Rockwood Cinema Review: A Band Called Death – Before There Was Punk (2013)

Bobby Hackney vocalist and bassist for Death.

“Imagine it taking 35 Years. I don’t know a story like that.” – Brian Spears, manager

In our first Rock & Roll Movie Review (which is long overdue, since we have only been doing outdoor-themed movies thus far), we take a look at the compelling rock documentary Death: A Band Called Death (2013). Not to be confused with the metal band, Death, from the 1980’s, before them another band, Death was comprised of three black brothers from Detroit (in the literal sense) who made some of the hardest rock music you have never heard of. Now, the band Death is by no means a household name and this is in part due to their controversial name (as the documentary details). However, it was love and bond of three brothers and most importantly their music that would endure.

Death: A Band Called Death follows the trials and tribulations of an obscure band once forgotten through time, whose only release, a 45 record of “Politicians In My Eye” was so compelling fans sought it out. The band’s story and circumstance turned out to be as compelling as their music, which would eventually lead to their unreleased music being re-released and enjoyed by fans all around the world.

Historically, Death was formed by three brothers, Bobby Hackney (singer, bassist) , Dennis Hackney (drums) under the direction of their eldest brother, David Hackney (guitar), who was really the visionary of the band. These three brothers raised in the black musical environment of Detroit were the sons of preachers and although their faith would mould them, it was their love of music, particularly, rock and roll that would electrify them and motivate them to eventually form the band, Death.

Three brothers, obscured through time, who bridged genres into then unknown punk and hard rock territories

Although they were raised on the Motown sound of Detroit at the time, it was there early exposure to the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and attendance at a live concert of the Who that made an impression on them. However, their music was not met without resistance. They were black in an predominately “white” musical form. This was not without irony considering rock and roll IS black music (beginning with the Blues, then Rhythm and Blues, and later luminaries like Hendrix). Despite this, they were undaunted and continued on developing their talent. The music was undeniably unique but this resistance to their music was further conflated when people heard the name ‘Death’. Even, Clive Davis heard them and was impressed but passed because of the name ‘Death’, a name that David Hackney had conceived and was adamant about.

The late David Hackney, eldest brother and visionary leader of the band, Death.

Well, what is in a name? By today’s standards ‘Death’ is not that controversial a band name. It does have an arresting quality that stops you “dead” in your tracks but for David it was more of a spiritual thing. Ironically, the name ‘Death’ would ultimately be the death of the band, having made numerous demos and having recorded a full studio album that didn’t get released. Eventually, the band moved on to a different name, the 4th Movement, and harnessed their bombastic pre-punk sound into a more Progressive Rock sound.

Had Death not released a sole 45 record, that would eventually would become the stuff of legends amongst punk rock/Detroit collectors, nobody would have know about the band, Death. Eventually, internet curiosity would lead to the band being rediscovered and lead to this documentary 35 years later.

The sons of the band members of Death, would be a key piece to them being rediscovered. A family enterprise to the end.

Death have, since this documentary, re-released their music, made some new recordings and toured. All the more bittersweet, since David, the original visionary who was unwavering in the name and concept for the band, has since passed. However, like a self fulfilling prophecy their music would be rediscovered by the world with the assistance of their own children (also musicians) who were unaware of how prolific their parent’s early music was.

If Rock documentaries are meant to reveal something profound and not simply regurgitate the already plundered histories of elite rock bands, then Death: A Band Called Death is a perfect example of what the medium can accomplish. Telling the stories that should be told. Their music itself was so far ahead of its time, like Jimi Hendrix and Thin Lizzy if they were progressive punks. At other times, they sound more like a hardcore punk band from the 80s, skipping over the Sex Pistols, Ramones-era altogether in speed and complexity. I guess in Death there is sometimes rebirth.

The documentary also features Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys) ,and Alice Cooper and is available for watching below.

Watch the entire documentary, A Band Called Death (2013) above! Directed by Mark Covino & Jeff Howlett.

Rating:  /  5
Length: 1h 36m
Rated: N/A (Death: fun for the whole family)
Best time to watch: Anytime really. A good day or evening watch.

2 Replies to “Rockwood Cinema Review: A Band Called Death – Before There Was Punk (2013)”

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