Hawkwind - The RCA Active Years reissue album review

Hawkwind’s early-80s music: a brief but eventful journey to metal and back

Hawkwind band photograph

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Hawkwind’s discography is a vast ocean of sound and vision, and it can be a daunting task to figure out where to dive in. Like most classic rock bands, their best work was done somewhere in the early 70s, so any comparisons to their masterpiece, 1973’s Space Ritual, will only end in disappointment. But every era of Hawkwind offers some bit of cosmic truth, some spark of illumination that makes the often turbulent trip worthwhile, and this two-year blip is no exception.

In the very early 80s, Hawkwind found themselves helmet-deep in the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement, signed to an RCA offshoot, Active, that served as the label’s heavy-devy subsidiary. So what are God’s loneliest space-rockers supposed to do when surrounded by such leather-bound company? They assimilated, as best they could.

1981’s Sonic Attack is the middling result. The fact that it opens with a five-minute synth-noodling spoken-word piece strongly suggests that Brock and company don’t necessarily understand heavy metal’s core principles, but the album eventually settles into a decent prog-metal excursion, the highlight of which is probably Angels Of Death, a snarly rocker that sounds like Pink Floyd drunk on punk.

It’s a good fit for the band, which is why the follow-up, 1982’s Church Of Hawkwind, is such a head-scratcher. A fan non-favourite, Church is probably not what you’re looking for in a Hawkwind record. Forget metal, it’s not even rock: it’s a wispy, meandering synth album that sounds like something Tangerine Dream might knock off on a bored weekend.

Which brings us to the third and final instalment of the Active trilogy – Choose Your Masques. This one finds the band welcoming back songwriter/sax player Nik Turner, who rights the ship and sails it back into familiar space-prog waters. And to nail that message home, it includes a reworking of their classic Silver Machine. It’s a solid addition to the catalogue, anchored by the dazzling dystopia of the menacing title track and the stellar Waiting For Tomorrow, a near-perfect synthesis of synth-ronica and BÖC-esque sci-fi radio rock.

Esoteric offer all three albums in a spiffy 3D box set complete with original cover repros and a bonus poster. Why not?


Came from the sky like a 747. Classic Rock’s least-reputable byline-grabber since 2003. Several decades deep into the music industry. Got fired from an early incarnation of Anal C**t after one show. 30 years later, got fired from the New York Times after one week. Likes rock and hates everything else. Still believes in Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction, against all better judgment.