Released on: April 22nd, 2014
Label: Drag City Records
Grade: 2.5 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Jay Donegan
In 1971, three brothers from Detroit rehearsed in the spare bedroom of their parents' home. Starting out with R&B and soul, the group quickly shifted gears to unadulterated hard, fast rock 'n' roll. They called themselves Death.
Bobby, Dannis, and David Hackney were born into a small family in Detroit, Michigan. Their earliest exposure to rock music was when their father, a Baptist minister, sat the boys down to witness The Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Days later, David stumbled across a discarded guitar in an alleyway and began teaching himself to play. Dannis and Bobby eventually picked up instruments of their own, and Death was born.
In 1974, they recorded a seven-song LP at United Sound Studios in their hometown. The recording session was funded by Clive Davis of Columbia Records; however, after the brothers refused to change the name of their group (to make things more marketable), he pulled his support. A year later, they started their own record label, Tryangle Records, and self-released a single featuring two songs, "Politicians in My Eyes" and "Keep on Knocking." Only 500 of these singles were ever produced, and very few remain today. In 1977, the brothers dissolved the band and moved on to pursue other endeavors. With that, Death was no more. The Hackney brothers continued making music together as The 4th Movement until 1982. David then moved back to Detroit and eventually died of lung cancer in 2000.
In 2008, the sons of Bobby Hackney (Julian, Urian, and Bobby Jr.) formed a band called Rough Francis (after an alias of their uncle Danny's) and began covering Death's library after hearing the recordings stored in their father's attic. With their help, in 2009, Drag City Records began supporting Death and released a full seven-track LP of the original United Sound recordings called ...For All the World to See. In 2011, they unveiled Spiritual-Mental-Physical, which was compiled of mastered tracks that dated earlier than the 1974 recordings. Death went on to perform a nationwide tour promoting their music after all these years, with Bobbie Duncan of the reggae band Lambsbread on guitar substituting for the late Danny Hackney.
When I found out that Death was remastering and releasing more material after 35 years, to say that I was excited would be a severe understatement. I was ecstatic. Being a huge fan of proto-punk and well, punk in general, I was quickly swept into the hype when Death's music was released to the public after all this time. ... For All the World to See quickly moved up the list on my "favorite albums ever" scale, and I was beyond excited to hear what else Death had to offer.
The only thing I can say is, what a letdown. To draw a comparison: there was this period where Sonic Youth was making amazing music, cranking out one great song after another. They were raw, different, and true to themselves. Eventually, Sonic Youth stopped making music and started making noise. III is Death's "noise" album.
I hate to say that the album is bad, so I won't. Yes, it's an archival collection, but it seems as though they saved the weakest for last. It's not bad, but a lot of the music sounds rehashed and recycled, almost like a series of unfinished ideas that focus more on distortion and ambient noise than making music, treading into the realm of psychedelia over the fast-paced, hard-edged rock we've come to know and love. It's not that I have a problem with the more psychedelic sound or even the over abundant usage of ambient noise; my problem lies with the fact that every song felt incomplete, leaving me asking, "That's it?" after every track.
The composition of the album feels awkward, as everything just kind of happens. The track to track flow is jarring; it makes listening to the disc all the way through uncomfortable. When I did make it to the end, I was left unsatisfied.
Out of the whole album, there was one standout track, "North Street." It made me feel right at home, and I went ahead and gave it several listens. Overall though, this is one to add to your collection if you're a fan. Maybe it will eventually grow on me, but for now — I'll stick to the first two collections. If you're a new listener, however — whatever you do, don't let III be your first exposure to this prolific group.