I first came to York as a university fresher in October 1994 to study English Literature. It was back in a time that feels like another lifetime, when here were no fees and people didn’t necessarily go to university because they had specific career plans: I had some vague notion of wanting to be a writer or something, and because I enjoyed books and writing figured three years spent reading while I decided what I really wanted to do with my life was infinitely preferable to getting a job. Around then, Oz Hardwick was a face around the department, although it was at what locals refer to as old-old Fibbers where I caught him playing prog rock with his band of the time, Cloud Machine, that made me realise that academics could do ‘other stuff’ too.
Since then, Oz – who wrote and spoke the words on Space Druids’ ‘Paradox Paradigm’ – has spent as much time on the ‘other stuff’ as the academia, as a widely-published and respected poet, and being involved in numerous music projects spanning folk to space rock.
‘Paradox Paradigm’, the first full-length release from this collective who started out in October 2019 with a cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ and followed it with an EP of original material the following year, sound exactly as you’d expect from looking at the cover – as if calling themselves Space druids wasn’t quite enough of a clue.
The seven of them play tripped-out Hawkwind-influenced space rock with the conventional rock instrumentation augmented with saxophone, violin, and flute, to spin epic swirling psychedelic-hued adventures in time and space, with cosmic themes running through its entirety.
There’s some pretty busy bass wandering the full length of the fretboard from the off, and they wig out early on the expansive ‘Light Speed’. ‘Zyygote’ presents the first of the more ponderous, atmospheric passages – slower, more spacious, reverb-soaked jazz explorations segues into the sparse, ominous drones of ‘Astronomy’ over which a spoken-word narrative piece floats. ‘Brand New Bodies’, the second spoken-word interlude is classic Asimov-era sci-fi.
It’s back to motoric rhythms and dense swirling folk-infused prog on ‘Afraid of Space’ – there’s no shortage of that here, not least of all on ‘Mutation Machine’ that leans on The Stooges’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ – but then, there are plenty of more experimental passages that provide some well-placed contrast. What makes ‘Paradox Paradigm’ stand out is that it has a raw-rough-edged energy that intersects prog and punk, leaning most unexpectedly – towards more contemporary progressive acts like Amplifier and more recent releases by The Membranes – and so instead of being stereotypically pompous or indulgent, it makes for an exhilarating listen, and ultimately, it’s the sax that makes it.