Four classic albums from the 1980's

by Christian Mumford

From Aural Innovations #21 (October 2002)

Hawkwind - "Chronicle of The Black Sword" (Flicknife 1985, SHARP033)

The original Flicknife CD release of this album being the first Hawkwind CD I ever bought at age 16, "Chronicle of The Black Sword" proved it was only a matter of time before the undisputed Kings of Spacerock and British underground institution, the trusty crew of Star Rats led by Baron Dave Brock himself, the mighty Hawkwind, would release a concept album based on long time collaborator Michael Moorcock's mythological fantasy hero cycle, starring the apocalypse junkie warrior Elric of Melnibone and his soul drinking black sword Stormbringer. Having yet again teamed up with bassist Alan Davey (Al Chemical), drummer Danny Thompson (D.T. Turbine), guitarist Huw Lloyd Langton (Rocky Paths) and synthmeister Harvey Bainbridge (Black Earl Brainbox), this 80s classic lineup of Hawkwind also went on to do several successful theatrical live performances of the material at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1985 and '86 which was celebrated in the form of a video and a following double live album, "Live Chronicles". Kicking off with "Song of The Swords", a rocking Brock heavy metal tune with a snarling and challenging vocal line, "Chronicle of The Black Sword" is quite a varied effort as shown with the next track, Bainbridge's "Shade Gate", a gently soothing and rhythmic ambient piece of psychedelia, followed by a characteristic Langton piece, "Sea King". Overall, the album is a great mix of varied lyrical and musical material, with the classic live hit "Needle Gun sounding something like a souped up, evil sounding ZZ Top! "Elric" is an excellent rock number poetically chronicling the central character, "Zarozinia" a distant, drifting psychedelic ballad of Elric's magickally sleeping lover-cousin, and "Arioch" is a ripping piece of acid drenched instrumental speed metal summoning the diety and Lord of Chaos himself. Other tracks like "Chaos Army" and "The Demise" are more atmospheric and theatrical pieces chronicaling the onmarching horror hordes of the forces of Chaos and Elric's sacrifice to Arioch. "Sleep of A 1000 Tears" is a Moorcock co-penned classic Hawkwind styled driving psychedelic rock number.

The original Flicknife version of the CD came with an excellent live version of the classic "Assault & Battery", something of a biker anthem off 1975's classic "Warrior on The Edge of Time" LP. Overall, with "Chronicle of The Black Sword", Hawkwind had proven that "concept" wasn't dead afterall in the UK underground scene of the mid-80s, and that heavy metal could survive just as well along with it.)

Inner City Unit (Nik Turner) - "Passout: The 360 Degree Deliria Sound" (Oldhitz 1981, OLD 001)

Having been fired from legendary spacerockers Hawkwind in 1976, and having passed through various mystical and magickal oriented recording projects (the heavily Egyptian ritual 1978 Sphynx album being one), before finding his feet with this legendary band of acid fueled punkrock pioneers known as Inner City Unit, saxophonist/vocalist Nik Turner and this entourage of social outcasts recorded what is possibly one of the finest punk albums of the early 80s. Otherwise consisting of Trev Thoms (guitar, vocals), Dead Fred (keyboards, vocals), Baz Magneto (bass, vocals) and Mick Stupp on drums, the debut album opens with the maniacal and mechanical nod to the infamous video game of the same name, "Space Invaders", and "Passout" immediately proves that this band were on their own and very much out there. From the classic "Watching The Grass Grow", a mystical and energetic chronicle of transgenderous time travel, the song quite often covered by Hawkwind in later years when Turner would guest in between stints with ICU, the reggae version of Hawkwind's crack acid explosion classic "Brainstorm", the observational, sweaty and anarchic "Cybernetic Love", to wildly psychedelic Apocalypse-punk tracks like "Fallout" (with the classic lyric line: "my baby's got no feet, when I hold her little hand in mine it comes off in mine, when I kiss your lips so tenderly they come off in my mouth, and when I look into your eyes I realize they are in a glass jar on the shelf!") and the more politically charged punkrock of "Nuclear Waste", the album is an explosion of LSD fueled mania closed off by a killer version of Hawkwind's classic "Master of The Universe" and the excellent pop flavored punk tune "Amyl Nitrate".

