Music Review: Death (plus a Leonard Nimoy/Bad Brains mashup!)

Death has been getting a lot of attention since Drag City unearthed and re-released their 1974 EP. Jack White (White Stripes) said "When I was told the history of the band and what year they recorded this music, it just didn’t make sense. Ahead of punk, and ahead of their time."

The album (really half of a planned LP) is good but not great. Overall the songs are catchy, but they're following in the footsteps of better-known bands (e.g. compare to MC5's second album "Back in the USA", released 4 years earlier). "Keep on Knocking" is a great song, but "Let the World Turn" takes an unfortunate proggy turn and the album never really recovers.

Comparisons with Bad Brains are inevitable, since both bands stood out for being African-American when most of their musical contemporaries were white. The comparisons aren't really fair, though. Given the similarity to earlier bands (MC5, The Stooges), it's hard to claim that Death was novel. But Bad Brains earned their long-lasting influence with innovative music and frenetic energy that distinguished them from all the other bands that couldn't play as well or as fast. Compare any early punk or hardcore to the first single from Bad Brains in the late 70's:

(Forgive the unnecessary Leonard Nimoy mashup.) At least in my opinion, that song holds up pretty well 30 years later.

Still, Bad Brains were by all accounts not very nice (at least back then -- they're older and wiser now). But Death seems like they're pretty friendly guys. My favorite part of their story is how one of their sons re-discovered their music:
The Hackneys had never shared the details of their Death experience with their kids. “We had moved on in our lives and thought that chapter was over because we went through so much rejection with that music,” Bobby said. “We just didn’t want to relive it, and I especially didn’t want to relive it again with my children.”

But last year Julian heard the Tryangle single at a party in San Francisco and recognized his father’s voice. Soon after, Bobby Jr. did a Google search that revealed the Holy Grail status of the band’s only release. This news astounded Bobby Sr., who dug the master tapes out of storage last May for the first time in three decades and sat down with Dannis for a listen. The music “literally took our breath away,” Bobby Sr. said.

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