This week, instead of “Manga Monday”, I’m doing something a little different with “Music Monday”, where I review a concert DVD, album, or even Opera that is in some way Genre related. It could be an opera with sci-fi or fantasy subject matter (such as the Ring Cycle), or it could be a concept album and/or a concert DVD supporting a concept album with similar subject matter, like Rush’s 2112 or today’s review – Hawkwind’s Chronicles of the Black Sword.
Cast and Crew Information
Dave Brock – guitar, keyboards, vocals
Huw Lloyd-Langton – guitar, vocals
Harvey Bainbridge – keyboards, vocals
Alan Davey – bass guitar, vocals
Danny Thompson Jr. – drums
Dave Charles – percussion
Kris Tait – backup vocals, dance & mime
Michael Moorcock – backup vocals, narration
Tony Crerar – dance & mime
Tim Pollard – dance & mime
Available as a DVD and a live album from Amazon.com.
Elric, sorcerer-prince of Melnibone, gets the runesword Stormbringer (that eats the souls of those it kills), clashes with his kinsman Yrkoon, kills every woman he’s loved with Stormbringer because it has a mind of his own, and then ends the universe.
The narration by Moorcock is excellent, and some of the music is also very well done – though “Needlegun” is a little out-of-place, as it’s based on another character by Moorcock – Jerry Cornelius.
The director of the video tries to be clever by doing all sorts of clever video effects and filters, and images flashing on the screen. The problem is that it means that you can’t tell what the hell is going on on the stage. It’s a concert movie – I want to see what’s actually happening on stage, instead of crazy visual filters and muddled images. Additionally, the audio for vocals, both in narration and vocals wasn’t great.
Originality: It’s an interpretation in music of a series of novels, but it works pretty well, and it’s certainly an original take on the concept. 5 out of 6.
Lyrics: Because of poor production of the audio for the DVD, I wasn’t able to clearly hear the lyrics in part of it, but what I was able to hear was pretty good. 4 out of 6.
Music: The album’s music doesn’t have a lot of big guitar solos, instead putting riffs and melodies together to build a stronger whole, which fits with my musical tastes. This isn’t to say the album isn’t lacking in guitar solos – it has Hawkwind’s “Masters of the Universe” which was good enough to merit inclusion in one of the track packs for Rock Band, but it feels like a good fusion of boisterous, bombastic nature of Metal with Progressive Rock’s subtle intricacies, which is exactly to my tastes. 6 out of 6.
Production: This is where it all falls down. The vocals are mixed poorly, making it difficult for me to decipher the lyrics on some songs. The cameras are all over the place, the lighting too dim for the cameras, so I can’t see what’s going on stage. Plus, the director decided to put in all sorts of visual effects and filters because this movie is for a concept album based on a series of fantasy novels. Consequently, 3/4ths of the time I can’t tell what the hell’s happening on stage. 2 out of 6.
Performance: This is going beyond the music and the lyrics to how interesting it was to see the concert – whether the band members just stood there on stage and didn’t have anything interesting to look at, or if they had screen videos, or if they mugged for the audience. From what I was able to glean when there wasn’t visual noise on the screen, the performance was pretty interesting. There were actors miming out various bits of the Elric saga (Elric’s fight with Yrkoon, etc.), which could have been interesting (particularly since, in my opinion, the Elric Saga is perfect material for a modern day opera). However, as noted under production, I couldn’t see much of it. Also, the members of Hawkwind themselves were pretty locked in place and close together. I’m not certain if this is because of the limitations of the stage design, limitations of the camera setup, or if that’s their natural performing style. 4 out of 6.
Emotional Response: I enjoyed the music, but it the production difficulties limited the response I got from it. I certainly didn’t get the motional response I got from the books on which the album was based. However, considering that the concert was one hour long, and they were packing the entire Elric Saga in that one hour set, managing to get the same reaction as that series within that duration is still tricky. 3 out of 6.
Overall: I really wanted to love this. I’m not going to say that I hated it, but I will say that they did get me to buy the album, because hopefully the production quality is better for that, so I can tell what the heck is going on, and what songs go with what stories. 4 out of 6.
In Total, The Chronicle of the Black Sword – live on DVD gets 28 out of 42.
As a Hawkwind fan I can clear up a couple of points. I have this concert on VHS and it has all the same sound problems that you describe. I’m guessing that the DVD was mastered from the source. The sound quality on the CD version is much better, but Hawkwind shows are not known for their clear sound. They are designed to be listened to at near painful levels (1 LA show I was at was shutdown by the police after a half-hour or so due to noise level complaints and violations).
As for the video effects, yeah they are annoying on the DVD. But Hawkwind is also known for their extensive light-show effects when playing live, so I guess the producer was trying to go for that vibe.
The stage they were on seemed a bit more cramped than when I have seen them so they are closer together than normal. But they often have worn elaborate masks, face paint and costumes during their shows (along with their dancer Stacy, who liked to dance naked on stage, always exciting when you are teenage boy!)
Having seen Hawkwind live multiple times in their heyday I’d say this DVD is a fairly representative example of their concerts but without the bleeding ears. If you like the music on this, be sure and get a copy of their double live album Space Ritual.