Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 17: Hawkwind, "Master Of The Universe"

Artist: Hawkwind
Song: "Master Of The Universe"
Album: In Search Of Space
Year: 1971

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To be a truly original band is almost an impossibility within the world of music, as in almost every case, the elements that make it seem like an original sound are simply clever combinations of the music of the influences of a particular band.  It is due to this reality that there are only a handful of actual "original" bands, and it is in the sounds of these musical pioneers where one can find some of the most amazing and almost always "ahead of its time" music.  One of the most concentrated eras of new sounds was during the early 1970's, when sudden advancements in technology opened the door for wild musical experimentation, and few groups pushed this to a similar extreme as one can find within the music of Hawkwind.  Epitomizing the idea of a "sci-fi" band, and creating music that is the very definition of "progressive," the music of Hawkwind challenges almost every musical ideal to that point, as well as forcing the listener to open the mind to their unique musical explorations.  Though they had a string of mind-bending records throughout this period, one can site their second record, 1971's In Search Of Space, as their most important recording, as it lays the groundwork for countless bands and complete genres that would follow in later years.  Fusing together jazz and what would become heavy metal, along with sound effects and musical landscapes that defy description, one must experience Hawkwind's 1971 song, "Master Of The Universe" firsthand to properly comprehend its greatness.

In Search Of Space is very much a "concept album," and due to this, it is a bit difficult to pull a single song without referencing the rest of the record.  However, "Master Of The Universe" happens to fall at a "break point" on the album, and in the original vinyl, it began the second side.  As the song begins, the sense of movement is instantly set into place by the synthesizer tone from Del Dettmar and Dik Milk (AKA Michael Davies).  As the pitch raises, so does the tension of the song, and the way in which the guitar of Dave Brock cuts into it remains one of the most mesmerizing moments in the entire history of recorded music.  Bassist Dave Anderson quickly takes over the groove of the song, and it is his performance that keeps the pace and drive at top-speed throughout all of "Master Of The Universe."  The drumming from Terry Ollis strikes the ideal balance between the almost unsettling bassline and the synthesizer tone, and his playing is far more forward in the mix than one might expect.  However, taken as a whole, the musicians are clearly all pushing as hard as they can in a forward direction, and as the sounds combine, "Master Of The Universe" begins to take on an almost ominous presence.  The way in which the instruments blend has a very dark feel to it, and this mood is punctuated by bursts from the saxophone of Nik Turner, creating both a sound and experience that have rarely been matched.

As "Master Of The Universe" progresses, the instruments seem to fade in and out of one another, giving a rather jazz-line feeling to the arrangement, whilst still showing a foot in the developing heavy metal sound.  Yet the somewhat chaotic feel of the song, combined with the uniquely dark tones, creates a nervous tension that is perhaps only similar to that found on Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd recordings.  The way in which these sounds sit under the eventual vocal track from Dave Brock is almost haunting, and the style with which he sings only reinforces this feeling.  Bringing a deep, almost looming voice to the song, Brock's sound on "Master Of The Universe" is extremely fitting of the title, as one can clearly understand the intent behind his voice.  Yet the lyrics which he sings are exceptionally cryptic on many levels, and there are points where it almost seems as if he is reciting primitive spells as opposed to lyrics in the more formal sense of the term.  One can also interpret the lyrics as perhaps the most anthropocentric ever compoused, as the opening lines of "...I am the center of this universe, the wind of time is blowing through me..." can be read as being spoken by a number of different individuals.  However, regardless of how one hears the lyrics, the fact of the matter is that Brock's vocals are the ideal fit for the music over which he sings, and they serve as the perfect finishing touch to a uniquely disturbing musical affair.

It is almost impossible to list all of the ways that Hawkwind's music has influenced bands that followed, as both in the way that they played, as well as the themes of their music, they stand as true musical pioneers.  No other band to that point had ever delved as intentionally deep into the world of science fiction, and one can see this influence in bands like Rush and even in the music of White Zombie.  The distinctive musical presence of Hawkwind was perhaps even more revolutionary, and as it preceded it by nearly two full years, one cannot deny that the entire In Search Of Space record had a massive impact on the now-legendary Dark Side Of The Moon.  From the way in which they incorporated both synthesizers and oscillators into their musical arrangements, to the vivid world which they built around each song, one can easily cite Hawkwind as the "godfathers" of progressive rock music, and once one is familiar with their catalog, the work of later bands is placed into proper perspective.  There is perhaps no greater display of the fusion between the fading sounds of psychedelia and the grind of heavy metal than one can expedience here, and yet it is the way that the band is also able to infuse a strong jazz feeling that sets them far apart from other groups exploring this combination at the time.  Though they remain almost tragically overlooked in the grand scheme of music history, there is no denying the amazing amount of impact that has been taken from Hawkwind's brilliant 1971 song, "Master Of The Universe."

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