Review Summary: With flashes of greatness wedged in between piles of average, Hawkwind release an album like no other in their discography. Hawkwind – A trip through Space, Part XI Hawkmetal.
In 1981 Hawkwind released a metal album. I'd never thought that I'd say those words when I began listening to Hawkwind, but say them I have. Sonic Attack is, in the broadest sense, an album from the NWOBHM genre. This isn't a replacement for your Iron Maiden fix, but it shows Hawkwind trying something entirely new.
Hawkwind went through their usual member swap, going down to a four piece for this album. They decided not to fill their keyboard slot, and Brock and Bainbridge took over the synthesiser department fully, leaving the lineup looking like this:
Dave Brock – electric guitar, keyboards, vocals
Huw Lloyd-Langton – electric guitar, vocals
Harvey Bainbridge – bass guitar, keyboards, vocals
Martin Griffin – drums
Michael Moorcock – vocals (on "Coded Languages")
Sonic Attack opens with a poem from the great live album Space Ritual, warning people of the impending Sonic Attack that is about to take their lives. However, Sonic Attack fails to reach this impending doom and whilst having many good parts, they simply fail to glue together into a cohesive unit. The first five minutes is taken up by the opening poem, whilst its decent, it is nothing special and on the blander side of things. It isn't until the second track that things start to speed up and turn metal(ish).
Sonic Attack has all the basic parts you need for a metal album, Griffin works wonders on the drums, keeping them tight, steely and well in sync with the bass guitar. Langton does a brilliant job as the front man, pulling off excellent riffs and solos. Brock's vocals have the right tone for this type of music, being upbeat and keeping up with the tempo. Yet for some reason it doesn't seem to fit together properly, like a 100 piece jigsaw puzzle with 103 pieces. Hawkwind never manage to fire on all cylinders, coming off like a badly tuned machine.
When I said Sonic Attack was a metal album, what was meant was that is a metal influenced album pulled off in Hawkwind style. There are synthesiers thrown in amongst guitar solos and drum beats, and there is even a slow style synth rock ballad, the track 'Virgin of the World'.
The guitar from Langton is always top notch and his work towards the last few moments is a thing of pure beauty. He keeps up the pace and the style at all times, and if there was a award for stand out performance on an album it would go to him. Unfortunately the rest of the band can't seem to keep up with him. Brock's vocals never exceed the average, the synthesisers don't add to anything, the bass is often impossible to hear, and despite all the tight drumming, it never attempts to go above and beyond it.
Sonic Attack gets all fired up in its potential, but it never gets around to going anywhere. Songs like 'Rocky Paths' and 'Angels of Death' show glimmers of hope, both of them are excellent rockers, with speeding drums, flaring synthesiers and catchy guitars. But that is all the Sonic Attack is, solar flares from the desert sun.
This album had potential, plenty of it. Hawkwind could have taken a brilliant spin on the NWOBHM genre and made the album one of the first space/progressive metal albums. What they achieved however is nothing of the sort. Sonic Attack reaches the incredible highs of being nothing more than excellently average. With flares of quasi-metal held within its groove, Sonic Attack is an album which I believe only those who truly enjoy Hawkwind will fully appreciate.