its embryonic provenance, it's brief, and then we get the dubious pleasure of The
Wizard Blew His Horn (Nik Turner version). Well, it could have been worse. This hasn't the omniscient
threat of Moorcock's version, and Nik seems to deliver the lyrics hurriedly, losing much of the
atmospherics despite the cloaking of his narrative in layers of echo and reverb. Moorcock's version is to be
Spiral Galaxy 28948 (demo) follows, and as before, it starts off with overdriven, knife-edged keyboard
chords. The bass / drums / distorted rhythm guitar punctuate the chord changes and then it swings into
life. The keyboard arpeggios are bright and breezy, similar to the stuff Dave Greenfield did on early
Stranglers albums. (Think "Get a Grip On Yourself".) The jangling rhythm guitar is brighter and higher in
the mix than on the finished version, and this is a more dynamic arrangement, having the guitar and
keyboard drop back to give space to Lemmy's bass riffing for a few bars. Which is almost jazzy, but has a
touch of the Geezer Butler about it, too. Then the main motif is taken up by the lead guitar, and a few
differently-orchestrated staccato repetitions of the opening riff seem to be closing this out...but the main
sequence resumes. The song repeats this trick once more before fading out. Now this is what I call a
Soldiers at the Edge of Time (Nik Turner version) - this is probably a little stronger than the Moorcock
version heard a few tracks ago. Nik's voice is tailor made for this kind of "dalek" vocal treatment. But it's
all still laughably histrionic. Moving swiftly on...
Motorhead (Dave Brock vocal version) - as released on a single (b/w Valium Ten) by Flicknife, about 30
years ago. Stripped back to drums (Alan Powell) and Lemmy's bass, with all the rest added by Dave
Brock. Primarily guitar (higher in the mix...dominant, really) and vocals, with a few inconsequential
squiggles of synth off to the sides. These synth colourings are really pretty risible, standing in for where
there ought to be a lead instrument here and there, but overall this works better than the lusher-sounding
1975 single. The reason is that powerful, thrashing rhythm guitar, but Brock's vocals are notably better
than Lemmy's too.
CD1 finishes with Kings of Speed (instrumental version) which isn't new, having appeared previously on
the Independent Days album that Flicknife put out in 1985 or so. I've remarked before how the absence of
a vocal brings out all the layers of the musical underpinning, so it makes a good inclusion.
New stereo mix by Steven Wilson:
-Assault & Battery / The Golden Void
-The Wizard Blew His Horn
-The Demented Man
-Standing at the Edge
-Spiral Galaxy 28948
-Kings of Speed
-Motorhead (instrumental demo)
-Watchfield Festival Jam
-I Am the Eye
However much you try to objective about an exercise like this, reviewing music is always almost completely
subjective, even before you take into account the equipment you're using to listen to whatever it is, room
acoustics, etc.. But to these ears, Assault & Battery has a warmer, more open sound with Steven Wilson's
new mix. The rhythm guitar, always difficult to pick out, lays down a carpet of grind with the rolling
keyboard chords and pulsing bass overlaying it. The relative levels of everything else (drums, vocals, flute)
are about where they always have been. Everything seems to have an extra layer of upper-register sparkle
too. The same applies on The Golden Void, although here the keyboards are noticeably quieter, again
allowing the rhythm guitar more aural elbow room. It doesn't so much cut through as dominate the mix,
especially in the instrumental fade-out, where everything else seems to drop out completely for a bar or so.
Golden Void rocks out much harder given this. Stunningly good.
The Wizard Blew His Horn scales back the musical underpinnings behind Michael Moorcock's narration,
but seems to soften his delivery slightly. It's more musical than the remastering on CD1, but the quid pro
quo is the loss of the experimental touches to this track. Wilson also goes somewhere slightly different with
his remix of Opa-Loka than the remastering did. In fact he has taken the opposite course to the one I
described earlier, giving prominence to the breathy, feathery layers that overlie the pulsing krautrock
rhythm. It's definitely more to my taste than the CD1 version, but we are back to subjectivity again with
that observation. Sticking with it, The Demented Man seems to get a more sympathetic treatment from
Steven Wilson's remix. This comes across as more balanced between acoustic guitar - vocals - other
instrumentation. The mellotron breathes, and all those clever touches of guitar feedback blend in
seamlessly. There are also some wordless backing vocals which I have never hear before featuring in the
outro. Where did they come from?!
Magnu continues the open, airy feeling of this remix, taking Nik Turner's slabs of drawn-out sax notes
down in the soundscape so that they function more as a rhythm instrument than as a lead voice. The lead
guitar is mixed higher on the bridge, and the instrumental passage that follows it lifts up some of the
swirling synth tones hitherto lost in the soup, along with a few bursts of surging lead guitar. In fact this
seems to be a section of the song that been edited down on previous releases, and what we have here may
be "the original" from which all other studio versions have been cut. The instrumental passage between the
second verse of the "fear be diminished..." chant also seems to be longer. It certainly enhances the
hypnotic, driving quality of this number. The abrupt jump in treble towards the end is also not here on this
remix. But where it differs from the CD1 remastering is that Steven Wilson's remix sounds like the extra
sparkle has been present all the way through the track (and indeed the album, thus far anyway.)
Standing at the Edge is similar to The Wizard Blew His Horn, being smoothed out and easier to listen to.
Still not exactly a paean to the genius of all concerned, but that would be too much to hope for. What can
be hoped for is that Spiral Galaxy 28948 will benefit as much from Steven Wilson's remixing as everything
else on the album seems to. And it does, offering a crystal clear view of said galaxy. Balance and clarity
are once again the touchwords. Breathtakingly good...a shame Warriors segues on from it, where there is
not much to be gained from the remix. Can't polish a turd, to put it as harshly as possible!
