Death

III

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The work of Detroit power trio Death, comprised of brothers Dannis, David, and Bobby Hackney came to light en masse in 2009 when Drag City issued their 1974 recording sessions at the Motor City's famed United Sound studio. Exceedingly well-written, arranged, and ferociously performed, their songs provided stunning evidence of an all but unknown group of hard rock masters whose group identity was distinct from its better-known peers. The widely acclaimed seven-track record was followed by Spiritual Mental Physical in 2011, a collection of demos and rehearsal tapes cut before those sessions that were never intended for release. A documentary film, A Band Called Death directed by Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett, premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2012. Prefaced by the pre-release single "North Street" b/w "We're Gonna Make It," III is the final entry in this project, collecting tracks recorded between 1975 and 1992. It opens with the solo guitar instrumental "Introduction by David" (who passed away from lung cancer in 2000). Using a delay, its speculative, sparse experimentation gives way to a scorching, I-IV-V Chuck Berry-style progression. Themes of transformation, spirituality, and mortality are woven throughout many of these songs. "Open Road," a bluesy, knotty, psychedelic waltz, references seeing the light of truth as reflected in the gospels -- these cats were raised in the church. "North Street" is a furious, streetwise proto-punk jam with Hendrixian guitar overtones and a stun-gun bassline. "Restlessness" is tight, stinging punk, driven by an angry bassline (think early Paul Simonon) with a killer guitar break and taut, rim-shot snares. "We Are the Only People" is the longest cut here at over eight minutes. It commences as a sparse ballad that lyrically delves deeply into themes of the afterlife and transformation before it erupts into joyful, grooving, midtempo, spiritual soul. That particular R&B bent also frames the more musically expansive demo for "He's Coming" and the pulsing, psychedelic soul in "Free." There's even an attempt at country rock in "We're Gonna Make It," but like most music by Death, it's twisted through their particular sonic prism. The other instrumental here, "First Snowfall in Detroit," is a lovely showcase for David's fluid guitar skills, which are equal parts Curtis Mayfield and Eddie Hazel. While this set is not as visceral -- at least initially -- as the other offerings in this trilogy, it is easily the most musically ambitious entry. When taken together, the tracks on III provide incontrovertible evidence that 15 years after their career ambitions went up the chimney, Death continued not only to make music, but to evolve and grow as a band. Even though this music is less intense, it retains the trio's trademark sound throughout. If you have the other two recordings, you need this one. Period.

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