Someone has definitely spiked the water in Detroit. The Midwestern town has been spouting caustic sonic thunderstorms non-stop for the past 40 years, including big and bad, don’t-take-the-piss-out-of-me cretins The Stooges and party animals-cum-garage blasters Dirtbombs. But sometimes amid the pandemonium of rock 'n' roll emanating from the Motor City, some incendiary acts are inevitably obfuscated and exiled from the musical canon. And yet, coming into light like Lazarus from the grave, rises the overlooked and uncompromising proto-punk-incendiary spatter from power trio Death with …For the Whole World to See (Drag City Records).
Not to be confused with the Florida extreme metalists with the identical moniker and branded the Detroit equivalent of Bad Brains, Death was formed in 1971 by Hackney brothers Bobby (bass, vocals), David (guitar) and Dannis (drums), originally starting out as an R&B group named Rock Fire Funk Express (terrible), but David urged the group towards a harder, pulsating and relentless brand of punishing riff-based punk after they got their mind blown witnessing shock-rocker ghoul and local favorite — you guessed it — Alice Cooper.
Though their eclectic mix of spitfire punk and hard rock might be viewed as visionary today, the band were just, according to Dannis Hackney, “three black brothers playing straight-up white rock” amongst puzzled listeners expecting something like Earth, Wind and Fire. The guys signed to Groovesville (home to funkadelic George Clinton and the Parliaments) with Brian Spears recording some miscellaneous cuts, but they didn’t make it big until Clive Davis of Columbia records (yeah, that guy who signed Iggy in 1972) phoned Spears saying they might have a hoity toity record deal if they'd just change their name. David, in a moment of utmost bad-assery, answered Spears: “Tell Clive Davis to go to hell.”
The band only saw the release of their single, “Politicians in My Eyes/ Keep On Knocking,” before disintegrating, but now Drag City has recuperated and put out the remains of their unfinished debut album (recorded in 1976) to do exactly what the band had intended to do: have the world see Death!
The first thing you hear when you pop the record is the grainy strum of David’s guitar summoning the unruly masses of destruction. Then it hits you: the anthemic, driving crunch of “Keep On Knocking,” with its soaring lead guitar and vocals served with a side of ‘tude. Perpetual and persisting, the song presages the long and inward journey towards the hard kernel of Death — you gotta go in deeper, friends.