Dying Seas seemed a little muddy or claustrophobic on CD1, by comparison to this production. If anything
Mr. Wilson has unveiled a little too much, with the elevated rhythm guitar sounding slightly brittle at first:
but that's momentary, and it snarls and grinds away superbly as the song progresses, Nik's sax losing
ground in the mix to compensate. Though it does achieve prominence when he starts to squawk and squall
in the final chromatic crescendo with which this fades out.
Kings of Speed is another one that might not benefit all that much from this clearer, brighter remix. It gains
bite and loses depth. The lead guitar on the fade-out is bought down in the mix, which is a good thing, but
here is one instance of the original max / remastering probably doing better by a particular song than Mr.
Wilson's treatment achieves.
For the bonus tracks on CD2, Motorhead (instrumental demo) is a one-dimensional affair, but what a
dimension it is. Where I expressed a preference for the Dave Brock vocal version over the 1975 single
version, it was because the guitar dominated the song. Here, shorn of vocals and synth parts, it's nothing
but the pure essence of the song. Drums, guitar and bass are all there is, and are perfectly balanced,
allowing you to marvel at the ripping, snarling, hard rock machine that was Hawkwind's rhythm section a
that time. And then Lemmy got his infamous drug bust - so this is an aspect of the band that they never got
to develop. One can only imagine what Hawkwind would have achieved had they been able to pursue this
direction. (We got "The Aubergine That Ate Rangoon" instead.)
Dawn has been issued before under the name of "Dawn / Sunrise". Despite the booklet's note that this was
recorded in the studio in March 1975, it sounds more like a live track, a festival jam, although the sound
quality is not compromised as that kind of derivation would probably suggest. This is a cross between Hash
Cake 77 and the succeeding track, Watchfield Festival Jam. Which is aurally enhanced from what we've
heard before, but the limitations of the sound quality (swishyness on the cymbals, muffled vocals, muddy
guitar) are uncurable. As the Hawkwind Codex notes, this particular version has been released previously
and actually comprises a medley of is â€œYou Shouldnâ€™t Do Thatâ€� linked to the first 26 seconds of â
€œBrainstormâ€� by a jam called dignified with the title of â€œElementsâ€�. Still, it's a lot more dignified
than the next track Circles, where the muddy, boomy sound has degenerated further. I once called this a
primal throb, and that is being kind. But Circles is kind in return, by fading out after 4 to 5 minutes. In
comes the last track on CD2, I Am the Eye. Again from Watchfield Free Festival on 23/08/75, it's been out
before and has the same issues as the other two Watchfield tracks here, which aren't really addressable by
any remixing or remastering (if that has even been done on these bonus tracks). And those issues really
also include lack of songwriting credentials. These bonus tracks are only here to make up the numbers.
This is limited to the tracklisting of the original 1975 album (from Assault & Battery through Kings of
Speed), but in these three different flavours:
-5.1 Surround Sound mixes by Steven Wilson:
- New stereo mixes by Steven Wilson (96KHz / 24-bit)
- 96KHz / 24-bit flat transfer of the original source master tapes
I'll leave it to the audiophiles to comment on these.
This was an album that always sounded wonderful on vinyl. Indeed, the 1992 Dojo reissue of WOTEOT
on CD was sourced from a vinyl copy. (And included the same bonus track, Motorhead, sourced from a
vinyl copy of the 1975 single.) I am also pathetically pleased to report that Atomhenge have properly
configured the sleeve of the album, which folds out into the Chaos shield, and reproduces the Barney
Bubbles-illustrated inner sleeve (albeit in a matt, rather than gloss finish). As I foolishly let my vinyl copy of
the album go once I had it on CD, I have missed this.
Playing the record (this being my third listen to the album today!), it is at once comforting and familiar, an
old friend. There has been much said about the audio qualities of vinyl v. CD, with the consensus being that
CD's superior sound reproduction lacks the warmth of vinyl. Warrior on the Edge of Time would certainly
seem to bear this out, the peculiar defects of the medium serving to complement the aural signature of the
album. It hasn't the upper-to-mid-range presence of CD1 in this package, nor the brilliance and clarity of
the Steven Wilson remix. But there is a charm to the overall sound that neither of the CD mixes can attain.
(And no mastering fault on Magnu, either.)
I suppose the question arises as to which of the three formats reviewed here I would choose to listen to
from here on out. For the most enjoyable audio experience, the vinyl. For convenience, which effectively
trumps other considerations, the Steve Wilson remix on CD2. I would certainly recommend buying the
most lavish edition that you can justify spending the money on.
Atomhenge must have all-but-completed their programme of Hawkwind reissues but this one tops the lot.
How nice to see they've garnered a commercial reward for it, Warrior on the Edge of Time having entered
the UK Top 40 album charts (at number 37...) As with their other Hawkwind album reissues, Atomhenge
have improved the sound quality (give or take the vagaries of the media on which it's delivered), dug up
some hitherto unknown bonus tracks, and excelled themselves in the overall packaging - if one is willing to
pay the price for it. And all this for Warrior on the Edge of Time - arguably Hawkwind's best album
(depending on one's taste) and the one which has been unavailable for longer than any other of theirs. Many
fans have been waiting literally decades for this, and no wonder it has charted. It's not perfect (think
spoken word numbers and Watchfield bonus tracks) - but what else can you give it, other than 10/10?