Review: 'A Band Called Death'

Not a lot of documentaries are able to take you on an emotional and extraordinary journey like A Band Called Death can. Yes, the band is called Death and their name, in terms of their musical journey, is pretty ironic. The punk band, made of three African-American brothers (unheard of at the time), was punk long before punk was ever popular in the mid-1970s. They may not have paved a golden career at the time of their initial inception, but they make an impact long after the music stops playing.

A Band Called Death follows the story of Dannis, Bobby, and David Hackney, three brothers who started a punk rock band back in 1974 and who never quite made it to fame during the prime of their lives. Most of the documentary is given life through the memories and experiences of two of its members Dannis and Bobby (David passed away in 2000). They share the humble beginnings of Death, tracing their journey to Detroit, where they would play their music so loudly they’d attract the attention of their neighbors.

 The brothers face hardship throughout the ‘70s as they try and make a name for themselves, sign a record deal, and get discovered. They do record several original songs in 1975, but the problem isn't their music, though record executives are surprised because African-Americans are initially in the Motown music business.

The issue is always their name. The name Death isn't something anyone wants them to keep, one record executive offering to sign them on the condition they change it to something less depressing. It’s David who puts his foot down and refuses to change a name that’s a part of who they are as people, having been heavily influenced by their father’s death years before. Fading into the unknown, it’s not until 35 years later that Death is rediscovered and they finally become household names in the world of punk rock.

The film is told boldly and gets more intriguing as more people’s stories intermingle and add more depth to the film. Kid Rock and Elijah Wood are among the famous faces who praise Death and their music. As you listen and watch the film unfold, you quickly realize that Death's story is a one-of-a-kind type thing. David Hackney says it best when he tells his brothers to keep the original tapes of Death's music safe because "the world's gonna come looking for these someday." 

A Band Called Death is much more than just a documentary about three brothers who play punk rock music. The film is very much an emotional journey. It will make your heartstrings tug a bit as Dannis and Bobby tell their tale and pay their love and respect to their brother David. They’re all about family and the film very much makes it a point to never stray far from that message. The irony is that Death is resurrected and thrust into fame long after they thought they would never hear or play their music again. A great untold story.