Hawkwind – Sonic Attack 40th Anniversary Edition: Album Review

Hawkwind forty years on – Sonic Attack gets a revisit.

Release Date: 28th January 2022

Label: Atomhenge

Format: Blue vinyl LP + 7″ single

The eleventh album by the Space Lords. Originally released in 1981 – hence the 40th Anniversary party – and one that reached the dizzy heights of the top 20 in the UK. A spanking remastered issued (cut at Abbey Road) on shiny blue vinyl to match the vibrant sleeve and with a bonus 7″ pic sleeve single – also in the same blue – hopefully provides a definitive souvenir.

Almost inevitable there’s a new lineup with Dave Brock joined by Harvey Bainbridge, Huw Lloyd-Langton and Martin Griffith while author Michael Moorcock adds a few vocal parts. The first of the RCA albums, recorded at the famous Rockfield Studios, Sonic Attack harks back to the earlier days of dense and muddy production that’s the Hawkwind trademark, as opposed to the clarity of the previous year’s Levitation. Perhaps it’s a reaction to that ‘commercial’ sound, but it signalled a series of albums that saw Hawkwind find some refuge with the Heavy Metal brigade and a run that’s been described as the ‘industrial trilogy’. One that’s also tricky to evaluate in terms of how well a bit of twenty-first-century studio polish treats it. After all, one of the joys of listening to Hawkwind was the density of the whole experience.

Having said that, it’s 1981 and Hawkwind is/was/will be as single-minded, rebellious and as punk as anything else heard over the past five years. Their admittedly rudimentary musicianship ensures it’s about feel and groove, together with some of the sneering and ranting vocal delivery that Johnny and his followers made fashionable.

There’s been some (deserved?) criticism at the attempt to reproduce the title track which appeared on the iconic Space Ritual album. Fair do’s; the excitement of the live version with the band firing on all cylinders in front of a fervent crowd is hard to beat. The Rocky Paths – Psychosonia segue sees a shift from the more than acceptable pacey chug of the former into the more experimental jam/song segment that sees Moorcock throwing in various elements of babble.

The single, Angels Of Death (definitely worth checking out the ‘brown sauce version….) is a terrific – and heavy – minor variation on the repetitive groove template that Brock and Co made their mark. “We are the warriors at the edge of time,” he proudly declares, coining a phrase that might come in handy over the next forty years. The thought occurs that the track could be polished into a nice Blue Oyster Cult variation maybe? It also acts as the kick in the pants reminder of the atmosphere of paranoia of the Cold War / nuclear generation.

Coded Language adds fuel to the fire that Hawkwind was punk before punk became fashionable, with Moorcock cranking out an impressive vocal. The experimental opening passage suddenly explodes into a furious diatribe in contrast to the more ‘straightforward’ lyric of Streets Of Fear. The latter powers on with a lead line over the marching riff that could easily dissolve into a lengthy sonic jam, instead of fading out as that rather limp guitar phrase kicks in – you can imagine the mixing and mastering stage realising that the track was about to outstay its welcome.

The single included in the package adds Transdimensional Man to the party – a stomping rocker with plenty of whizzes and zaps, it fits the bill and provides an added bonus to the set. Sonic Attack remastered provides the chance to re-evaluate an album that’s possibly overlooked in the vast canon. Neither a truly essential purchase (admittedly, Hawkwind did produce some belting albums) or a genuine turkey you’d not touch with a barge pole, it sits comfortably in the mass of Hawkwind releases as one that builds on their trademark appeal but adds some flourishes that show they were a band who weren’t going to stand still.

Here’s Angels Of Death from the album:

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