The CD re-relase of "Passout" came with several bonus tracks, among them the apocalyptic hardcore wipeout single "Paint Your Windows White", which was released as video as well, and a great live version of the epic "Bones of Elvis", telling the tale of The King, his mom, his nation and his many heroic deeds before passing on, the song attempting to magickally resurrect The King from suspended animation. Otherwise, the ripping raw version of "Johnny B. Goode" and a wild jam version of Hawkwind's "Spirit Of The Age" makes the CD version of "Passout" an excellent addition to the original LP release as well as an excellent introduction to new fans. Inner City Unit barbarically soldiered on until 1986, releasing many classic albums and singles, and having recently reformed for an album without Turner, they are fondly remembered as possibly one of the most original additions to the 80's UK underground punk scene also giving most crusties a run for their money.)

The Damned - "The Black Album" (Chiswick 1980, CDWIK 906)

One of the UK's classic punk bands of the '76/77 wave of punk, this is possibly the album regarded as the creative peak of The Damned's career, with the band by now consisting of Dave Vanian (vocals), Captain Sensible (guitar & keyboards), Rat Scabies (drums) and the somewhat transient Paul Gray on bass. Opening with the classic "Wait for The Blackout", this expensively produced gothic-psychedelic double album is something of a benchmark release of the era. Along with other contemporary bands like Siouxie And The Banshees and The Stranglers exploring similar territory, and a burgeoning gothic underground scene heralded by bands such as Alien Sex Fiend, The Damned proved once and for all they had evolved from their pioneering punkrock to gothic psychedelia without losing any strengths. From the souped up garage punk of "Drinking About My Baby" to the introspective and wonderful "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", the album is brimming with Beatles styled horn sections and chorus and heavy melodic compositions, retaining a paradoxical cutting edge nod towards the 60s. The hit single "History of The World Part 1" is an epic and sweeping Damned classic, and "Therapy" closes the album with an exciting slice of energetic and melodic Damned styled punk, harkening back to the early days. The CD release comes with the 17 minute epic acid drenched "Curtain Call", originally released in limited numbers as an EP in 1982, its very much a journey through the most gothic and reptilian trance states of climbing through the mind's subconscious areas to a waking state, proving The Damned's acid-fueled dementia wasn't limited to just punkrock.)

Voivod - "Killing Technology" (Noise International 1986, N 0058-3)

Possibly the peak of Voivod's early career, this groundbreakingly original, heavily futuristic cybernetic and technology oriented thrashmetal band remain a seminal and revered act to this very day. As always led by drummer and cover artist Away (Michel Langevin), along with Snake (vocals), Blacky (bass) and Piggy (guitar), they formed out of French-Canada in the early 80's as an early black/power/thrashmetal band with the classic debut LP "War And Pain" (1984), and with "Killing Technogy", speedmetal hinduists Voivod proved to a new generation of metal fans that high-tech concepts like mind control, genetic engineering and interstellar warfare were far from alien to this groundbreaking band of apocalypse warriors. Opening with the thunderously riffing title track, and carrying on with the equally manic riffing of "Overreaction", the nightmarishly hospitalizing "Ravenous Medicine", the paranoid and ominous "Order of The Black Guards", the claustrophobic "Forgotten In Space" and closing with the apocalyptic warnings of "This Is Not An Excercise", "Killing Technology" is a landmark underground metal release of the 80's.

The CD version came with the extra track "Cockroaches", a track so claustrophobic and neurotic, it chronicles the horror of going insane in a mental ward being invaded by cockroaches, escaping only by fighting one's way out by eating through the invading army! Brimming with maddening chord changes at breakneck speed, Voivod possibly symbolized the fusion of raw punk mutating with complex and cerebral thrashmetal, the band's albums always chronicling the adventures of the fictional apocalypse warrior Voivod, whether he is battling on Earth or adventuring in deep space. The band itself, experimental as always, have since moved through phases of what can be termed psychedelia or progrock, always retaining a cutting edge, and remaining in control today as the modern futuristic thrashmetal power trio incarnation we know today. "Killing Technology" is possibly Voivod's finest hour, portraying technology gone mad in an era we have yet to fully comprehend, a high speed journey through apocalyptic breakdown, the continuously threatening breakneck rotting of our civilization's technology-controlled infrastructure, the technological nightmares of our own society as seen through very alien eyes.

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