Review Summary: Much more focussed on the saga of Elric of Melniboné than anything else, but this makes for a useful album in anyone's Hawkwind collection.
Review:Hawkwind, 'The Chronicle of the Black Sword' (1985)
I love Michael Moorcock's work. In fact, I regard him as one of my favourite authors in general. From the short but satisfying 'Martian Trilogy' to the epic saga of the character of Elric spanned across eight novels, his writing really does keep me occupied. And it's the latter of these two well known Moorcock creations that really did influence me to write the way I do (Short stories and Poetry, not reviews like the one I'm writing right now).
If you're wondering why I just brought all this ridiculous literary nonsense up, it is extremely relevant to 'The Chronicle of the Black Sword', seeing as this album pays homage to Michael Moorcock and the Saga of Elric of Melniboné.
For those of you reading this who haven't already heard of Elric of Melniboné, or indeed its author Michael Moorcock, read on. If so, feel free to scroll down to the actual review of the album. Michael Moorcock is a Sci-Fi/Fantasy author who has made collaborations with other bands such as Hawkwind, Gong, and so on. He has even had a go at doing some narrative work with these two bands, showing his love for their music, and their love for his prose. Elric of Melniboné himself is a warrior somewhere in the very distant future, who is, in human form at least, a very weak person. The questionable 'Black Sword' within the album's title is actually the weapon that conceals all of Elric's power, sucking the energy from any enemies Elric may have come across throughout the saga. I would love to go on in depth and explain each of the eight novels, but I really must get on to the album now. After all, this is a music review, not a literary review.
The album itself isn't really anything special,at least by Hawkwind's standards anyway. Their more experimental albums such as 'Hall of the Mountain Grill' and 'Warrior on the Edge of Time' show much more of Hawkwind's talent than on 'The Chronicle of the Black Sword'. That's not to say that this album is without its moments though!
Many Hawkwind fans regard 'The Chronicle of the Black Sword' as the band's last decent album, and it's powerful anthems such as the epic 'Elric the Enchanter' and extremely groovy 'Needle Gun', a song referring to the main weapon of many of Elric's enemies throughout the eight novels.
There are also quite a few psychadelic flourishes presented here as well. 'Shade Gate' descends into a hypnotizing note repeating itself over and over again for the next three minutes, and 'Song of the Swords' comes across as a futuristic war cry, showing the importance of the 'Black Sword' throughout.
Musically however, things aren't very impressive at all. Vocals are a touch mediocre whenever they are heard here, even if almost half of the album is instrumental and made up with synthesisers. Dave Brock's warbling on 'Zarozinia' (*) proves a little too weak for my liking, and the song itself doesn't really change in any way throughout its three minutes of playing time.
Thankfully not all instruments used here are a let-down. Alan Davey's bass is extremely audible in every song that isn't 100% synthesiser, and there is even a nice bass line or two within 'Sleep of a Thousand Tears'(**) and midway through 'Horn of Destiny'(***).
The production used here is very predictable for an album released in the 80's, but it makes for a very clean sound, especially when guitars,drums and bass are used, making for a generally effective sound.
There are, unfortunately, quite a few fillers to be found within 'The Chronicle of the Black Sword'. 'The Demise'(****) and 'Chaos Army'(*****), barely making up a couple of minutes playing time in total, seem to disrupt the flow that the preceding songs on the album develop, and 'The Pulsing Cavern'(******), whilst being a slightly longer instrumental, becomes mediocre very quickly with its repeating tune echoing for two and a half minutes.
'The Chronicle of the Black Sword' is by no means a bad album, even if there a few fillers to be found. Obviously the biggest thing about this record is the fact that it should be taken as more of a concept album rather than a mere collection of songs. For those who are aware of Michael Moorcock's writing, or those who would like to understand his writing, this album may be of significant use to you. Unfortunately, Hawkwind have not matched the quality found here as of yet, except perhaps for 'Alien 4', released in 1995. A very interesting album conceptually, even if it doesn't live up to everybody's expectations, musically.
NOTE: Any track names with a (*) symbol next to them, will be explained below.
(*): Zarozinia was a character in 'Elric the Enchanter', in which she played the part of being Elric's second wife,before being captured,and, eventually, killed by Elric's very own powerful sword, the 'Black Sword'.
(**): 'Sleep of a Thousand Tears' refers to the time between Elric's untimely death in 'Elric the Enchanter' and his soul's reawakening in 'Elric at the end of Time'.
(***): Horn of Destiny refers to a quest set for young Elric in 'Elric the Enchanter', in which he must search for this and use it to destroy all chaos on his planet. A futuristic 'Holy Grail'
(****): The Demise is self-explanatory, but it refers to the untimely demise of Elric's kingdom and land as he journeys to save his betrothed,Zarozinia.
(*****): The Chaos Army is the army in which Elric continually fights against to save his world. For additional information, Elric's Army is referred to as 'The Law Army'.
(******): The Pulsing Cavern refers to an unknown place that Elric comes across, upon his search for the Horn of Destiny.