...For the Whole World to See
Drag City

Brothers David, Bobby, and Dannis Hackney formed Death sometime in 1973, a time when death was just settling over the once thriving scene in their native Detroit, so the name was fitting, if not foreboding, to the short life of the band. Considering the wealth of re-discoveries dug up by philanthropic indie labels like Drag City, it has become necessary to go back through the ledger and scribble some important notes into the margins. ...For the Whole World to See is one of those missing links, and needed revisions, that might fill the void between the decline of Detroit’s primal forefathers —the Stooges, MC5, and Alice Cooper—and the various strains of punk, metal, and even hardcore that was manifested in the later half of that decade.

Save the “Politicians in My Eyes” single, which was self-released on Death’s Tryangle label, the bulk of this collection has, for some reason or another, remained unheard. Before cracking into the music however, Death’s story bears repeating, if only because after sitting with ...For the World to See a few times, it’s a wonder the fierce riffs and scathing commentary within has sat dormant for so long. The Hackneys, three African-American brothers who cut their teeth in a late-60s soul band, decided to resurrect the waning spirit of the scene that served as their mentors. Soon they had Funkadelic producer Jim Vitti in the studio and, on the basis of that early single, they also had the ear of Clive Davis, who wouldn’t sign the band without a name change. Apparently conforming wasn’t in the cards, and the trio migrated to New England shortly after refusing to sign with Columbia.

Even as polished and “classic” these recordings are, there’s plenty here that would suggest the rigmarole of a major label wouldn’t jibe with Death’s sloganeering. Though there are echoes of all the bands mentioned in their scant oeuvre—the final shreds of “Where Do We Go From Here” are brutal in an Asheton-esque back-and-forth, the psych-blooze of “You’re a Prisoner” is pure Mike Bruce circa Love it to Death, and David’s vocals were obviously a conscious mirror of Rob Tyner’s tuneful howl—they sound just as influenced by the garage-crunch of SRC and the third-eyed lysergia of the Amboy Dukes.

Their identity, however, was found in taut, adrenalized pub rock, played like an amphetamine fueled Thin Lizzy on “You’re a Prisoner” and “Keep on Knocking,” or a stuttered proto-hardcore outfit, played as a slightly groovier Bad Brains on the relentless “Freaking Out.” These seven songs, which is all the band ever recorded, are based around a confident desperation brought about by a disappointment in counter-culture and the city that surrounded them. That mood is best represented in that one-off single, the incendiary anti-war, anti-government, creed of “Politicians in My Eyes.” As a singular statement by this long lost band it nears prog proportions with its chugging boogie stomping through multiple parts—a monochromatic punk riff, a towering fist-pumping chorus, a slather of solos, and some primal scream—before riding off in an endless fuzz-crusted jam. If this were all Death wanted us to hear, it was certainly a surprising, if not groundbreaking, debut. The beauty is we get to hear it all.
Kevin J. Elliott