Hawklords – Censored
For those uninitiated in the long and complex history of Hawkwind, the origin of spin-off band Hawklords could take an entire review to explain in itself. The Hawk family of bands have a history so convoluted that it makes Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar look rather simple by comparision. Truly, they are stranger than science-fiction. Suffice it to say that The Hawklords are mostly ex-members of space rock legends Hawkwind, including synthesist Harvey Bainbridge, guitarist Jerry Richards, vocalist and performance artist Ron Tree and (until recently) bassist Adrian Shaw. The band is today completed by drummer Dave Pearce, Shaw’s bandmate in The Bevis Frond, and now includes young bassist Tom Ashurst. They are currently finishing up their Infinite Loop tour promoting this album, Censored, which is the third in a series of interesting, punky releases of increasing quality and originality, beginning with 2012’s “We Are One” and continuing with last year’s “Dream”.
“State of Emergency” opens with the spacey, menacing synths Bainbridge has mastered over the years, complete with sci-fi voice samples, before the thrashy punk sound that has become the band’s trademark crashes in. The lyrics here are political, continuing Tree’s use of urban imagery, and the music compliments this with a mix of angry guitar lines and dirty sounding synthesizers, that add grittyness and backbone to proceedings. “Damned” continues in the same vein, a musing on the modern media containing some of the albums best lyrical wordplay from Tree as well as an excellent short poem by regular collaborator John Crow. Fans of Calvert-era Hawkwind will love it, and Shaw’s bass is great here.
“Forever” is much less punky, showcasing Richards’ acoustic guitar licks and Bainbrdge’s distinctive, twittery synth stylings. Ron Tree has some unique vocal inflections on this track, too, and parts have a good deal of similarity to ex-Hawkwind saxophonist / madman Nick Turner’s “D-Rider”. Next up is “Induction”, a dramatic reading of a poem by long-time Hawkwind guest and inspiration, sci-fi author Michael Moorcock. For those familiar with “Warrior on the Edge of Time”, you will know what to expect. Windy synths and strange voices ensue, with Ron Tree really giving it his all. It is very much of its genre, but very fun, and entertaining sheerly due to Ron Tree’s feral, over the top delivery of the text. I live performances, he even reads it from a long, home-made scroll, which is truly a site worth seeing.
“Sonic Seven Kiss” is a return to the punky, energetic side of the band’s output, and has some great rock guitar work. The lyrics and vocal delivery are very Robrt Calvert, which is certainly no bad thing, and the track is probably the most similar in style to classic 70s Hawkwind of the lot. “Starstuck” is quite a departure, an acoustic ballad with wonderful performances from everyone involved, not least Harvey Bainbrdge and his synth soloing. The lyrics are quite powerful and different, and the whole thing is strangely poignant. “It’s What You Wanted” is firmly back to space punk, a very catchy savaging of the political class and media machine. If any track on the album feels like a good radio single, it’s this one, complete with groovy guitar solos and an excellent beat for some serious boogieing (yes, you can boogie to space rock).
The gorgeous instrumental “Soma” gives Havey Bainbridge a chance to show of his atmospheric synth work and is a pleasant breather, offering space to the album as a whole. “Catwalk Chic” is an expose of vaccuous fashion culture, a brilliantly catchy slice of punk that would make an excellent b-side to “It’s What You Wanted”. The wordplay is great and the rhythm has a hint of the mothership’s 1970’s classic “Urban Guerilla” about it in places. It is also complimented by a great picture of Ron and Jerry in the accompanying booklet that epitomises the cutting humour behind the band’s best work.
“Upside Down Man” is a slower, introspective song, rounding off the album’s themes of censorship, corruption and gutter press predation in a wonderful way. Finally, the band take a bow for “The Well of Forever”, which has strong links the 1980s Hawkwind songs on albums like “Levitation” that Bainbridge helped to craft. A good offering, this finale builds in an almost Floydian manner towards a repeated mantra about life and death, referencing similar themes to the previous album, “Dream” (namely the power of dreams, funnily enough).
After closing the album itself on a strong note, the CD has one final surprise, the demented, appropriately named bonus track “You What”. Aside from its loungey bass track, drum fills and synth effects, the most memorable part of this track is the bizarre vocal samples, involving phrases such as “We can’t seem to get the top of this cleaning stuff open”, “We think your father never loved you!”, “Goodbye, Sweetie!” and, best of all, “This is my friend Emma: Hi Emma!” in increasingly disturbing voices. It really is a masterpiece in its own right and never fails to raise a laugh out of me, but it really must be experienced for yourself.
In relation to the other Hawklords albums, “Censored” is an improvement on an already solid concept, delivering quality, original music very different from the current incarnation of Hawkwind but in a fashion loyal to its fanbase. What really shines through is that the Hawklords are having fun making this music, that they have a sense of humour and, as good as the music is, it isn’t some po-faced prog rock project but a polished, punky powerhouse. It is very true to heir excellent live shows, too, which are well worth popping along to. At the rate that they’re going, I fully expect another great release this time next year, and if they continue to improve at the same pace it can only get better.