There’s a certain set of expectations that are put in place when you put on a record with a title like Space Ritual. These are further heightened when you glance at album artwork like that, which has got to be one of the most gorgeously mind-warping bits of sleeve design I’ve ever seen. So suffice to say I guess I expected that whatever this album was going to sound like it simply had to be some kind of consciousness-elevating, perspective shifting head trip. What I experienced was not quite what I anticipated, but an experience Space Ritual certainly is.
Music is one of the hardest things for me to write about, and it aggravates me no end. Probably nothing resonates with me as powerfully as music does, but it evokes such a complex tapestry of emotions, moods and imagery for me I often find myself unable to translate my feelings into anything resembling coherent language. I’m no musicologist or music critic and maybe that has something to do with it, but either way, no place do I feel the torment of Avital Ronell’s ethereal phantom dictator than when I try to say something intelligent about music. I always end up feeling like the protagonist of William Shatner’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, haplessly and fruitlessly trying to describe enlightenment to someone who didn’t experience it firsthand. I’m also once again handicapped by the fact I’m writing about a group of artists I’m not especially familiar with and feel woefully underqualified to actually talk about.
But even so there are a fair amount of interesting things I was able to notice about Hawkwind’s Space Ritual even given my limited experience with the band that slot the album very nicely into the cultural zeitgeist of the early 1970s. Hawkwind, firstly, are a UK-based rock outfit who combine elements of Psychedelia, acid rock and prog rock and who are usually credited as the originators of space rock, which fuses all of these disparate sounds together through an interest in science fiction motifs. While this isn’t the kind of space rock I’m familiar with (which uses a lot more electronic instruments, distortion and overdubbing) it is quite an apt description of what Hawkwind sound like. With their heady themes and incredibly skilled guitar shredding, Hawkwind are also seen as the intermediate step between the Hippies of the Long 1960s and the Punks of the Long 1980s. They were also one of the most laudably workmanlike bands of their time, regularly doing one show every three days and once playing five consecutive nights for free outside, not at, the Isle of Wright Festival. Space Ritual itself isn’t an album in the traditional sense: It’s a double-disc live album chronicling a night from Hawkwind’s 1972-3 tour to support their Doremi Fasol Latido album. However, like so many great live albums, Space Ritual holds together perfectly on its own to the point it more than overshadows the records it’s ostensibly trying to support.
That Space Ritual is a recording of a concert is key to grasping its impact, as it really does feel like this kind of music is meant to be shared with a live audience.…