A Band Called DeathJune 28, 2013
A documentary on the 1970s punk trio Death, and their new-found popularity decades after they disbanded.
Release Year: 2012
Rating: 8.0/10 (90 voted)
Director: Mark Christopher Covino
Before Bad Brains, the Sec Pistols or even the Ramones, there was a band called Death. Punk before punk existed, three teenage brothers in the early '70s formed a band in their spare bedroom, began playing a few local gigs and even pressed a single in the hoped of getting signed. But this was the era of Motown and emerging disco. Record companies found Death's music – and band name – too intimidating, and the group were never given a fair shot, disbanding before they even completed one album. Equal parts electrifying rockumentary and epic family love story, A Band Called Death chronicles the incredible fairy-tale journey of what happened almost three decades later, when a dusty 1974 demo tape made it way out of the attic and found an audience several generations younger. Playing music impossible ahead of its time, Death is now being credited as the first black pun band (hell…the first punk band!), and are finally receiving their long overdue recognition as true rock pioneers.
Write this one up as fiction and no one would buy it. Three black
brothers in Detroit back in the early seventies. Their parents come
into a chunk of money and buy their music-loving kids the classic
bass/guitar/drums rock configuration. David, the band's guitarist and
de facto leader, decides that if he can play chords like Pete Townsend
and solo like Jimi Hendrix, he'll be capable of making an all-powerful
sound. And as with so much of what David proclaimed, he was right.
This movie feels like a pure rock and roll myth, and like all myths, it
has its tragic act. The band called Death independently records an
amazing album, but they never get the major push they were hoping for.
Their extreme (at the time) name is a constant stumbling block. After a
long string of rejections, Death hears word that Clive Davis might sign
them – but only if they're willing to change their name. Brothers Bobby
and Dannis are willing to make the change in a heartbeat, but David –
an uncompromising visionary on every level – dismisses the idea without
even a moment's consideration, seemingly dooming the band to permanent
Eventually the other Hackney brothers move on without David, evolving
their sound into a reggae act. In 2000, David ominously delivers their
earlier recordings to his brother, telling him to keep them safe
because "the world's going to come looking for the Death master tapes
someday." He wasn't wrong on that one, either, or this movie wouldn't
As a documentary, "A Band Called Death" is extremely well made. The
Hackney brothers provide lively interviews, as do other family members
and people connected with the band. Black and white photos from their
well-documented studio sessions fill in the visual pieces that home
video would handle in a more modern story. The film is paced well, and
even though by its very existence you'll realize that the band and its
music were ultimately vindicated, there are many nice surprises along
the way. If you're into music (especially hard rock, punk, hardcore,
or thrash) and immersive documentaries like "The King of Kong" and
"Capturing the Friedmans", you'll need to check this one out as soon as
you have the chance.