Review by: Mountain Monkey
SCUM Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Coming hot on the heels of last year’s Searching for Sugar Man (2012) is A Band Called Death, a rockumetary that treads a now familiar path about a long-forgotten star/band ‘rediscovered’ by music geeks.
While Sixto Rodriguez had the benefit of major label distribution back in the early 1970s (and found fame in apartheid-era South Africa, of all places), the proto-punk band Death released only one 7″ single independently in the Detroit area before vanishing into obscurity.
Their single “Politicians in my Eyes” was released in such minute quantities that it became legendary in the decades that followed, particularly among record collectors like Dead Kennedys front-man, Jello Biafra. The single’s rarity and punky-rawness only accentuated Death’s mystique, and this sets the scene for the movie’s story-line:
- Gushing sound bites from celebrities like Henry Rollins and Elijah Wood (!) about how Death kicked-ass before The Ramones and other proto-punk bands.
- The musician son of Death’s bassist, Bobby Hackney, discovers that his father and uncles formed Death in the early 1970s.
- Son freaks out and spreads the word to his friends, which includes the documentary’s producers and directors, Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett.
- Remaining members of Death recount how the band was formed and how they recorded their music at the legendary United Sound Systems Recording Studios before they transformed into reggae band, Lambsbread.
- “Politicians in my Eyes” is re-released as an album, “…For the Whole World to See” together with other songs that were sitting in Bobby Hackney’s attic for three decades.
- Death reforms for live shows.
If the story-line feels rather rigid, it is and I couldn’t help reaching for the >>>FWD button more than a few times as I was faced with yet another celebrity talking-head hyperventilating about how great Death is/was.
When one considers the fact though that these events happened in real-life, the story does become quite remarkable. Coupled with the raw energy and creativity of Death’s music, the rough edges of the documentary are definitely worth overlooking, and if anything, are an accurate reflection of the punk, get-off-your-ass-and-do-it-yourself spirit.
The documentary A Band Called Death and the band’s music is available for purchase here.