Detroit proto-punk band Death have a long and somewhat heartbreaking story, and with the release of Death III, that tale comes to an end.
After breaking up in 1977, the band languished in obscurity until Drag City began releasing their recorded material in 2009. Due to label conflicts early on, the band never gained the commercial success they deserved, but they've recently experienced a resurgence, due in part to 2012 documentary A Band Called Death. Death III marks the last of the material in the vault and contains tracks recorded in 1975, 1976, 1980, and 1992.
The record starts out with an instrumental introduction by late guitarist David Hackney, a solo guitar jam that provides a soulful soft open for the rest of the record. The blistering "North Street" comes next and really sets things off, with dark tales of hard city living. Recorded in 1980, the track was ahead of its time, the furious speed of the drum beats and the wailing guitar showcasing their precision and virtuosity.
The mood switches palpably with the almost-country "Open Road," a track that shows a wide variety of influences, including some soul and gospel roots. "We Are Only People" keeps the mood calm, with tight vocal harmonies and simple, somber melodies before kicking in to high gear with an uptempo funk riff. The vocals aren't as strong here -- as though they were left unfinished -- but the sound and structure of the song indicate the band's diverse palette.
The driving rock and roll returns for "Restlessness," a track with intricate guitar work, a powerful, steady drumbeat, and more polished vocal sound. The big guitar sounds of Death are at their best here, with lyrical themes comparable to the dark "North Street." A phasey guitar and vocal take over for "Free," a demo-quality cut that doesn't match the studio quality of the bulk of the record. "Yes He's Coming" follows, a clear precursor to the band's later gospel rock project, The 4th Movement.
The jammy instrumental "First Snowfall in Detroit" starts fading the energy out, and the wistful, country-inspired "We're Gonna Make It" brings the album to a close. "Don't you cry, we're gonna make it," they sing as a mournful trumpet rings out to the end of the song.
The structure of the record seems a little random -- perhaps it's simple track order, perhaps because there weren't enough individual parts to form a cohesive whole -- but it's a fitting snapshot of Death's tumultuous career. Death III shows off everything about the band: their stylistic evolution, the directions they would later head, their rock fury, and their tranquil spirituality. There may not be an entire contiguous record, but Drag City has emptied the vaults and given us what gold Death had left to offer. "We're Gonna Make It" is indeed a fitting way to close the album: a plaintive yet optimistic end to the saga of Death.
Death III tracklist:
1. "Introduction by David"
2. "North Street"
3. "Open Road"
4. "We Are Only People"
7. "Yes He's Coming"
8. "First Snowfall in Detroit"
9. "We're Gonna Make It"
Death III will be out on Drag City April 22nd. You can pre-order the album through Amazon.