It’s easy, before the needle even hits the record, to not take Death seriously. That’s part of it nowadays, isn’t it? There’s such a barrage of band names—not even bands, but their names—competing for attention that a bum note nullifies any chance of drawing a listen. If you’re like me, you thought that an old Florida metal band had reunited or raided the vaults. If not, well: Death, you know? Nothing subtle about it, to the point of heavy-handedness. (Come to find out the band would’ve had a major deal if they’d changed their name when this stuff was recorded in 1973. Pretty punk.)
If you can get past the name, there’s the story, which works as a deterrent as well as an attraction: old band is “discovered” and moves forward to assume their rightful place in the __________ canon. In this case, the Detroit band is hyped as the missing like between the MC5 and the Bad Brains. I like both of those bands, don’t get me wrong, but it all seemed very calculated, you know? So much so, in fact, that I questioned the validity of the story. I’ve known bands who have come up with fake backstories—and have come up with a few myself, to be honest—so I couldn’t help but be wary.
So, the confluence of seeing the name and the story all over the place made me react negatively. I feel like rather than finding or stumbling upon music I am now forcefed it more than I would like. Of course, back in the fanzine heydays ads and record reviews served the same purposes, but felt much more honest, somehow—perhaps in their passivity. Goddamn flash popups.
As is almost always the case, I listened to my friends rave about the record, then gave it a shot. And it’s great.
Where Do We Go From Here
So, pre-Florida metal, pre-naming your band with search engines in mind, Death got together and, as the headlines trumpeted, took the hard rock of their city—Stooges, MC5—and infused it with accomplished musicianship and more breakneck tempos. The stop / starts in “Freaking Out,” for example, are tight and timely, and “Where Do We Go From Here” will get stuck in your head for days. This is music that needs to be heard on its own terms, not in spite of their clunky name, and not because of any shoehorning of a band into a historical context.
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