EXHUMED: Death For the Whole World To See LP/CD

posted Monday Feb 16th, 2009

Staring down the barrel…the barrel stares back.


There’s no bottom; only a hole (loose bag of unlabeled EAT ME/DRINK ME pills on a side-table - use at your own risk).

Unseen teeth smile. The barrel always wins.

As much as designated cultural affairs officers would love to vacuum-S.W.A.K. the final word on all things subaltern into one, collapsible, black leather satchel, rock just keeps on oozing into wider margins and deeper crawlspaces, dodging pesky Rolling Stone coffee table, donkey-tails as it seeps. Stewart Home, in between pouring slag over the Clash and Greil Marcus, perhaps said it best in the preface of Cranked Up Really High, that “PUNK (READ: Rock - ed.) has shifting parameters, and lacks a fixed point of origin.” Which means, simply, that there’s no real fear in the man ever busting (Y)OUR music. Surprise! Wild Watty was right all along: punk’s not dead, it’s being born in reverse. Death is life and DEATH is PUNK! And so, I guess, is Brad Pitt.

First landing on the greater scum radar-screen via a comp appearance on the No One Left To Blame compilation LP, Death was a fitting name for an African-American three-piece choosing to play high-energy Rock ‘N’ Roll amidst the wreckage of the mid-70s Detroit scene. With Iggy dying every night in the gutters of Hollywood, the MC-5 splintered, the Frost and SRC buried and even long-time Motor City mainstays like Mitch Ryder and the Woolies label-less, it was clear that raising the colors for Detroit Rock this time around was likely to draw precious few fresh recruits. Perhaps sensing this, the Hackney brothers – Bobby, Dannis and David – clung tight to the close bonds of family and a shared passion for hard rock/power trio intensity, both mainstream and underground (when asked of his early 70’s listening habits, Bobby listed Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, The Who and the Stooges among his heroes). After their 1974 demo attracted unexpected interest from Clive Davis at Columbia - interest subsequently snuffed out by Death’s refusal to change their commercially nonviable name – the band issued two tracks of its material – “Politicians In My Eyes” b/w “Keep On Knockin” - as a single on their own Tryangle label in 1976. Which, keeping Home’s words in mind, does – if not make them some of the ‘first’ 70’s punks – certainly makes them anomalous and noteworthy. That said, anyone with half a brain can write this story’s predictable post-script…

It wouldn’t mean much if the music wasn’t worth hearing; an amusing aberration, fodder for regional crust completists, nothing more. To label this collection of music as anything less than the discovery of a lost gospel, continent or city of gold would be akin to calling On The Origin Of Species a helpful travel guide. If the Drag City cover-art seems slightly amateurish, make no mistake, the title of the record is no hack hyperbole. Every bit as revelatory as Simply Saucer, Rocket from the Tombs and Cold Sun, the music Death created, containing both elements of the psychedelic Stooges and the experimental MC-5, ranks on par with the absolute best of the Rock-A-Delic stable of hard rock blowouts. While, at the same time, it presages the arrival of punk and even hardcore. For everyone still peering through the holes in the fetid, fitted-sheet of ’77 punk mystique, it is indeed a whole new world to see.

Blow by blow, it’s all blazing basement killer and no filler to quote punk greats Sum 41 (and yes, I will, in this instance, succumb to play-by-play). Opening with the B-side to the band’s lone single and it sounding like the ultimate A-side intro serves as taster-ment of the quality to come. Similar to fellow Michiganites, The Dogs, “Keep On Knockin” is all air-tight rhythms and razor-sharp leads, with the key difference lying in Death’s ability to surpass their hero worship and actually take up the vacant seats in the rock/roll pantheon instead of simply genuflecting benignly at its altar. “Rock ‘N’ Roll Victim,” easily the most manic performance on the entire LP, follows with an amphetamine energy seemingly tailor-made for a Phast Phreddie Back Door Man rap/ramp. The hand-claps in the background, too, convey a seedy image of The Sweet crashing out at the Funhouse (the black pubes on the Kugelbergian grill-fat sandwich!). “Let The World Turn” shows off the band’s psych third-eye-teeth, coming on like Morgen meets Stonewall, with Arthur Lee vocals and even a brief drum solo. “You’re A Prisoner,” much like Bobby Soxx & The Teenage Queers’ “You’re A Slave,” is a fuck off/put down song and a fitting rejoinder to Woodstock Nation and all squares at large. And with a heavy, down-stroke riff, ripping like John Berenzy gunning it in a stolen police cruiser, it’s an instant hit. “Freakin’ Out” is exactly that, with Bobby’s vocals at their most droog-ey/druggy unhinged, leaving you scratching your head at just what audience Clive Davis envisioned for the group. This is shooting gallery lysergia – STP not LSD. If “Freakin’ Out” wasn’t enough, the track which follows it is certainly the most remarkable track on show, in terms of how advanced and anachronistic it sounds. “Where Do We Go From Here”(NOT the Rex Smith song!), through a perfect use of delays, silence, bass build-ups and furious scratching breakdowns, taps a vein direct into the arm of the post-psychedelic avant-metal of “Black To Comm.” …and somehow winds up sounding exactly like Bad Brains! I’m not kidding. The excellent lyrics stab up at glitter rock and other above-ground friendly freak shows:

‘Oh all you false pretenders, and you freaky contenders, trying to be the first, in my own opinion, you are not defending, you, you are the worst!’

Death are muthas!

Successfully staking their spot in the first-string of forward-thinking-pre-punkers, Death burn up and blaze to the last run-out groove; saving their lone A-side for the final blow. In “Politicians In My Eyes,” Death, with one song, sound out the John Sinclair Rock ‘N’ Roll warning with the fury of ten Third World Wars and shredding on level with the heaviest of the Coloured Balls or Notting Hill freak groups. I hope the guitar used on this track was given a hero’s burial as the audible punishment it endured was worthy of Hendrix or Rasputin.

Thus Spake Death.

The leaky bucket of glossy, convenient 70s coffee-table rock-o-logy continues in its inevitable decay, but at a glacial snail’s pace. Rust never sleeps, but neither does VH-1. To see the punk Sphinx splat and the legitimate history unlocked out of its Tartarus tartan-pant-bondage will take time; time and releases like this. Because underneath the tidy, linear cushions of Jann Werner’s French poodle parlor lurk incongruous stains that no Rolling Stone chronology or Pete Frame family twig could ever explain. Some with mustaches and no scented candle is going to be able to cover that up. Nevertheless, rest easy - time is on (y)our side and Death is certain.

Pick up the Death LP right HERE.