"IT'S A BACK-BRAIN STIMULATOR! IT'S A CEREBRAL VIBRATOR! TURN YOUR EYEBALLS INTO CRATERS!"
Thus intones Dave Brock on "Orgone Accumulator," an ass-kicking Rube Goldberg-device of a space rock staple, and to this day the final word on the science of orgone accumulation. But Brock just as well might have been describing his immortal Hawkwind, and its 30-plus-year legacy of melting brains.
My first exposure to the group came through the titanic double live album Space Ritual (United Artists, 1973), a sprawling collection of tracks that draws you into its gravitational pull through a convergence of the inexplicable and the strangely familiar–adventurous. Its sci-fi explosions underpinned by the rhythms of classic rock 'n' roll, the album negotiates the ungainly symphonic mass of sound into something resembling popular music -- what I imagine the Voyager Golden Record version of "Johnny B. Goode" sounds like through vintage 1972 space helmet speakers.
The Hawkestra's wall-of-sound aural assault-and-battery was crucial to the early evolution of rock's more adventurous strain. Yet the group, like their own Silver Machine, has a way of flying sideways in time. If there is such a thing as a trajectory to heavy metal, then it's almost certainly cyclical, with Brock's cosmic rock cadre materializing in disparate spots along the circumference. Here in 2010 AD, Neurot Recordings, the consistently adventurous record label of Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till, is set to release Hawkwind Triad, a collaborative homage featuring 11 classic Hawkwind anthems as covered by U.S. Christmas, Minsk, and Von Till via his ongoing solo project Harvestman (including fellow Neurosis member Jason Roeder on drums this time around.) There's a common musical current running through these three supremely cosmic bands, a signal that traces one of its numerous potential origin points to circa-1970s Ladbroke Grove, England.
II: COOL, PSYCHEDELIC, FUCKED-UP
"Cool, psychedelic, fucked-up heavy music," is how Steve Von Till describes the bands on Hawkwind Triad.
"The obvious lineage of my journey to Hawkwind," Von Till says over the phone from his post-Bay Area home in Cour d'Alene, Idaho, "was growing up and being totally into Motörhead." This lineage is doubtlessly followed by many devout Hawkwind followers, who might first encounter the band as a footnote to the career of bassist/sometimes vocalist Lemmy Kilmister. (Back in high school, an offhand reference buried within the liner notes to Motörhead's No Remorse compilation album is where Hawkwind first hovered into my line of vision.)
"Growing up, there weren't a lot of fans in my circle, but we tended to find each other," Van Till says. This dynamic unfolded once again as the mad-scientist guitarist found himself drawn to the nascent triad through the irresistible pull of a common love of one of rock's freakiest acts. "Funnily enough," Von Till says when asked how Hawkwind Triad came about, "U.S. Christmas and Minsk had contacted me and said they were thinking about doing this project, and asked if I would be willing to put it out on Neurot Recordings. Being thoroughly convinced that I was the bigger Hawkwind fan, I said, 'Yeah, but on the condition that you let me record on it.'"