Review Summary: Veterans of a thousand psychic wars.
So here’s the deal. The multiverse is made up of an infinite number of parallel realms over which the petty Lords of Chaos and condescending Lords of Law play an eternal game of dominion using mortals and lesser demi-gods as their pawns. Presiding over them is the enigmatic Cosmic Balance which, in its struggle to maintain a state of neutrality between these opposing forces, employs a so called ‘Eternal Champion’, a mortal soul doomed to be re-incarnated in endless guises as an agent whose purpose is to help maintain the balance over the aeons. And one of these incarnations is called Elric. He’s a Melnibonean. He looks something like an albino elf but he’s not noble or anything like the Tolkien style elves. He’s actually a bit of a surly tormented sociopath who uses a possessed black rune-sword called Stormbringer that feeds on the souls of enemies and friends alike and feeds him soul energy so that he goes a bit bonkers.
….well, just go read the books. Hawkwind stalwart Dave Brock obviously did because he based at least 2 Hawkwind albums and lots of other bits and pieces on the works of author Michael Moorcock, especially the Elric saga. And that’s what this album is all about.
The 1985 album ‘Chronicle of the Black Sword’ forms the basis for this live set but Hawkwind wove other songs related to the subject at hand into this on-stage rock opera (very loosely related in some cases) in an attempt to tell the story of Elric. The author himself appears at various junctures to enhance the narrative flow with dramatic prose and the band themselves are present and correct with their trademark fantasy style space rock full of chugging extended riffs and overblown swishy synthesizer abuse. Hawkwind were a powerful and electric live spectacle but sadly there are intermittent production issues which take the sting out of some of the material on here. The pumping crescendos of ‘Song of the Swords’ and ‘Sea King’ are veiled by a muddy and incoherent mix and the potentially destructive ‘Angels of Death’ has had its incisors well and truly extracted. As the album develops, however, we skip to recordings lifted from different concerts and thankfully the true spirit of these psychic veterans is revealed. A pounding rendition of ‘Master of the Universe’ ignites the set with its bludgeoning main riff and the chaotic sonic attack of ‘Fight Sequence’, apparently used as a backing for actors sword-fighting on stage during the shows, assaults the senses with its unhinged intensity. The beautiful psych-ballad ‘Zarozinia’, an ode to Elric’s doomed wife, is brought to life on a tapestry of swelling keys and the classic ‘Moonglum’, which refers to Elric’s hapless sidekick, emerges as possibly the highlight of the set.
The album is certainly an uneven ride, which is a particular quality that applies to pretty much everything Hawkwind have done. The overblown theatrics are naturally rather cheesy, the subject matter needs to be approached with a healthy dose of irony and the trademark Hawkwind sonic attack isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. For die-hard Hawkwind fans this is pretty much an essential purchase but even if you don’t naturally partake of this style of music it’s worth a play (preferably at a very high volume while in an enhanced state of mind) just to see if the deranged energy gets you going.