MRR Review: "A Band Called Death"

Photo Credit: Drafthouse Films

MRR Review: "A Band Called Death"

-- Rating: NR
Length: 96 minutes
Release Date: June 28, 2013
Directed by: Mark Christopher Covino, Jeff Howlett
Genre: Documentary

The Roots of Death were a 1970s era band that paved the way for punk music, but even fans of punk often don't know about the band. "A Band Called Death" hopes to introduce music fans to the band's music, and the film does a good job of telling the story behind the band.

The film tells the story of the Hackney brothers: Dannis, Bobby, and David. The three brothers grew up on the mean streets of Detroit, but no matter what they did, they always watched out for each other. Their parents introduced them to different types of music, and they listened to everyone from Alice Cooper to The Beatles. After seeing The Who perform live, they realized they could form their own band and play the type of music they loved.

The brothers played music unlike anything people in Detroit heard before. David wrote lyrics that were powerful and pushed the buttons of those listening. In today's world, the band might compete alongside the likes of Green Day, but in 1970s Detroit, no one took the time to listen to them. While they had their fair share of fans, people of the time still wanted Motown and bands like the Jackson Five ruled the airways.

"A Band Called Death" talks about the obstacles they faced when starting out. One of their older brothers mentions locals thought their music sounded too much like the music that white bands played, and Bobby complains local radio stations ignored them. David was the one factor that kept the band together, telling his brothers that the important thing was they did what they loved.

The documentary also delves into other issues that stopped the band from becoming a household name. When Arista Records offered the brothers a recording contract, the label demanded they choose a different name. Without consulting his brothers, David rejected the offer. His brothers were more than willing to make the simple change, but David didn't want to lose the name he created. After losing that deal, A Band Called Death essentially died.

Fans of the band might wonder what happened to them over the years. United Sound, a local recording studio where the brothers worked, had their original recordings sitting in storage for more than thirty years. David never left Detroit, and his two brothers later formed another band in Vermont. Bobby and Dannis look back on their brother with loving eyes, but they aren't above talking about his flaws. It's clear from their interviews they still blame him for the death of their band, especially when they talk about how he never moved on with his life. David spent most of his years drinking and partying before passing away in 2000 after a battle with lung cancer.

The smart thing about this film is it mixes modern interviews with classic footage of the band. Viewers will see black-and-white images of the band playing on local stages across the city, and they'll see video footage taken by their parents during their younger years. That footage manages to look fresh and exciting even thirty-five years later. One of the best moments involves a home video showing the three of them bouncing off the walls, filled with energy and excitement about their upcoming show.

The interviews with Bobby and Dannis delve into the background of the band and how the brothers feel years later. Though they sometimes come across as a little bitter, their bitterness is understandable. The two still wonder what might have been had their brother not acted as their spokesperson, but they also understand why he did what he did. They can't help thinking about what the future held for A Band Called Death, but viewers will also notice the tears in their eyes when they talk about their deceased brother.

"A Band Called Death" delves into the world of underground music and shows how those who paved the way sometimes get lost in the shuffle. Though the band essentially brought punk music to various audiences, they never found the success they wanted. The moments where Bobby and Dannis wander the streets of Detroit are heartbreaking at times, and those moments become even sadder when they venture by the old clubs they played and the recording studio they used. The recording studio now sits dusty and dark, offering viewers a glimpse of what happened to the Motor City. Once known for its amazing music and automobile manufacturing plants, the city is now a shell of its former shelf, similar to how the remaining members of A Band Called Death are but a shell.

This is a documentary for anyone who loves music. Those who heard the band play in their heyday and those who never heard of the band before will find something memorable about "A Band Called Death."

Rating: 3.5 out of 5