Hall Of The Mountain Grill

Released 1974 on United Artists
The Seth Man, June 2001ce
Hawkwind’s fifth album reflected the shift in personnel within the ranks of that extended British space rock septet (or sextet if we include Stacia, although she’s only present in but one frame of the contact sheet reproduced on the inner sleeve), most noticeably with the departure of the lyrics and voice of Robert Calvert and their long-time audio generator terrorist, Dikmik. With the absence of these most valuable players within the Hawkwind mosaic, there appeared a hole in the group which manifested itself in the appearance of more instrumentals than previous as well as the near disappearance of their once solidly hard and organic feel. Replacing Dikmik’s crude noise generator applications were the synthesizers, mellotron and occasional violin of ex-Hide Tide keyboardist Simon House, who brought with him a far greater sense of technical skill. But it would be at the expense of eliminating their earlier electronic freak out angle as Korg synthesizer washes and treated violin runs replaced the earlier VCS3 swirls and white noise zapping interruptives of Dikmik.

Although “Hall Of The Mountain Grill” has the undeniable feel of a stop-gap album released half-desperately to keep the machinery of Hawkwind’s constant touring well-greased than aesthetic considerations, its moments of raging heaviosity easily dwarf a couple of weak tracks which appeared on the album because there was no Robert Calvert to write better ones. But Dave Brock really put his nose to the grindstone with his opening anthem, “Psychedelic Warlords (Disappear In Smoke)” as he connects the same handful of roughed up chords in yet another different arrangement as a column of darkened storm cloud mellotrons swarm overhead while the lyrics proclaim “Sick of politicians, harassment and laws/ All we do is get screwed up by other peoples’ thoughts/...Nothing else to do/’Cept live in concrete jungles/That block out our view” over a loose yet hard flow of innumerable, blocky guitar chords, a tangled Nik Turner free blast on sax over Lemmy’s chest-thumping bass and ever-steady drumming from Simon King.

It crossfades into “Wind Of Change,” the first of three instrumentals that try to make you not miss the absence of Robert Calvert’s songwriting. And although it opens exactly like Blondie’s “Fade Away And Radiate” (off their 1978 “Parallel Lines” album, purchased by this reviewer in 1981 in an attempt to neatly reconcile my progressive tastes with punk as Robert Fripp was present on the aforementioned track.) But instead of turning into ‘a clear blue neon glow’ it falls into a faux-progressive instrumental that, because of its mellotronic/violin tones and (face it) somewhat sappy title, is maudlin as fuck. “Wind Of Change” -- groan -- oh it wants to be heroic (and I want to be, too) but no dice; it’s a laughter-inducing fart and quite possible the first ever time in Hawkwind’s chronology when they REALLY took the wrong step. Luckily, the Hawkestra regain their footing and strength on Nik Turner’s “D-Rider”, fantastically sung (stoned) by Nik as Del Dettmar sends in the ancient VCS3 trajectories over House’s choir of mellotrons and King’s furious drum rolls. As Turner matra-cises “We’re spacing out by spacing in” over and over, the music is right there with him and as about as weightless and equilibrium-debilitating as the psychotropic mind-space Turner is describing. It practically falls away altogether on two occasions, but when it returns, everything shifts from miles-per-hour to light-year-per-second as it bursts upward with an incredible, shaking-of-the-walls-of-Jericho quality. Far less incredible is Brock’s “Web Weaver,” which finishes side one in a dazed re-write of “You’re Only Dreaming” meets The Allman Brothers guesting on “Sunfighter” or something. It’s faux ‘good time’ feel is ultimately weak and stilted boogie that made me fear on first listen to “Hall Of The Mountain Grill” that it was going to made me wish it had been released as a double EP instead, as it was already evenly split between fantastic blitz-outs and sub-standard dead ends. And the lovely Barney Bubbles sleeve showing the shattered hull of Spaceship Hawkwind stranded on some distant, fog-shrouded planet, seemed all too appropriate a metaphor. But there was still side two...

Luckily, they completely save the album with the other side. Two live tracks recorded in January 1974 begin and end side two, and after hearing both, I almost wished they had just released another live album instead. For these two tracks, “You Better Believe It” and “Paradox” hold the truly shambolic, cohesive and harder tendencies of the group live, although here they are spiced with shifting mellotron panels in an almost “Seventh Sojourn” arrangement. But never did The Moody Blues quite SHRED so hard on guitar as Brock does here, and Lemmy and Simon King are diddling the song to the heavens as their playing blends ferociously into both rhythm and noise at the same time with a glee so raucous, you don’t even care that there are no studio versions extant of either. “You Better Believe it” sees new boy Simon House hoedown for all it’s worth on violin as everyone blasts out around him, Lemmy barking out the title as Brock “handles” the rest of vocals in his characteristically untutored fashion. Two small instrumentals appear, if only to operate as mortar before and after the next track, “Lost Johnny”. It’s a biker speed hangover co-written by Lemmy with ex-Deviants vocalist Mick Farren, a bare bones rock and roll number stripped of all nuance but for an airless, amphetamine afterburn synth drone over Lemmy’s growling narration of street urchin life at an arse-dragging pace (This track would be re-recorded three times in the seventies by Motörhead, as well as Farren re-cutting a version on Ork records in 1977, and it would still need a clean pair of socks!)

“Paradox” closes the album, cranked up into existence by Brock’s rudimentary, slow motion up and down stroke plectrum grinding, as he voices “See it as you really are” a riff on a song title from the first Hawkwind album, before it sputters into a full on assault and his vocals get echoed-echoed-echoed into Beyondsville. And “Paradox” feels every inch a swan song as it gently glides off into the atmosphere from whence the album first appeared on side one.