July 2, 2023

This release will probably become the definitive version of Warriors On The Edge Of Time – the full vinyl package combined with Wilson’s crystal clear remix is surely unbeatable. An absolute must for Hawkwind fans.

Warrior On The Edge Of Time stands somewhat apart in Hawkwind’s 1970s catalogue of studio releases. It’s preceded by the run of four albums up to 1974’s Hall Of The Mountain Grill, all of which seem to attempt to capture the band’s incendiary live performances, and to these ears fall tantalisingly short of that target despite being full of classic cuts. It’s then followed by a further set of four albums, influenced by Bob Calvert’s return and the punk explosion which caused the group to favour a sparser and more direct sound. Up until 1974, Hawkwind had systematically honed material in the live environment and then gone into the studio with songs that then just needed to be polished off. But in 1975, Hawkwind signed to Atlantic records who then demanded a new album to coincide with a spring tour in America. So, the band dutifully headed off to Rockfield Studios for the first time with nothing in hand. This resulted in a very different set of songs emerging, of which perhaps only Magnu would transfer back relatively comfortably to the live environment. At the same time, the Hawkwind sound was changing because of personnel changes. OK, I hear you say that personnel changes were normal for Hawkwind, but the departure of Dettmar just a year after Dik Mik, meant that Hawkwind were bereft of the architects of their instantly recognizable keyboard sound. Keyboards were now in the sole hands of Simon House who brought a richer, more modern, and more progressive sound to the table. House also brought his violin, of course, and along with Turner’s flute and sax, the result was a very rich palette of sound which moved the group away from Brock’s traditional chugging guitar riffs. And finally, there was the unusual configuration of two drummers. Alan Powell had deputised for an incapacitated Simon King on the last European tour and he ended up staying for this album, as well as the following one, Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music.

Warrior On The Edge Of Time also stood out for its rich lyrical context. Science-fiction has always been a mainstay of Hawkwind’s lyrics, but here there’s a strong fantasy element too, loosely built around Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion novel. Moorcock himself gets in on the act, writing three poems and reciting two of them.  And if you prefer more classical literature then Brock includes a couple of direct quotes from Shelley’s poem Hymn Of Apollo in Magnu, and the lyrics of Assault And Battery incorporates an entire verse from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem A Psalm of Life (that’s the ‘Lives Of Great Men’ section, if you weren’t aware). Brock seems to capture the literary mood himself, creating epic imagery in his lyrics such as travelling ‘down a corridor of flame’.

The extraordinary fold-out album cover

So, with fantastic music and a fantastic concept album, what else could you ask for? How about one of the best album covers ever? The front artwork of the distant warrior in a slightly Roger Dean inspired landscape is very impressive. It gets better when you open the gatefold since the back cover has a near perfect reflection of that front cover but without the warrior.  And then it gets even better as the inner cover folds out yet again, continuing the artwork to show the deep chasm the warrior is overlooking. If you step back, the whole picture then miraculously forms the outline of a warrior’s helmet.  The flip inner-side is taken up totally by a massive shield with the 8-rayed emblem of Chaos, as depicted in Moorcock’s books. This marvellous artwork is credited to Compte Pierre D’Auvergne and Eddie Brash, although their real names were Pierre Tubbs and Colin Fulcher (also better known as Barney Bubbles).

The inner cover

I assume anyone who has got this far is familiar with the music, but for those who do not remember it so well, Warrior On The Edge Of Time has two standout tracks: Assault And Battery / The Golden Void with its extraordinary synth-driven wall of sound, and the typically Brock-ish riff driven track, Magnu. These two masterpieces kick-off each side of the vinyl and occupy close to half its total length. The middle-section of both sides consist of the three dramatically spoken poems, supported principally by percussion, and two excellent instrumental showcases, one for House (Spiral Galazy 28948) and one for the pair of drummers (Opa-Loka). The first side concludes with one of Brock’s most inspired quieter pieces, The Demented Man, while the second side finishes a little weakly with two short songs, Dying Seas and Kings Of Speed (the latter had been recorded and released as a single earlier and really doesn’t fit into the mood of the album). Despite that weak finish, it is rightly considered one of the best Hawkwind albums ever. 

Wilson has a stellar reputation for his work in remixing prog albums and here he is wise enough not to dabble too much. Not that he needed to – the original engineering of the album was very good, unlike for example the horribly muddy Hall Of The Mountain Grill. Wilson focuses mostly on adjusting volumes to ensure further clarity of the individual instruments. Assault And Battery / The Golden Void is a good example of the sympathetic readjustments he makes. Nik Turner’s work seems to be brought a little more to the fore – the flute is clearer and is more distinct from the surging keyboard sound, and the sax in The Golden Void is much more audible too. I sensed the keys were a little less strident in The Golden Void though, perhaps losing some of the epic nature of the piece in the process. 

On the other hand, Wilson seems to have tweaked Magnu a little bit more. The thundering entry of the drums shortly after the introduction of the main riff on guitar is toned down a bit which turns the percussion into something that rightly accompanies the riff rather than overwhelms it.  Again, Nik Turner’s sax work is higher in the mix, and it makes you realise how important his contribution is to this song. This version of Magnu is about one minute longer than the trimmed down version that was released back in 1975 and the difference is in the instrumental section between the two verses which is fleshed out with some fine sax playing. Personally, I always had a gripe that the main vocal part of the song was basically finished within three minutes, leaving an overlong instrumental section. Instead, with this version, that imbalance is rectified since the second verse now comes in exactly at the half-way mark. To these ears, Wilson has produced the definitive version of this already superb song.

Wilson also does a sympathetic job of remixing The Demented Man. Brock’s vocals are slightly lower in the mix although the wonderful chorus melody (‘Those flashing lights are warning me’) is still perfectly audible since the layers of acoustic guitars are also toned down, thus bringing out Brock’s delicate electric guitar work in the chorus (which I’d never noticed before!). It’s harder to spot any obvious differences in some of the shorter pieces, although some little details struck me such as clearly hearing the deep repeated piano chord that underpins Standing At The Edge, or the better balance in Opa-Loka which makes it sound more like a regular instrumental and less like an overwhelming drum duel.  

This release will probably become the definitive version of Warrior On The Edge Of Time – the full vinyl package combined with Wilson’s crystal clear remix is surely unbeatable. An absolute must for Hawkwind fans.