Space Ritual (EMI '73, ’01) Rating: A-
I don’t know all that much about Hawkwind other than that Lemmy was in the band, science fiction writer Michael Moorcock was associated with the band, they have a hardcore cult fan base, tons of albums (official and unofficial) from various lineups, and they were a big influence not only on Motorhead but on later space rockers such as Monster Magnet. This double cd live whopper is often considered a good starting point and is generally placed among the band’s best albums, and though I have no doubt that the band was even more impressive in person (where a light show and dancer Stacia increased the “far out” factor), this album is indeed an impressive, one-of-a-kind listening experience. My first thought when hearing this album was “man are these guys acid fried!,” my second “boy these guys ROCK!” (especially for 1973). Featuring expansive readings of songs from their first three studio albums, in particular Doremi Fasol Latido, these messy, chaotic jams often approach and even exceed 10 minutes, and though many of these songs don't need to be so long, I generally don't overly mind their length either (perfectionists these guys 'aint). By and large, the band's repetitive, churning grooves reach a cumulative power, while simple, repeated chants are what often pass for vocal melodies. Also, Bob Calvert adds alternately ominous and often unintentionally hilarious spoken word interludes that add to the album’s trippy ambiance, though I personally would prefer a few less such asides. Still, for all the album’s faults (character-less vocals are another weakness, though these are an afterthought anyway), which makes it a decidedly dated period piece, these guys do have what I call the surge that all the great hard rock bands have. Not that Hawkwind were a great band, but they were definitely very good and they get my blood pumping when unleashing their massive grooves, whose sole mission is to stomp you into submission. Various effects (wind noises and the like) and Nik Turner’s blaring, bleating sax squawks add to the uniqueness, while an appropriate metaphor for the band’s sound would be to close your eyes and picture yourself hurtling through a vast black hole as meteors blaze by you in all their cosmic glory. Perhaps that’s overstating things, for there’s nothing pretty about the band's music, which I guess would be best appreciated while “under the influence” (hence the band’s reputation as “stoner rock” pioneers). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating taking drugs, more like trying to make a point that this is a “need to be in the mood for it” sort of album. Yet when in that odd sort of mood, the band’s monstrous surges and unholy mix of the sublime with the ridiculous is hard to resist. Play it LOUD.

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