Despite the amazing back story on this band, if you put this album on without prior knowledge of the group you are transported back to a time when music was simpler … back to a time when melody and power struggled in some sort of dysfunctional relationship. The ten tracks on Death’s “Spiritual, Mental, Physical” are actually reel-to-reel demos recorded in practice from 1974-1976 and demonstrate that Death should have been at the forefront of the U.S.-based punk movement. This is a fun listen that is as trailblazing then as it is nostalgic now.
Death has often been referenced as “the band that was punk before punk.” Their existence is legendary. Three African-American brothers from Detroit sat down by their father in the early ’60s to watch The Beatles on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” The impact was immediate and they set about to form their own band. Originally known as the Rock Fire Funk Express, the band decided to change their name to Death … to dispel the negative connotations generally associated with this life event.
By the mid-70s, Death had established themselves, so much so that Columbia Records’ Clive Davis funded a recording session. The band completed seven of 12 songs before being asked (and refusing) to change their name. The only official release from the band were two songs from the session, self-released as a 7-inch in 1976. Death officially broke up in 1977 and the brothers decamped to Vermont where they formed a gospel group called The 4th Movement and later/currently a reggae band named Lambsbread. However, the original Death demos hit the bootleg market shortly after they were recorded and the band’s legacy lived on until all seven songs were released by Drag City Records.
The demos on this particular album predate the Clive Davis-funded demos. These are practice session caught on reel-to-reel tape. The songs, though raw, are fully formed and give the listener great insight into the early stage of Death. To quote bassist Bobby Hackney, Jr., “turn on your mind, close your eyes and enjoy this wild, wild trip.”