Despite their multiple line-up changes throughout the years, Hawkwind has built an impenetrable legacy due to the fact they’ve remained a consistent, formidable and creative force over the course of 30 albums. Since 1969, the space rock pioneers have been taking listeners on psychedelic, intergalactic adventures while experimenting with a litany of genres including prog, hard rock and electronica. Couple this with conceptual lyrics often inspired by everything from science fiction to drug trips, and what you have is nearly half a century’s worth of back catalogue littered with intrigue and thought provoking ideas. And the best part is that after all these years they still sound as vital as ever.
A follow-up to last year’s critically acclaimed The Machine Stops, their latest release, Into the Woods, continues their exploration of the themes present in that album, which was inspired by the writing of E.M. Forster’s 1909 short story of the same name. In the tale, humans have lost the ability to live on the earth’s surface, so they dwell underground and rely on machines to provide their needs. For this album, the machine has broken down and man has ventured forth into the trees to confront the dangers and wonders of the world. According to frontman Dave Brock, “Part of this album is a continuation of the story begun in The Machine Stops, [the idea of] living above the ground and Into the Woods.” (Cherry Red).
Opener “Into the Woods’’ begins with a hauntingly inviting piano evocative of the alluring trails throughout dark forests which make up some fairytale stories like Hansel and Gretel. This is followed by an eruption of noise as guitars crunch and cymbals crash in a whirlwind of metallic noise. Listening to the track it’s clear to hear how – along with Black Sabbath – Hawkwind were pinnacle in the inception of the doom and stoner metal genres; when they’re in the mood to, they rock as hard as anyone, and the tripped out, casually-paced noise is what defines those aforementioned styles. The tripped out, heavy space jam dynamics of this track would not sound out of place on a Monster Magnet record, even though Hawkwind have been doing this since many of the bands they’ve inspired were babies.
“Cottage in the Woods’’ is classic Hawkwind; the type of psychedelic and sci-fi inspired experimental number the band are renowned for which combines the pastoral and the futuristic, with a huge riff thrown in for good measure. Tim Blake’s hypnotic keyboards as distinctive and alien as they’ve ever been, while the appreciation for the source material manifests through a sampled passage from E.M. Forster’s story. The track typifies the band’s unconventional and wholly unique sensibilities, and the album only continues to pick up steam from there.
The overall highlight, “Have You Seen Them?”, is seven minutes of bliss. The title alludes to mysterious beings, and lyrics tell a story about being followed and observed by unknown entities. The track is an oxymoron of sorts; while the lyrical themes pertain to being stalked in the woods by dangerous forces, the music itself is quite upbeat and uplifting. “Ascent” on the other hand, is a soft space ballad with a hook that’ll get stuck in your head for days. It would be easy to go through this album track for track and describe what makes it a stand out or special in some way, but that would defeat the purpose of you discovering the many for yourself.
The recurring theme throughout the album is greenery, and as we’re living an the age where the internet and technology reigns, there’s a message to be found here. Forster’s short story predicted that mankind would advance this far, but album’s like this allow us to imagine a world where we didn’t have to rely on it so much. There’s a grand storytelling approach to each track as well, and the lyrics do draw upon a myriad of fantastical elements which allow the imagination to soar.
Overall, Into the Woods is an essential purchase for fans of this band and experimental music in general. For new listeners, it would serve as an ideal starting point as it represents everything that makes the band who they are. It rocks, it bewilders and delights in equal measure, and despite the countless classics in their discography, this album ranks up there with the best of them. When Hawkind returned with The Machine Stops, they sounded reinvigorated and purposeful. Into the Woods is no ‘day at the office’ record many veteran artists become accustomed to producing. They might be almost 50 years into their career, and they don’t sound like they’re going to run out of fresh ideas any time soon.
The album is available now via Cherry Red Records.