Death - N.E.W. LP
Death lives! David, Dannis, and Bobby Hackney's singular brand of scorching, '70s Detroit proto-punk power trio rock was all but unheard save for a few handfuls of Motor City fans and record collectors. Their first seven singles were compiled by Drag City and issued as For the Whole World to See. Two subsequent collections (Spiritual-Mental-Physical in 2011 and III in 2013), as well as a documentary film entitled A Band Called Death and a subsequent tour (with new guitarist Bobbie Duncan replacing the deceased David) drew massive attention. N.E.W. is the band's first newly issued material since the '70s. Half the songs are new compositions; the remainder were written over the years by David. Their root sound remains crunchy, driving, crescendo-fueled hard guitar rock. That said, it is difficult to overstate the importance of the rhythm section: the hyperkinetic drumming of Dannis and the propulsive bass playing of Bobby are guiding forces for Duncan's absolutely stunning axe work. This is music that is guided by David's spirit -- he knew how to juxtapose the music of their influences: the funky psychedelic rhythms of Funkadelic and the heatseeking rock & roll destruction of the Stooges, Alice Cooper, and the MC5. The themes here seem to be evolution, resurrection, and change. Sometimes the lyrics are goofy, but they don't detract from the well-crafted melodies, vamps, riffs, and arrangements. Their sound, despite better fidelity, remains basic -- and yeah, that's a really good thing. The knotty charge in "Relief" puts the roiling bassline up front, filled by Duncan with Hendrix-esque lines. The simmering blues rock that introduces "Look at Your Life" is soon replaced by knotty stop-and-start cadences and a brief but killer guitar solo. "The Times" is storming, furious punk rock, followed by the heavy yet nearly danceable pop-punk of "Playtime." "Who Am I" is the most expansive track here, with an elongated melody that shapes itself around skittering, punchy snares, power chords, and loping guitar and bass fills. "You Are What You Think" is a dead cross between classic early power metal and Bad Brains. "Resurrection" is almost anthemic; its melody could have been written by Phil Lynott circa Jailbreak, but the attack and frenzy are pure Detroit. Closer "Change" may have some of the cheesiest lyrics on the set, but its hooky, kinetic punk boogie is a guaranteed party jam. N.E.W. is solid proof that Death never stopped pursuing the idiosyncratic rock & roll vision that inspired them initially. The energy, ability, and vitality are here in abundance, and Duncan proves an excellent, respectful choice to fill in the Hackney Brothers' lineup. The album, though brief, is not only better than it had any right to be, but is close to perfect. Can't wait for the next one.