Die Not, Poor Death…
You’re not going to like Death’s Spiritual. Mental. Physical. the first time you hear it. The opening riff sounds too much like “Out on the Tiles,” guitars come in and out of nowhere, and it sounds like it was recorded on someone’s cassette player. But for those who slug it out past the first two tracks, the prize in your Cracker Jacks is a solid sampling of punk in its most nascent state.
Though largely overshadowed by their contemporaries, the MC5, Death is a bit of a missing link, bridging the gap between the garage rock of the Seeds and early Kinks to the rise of “punk” proper. Though the MC5 is heralded as being one of the first legitimate punk acts, their legacy is only half of what into making “punk” what it was. While they would impart on later generations the sound of speed-fueled blues riffs, militant politics, and a hearty disdain for the Man, Death’s legacy proved to be as prophetic as it was popular. By the end of 1969, anyone with an ear to the ground knew that the declawed “rock and roll” of the previous decade was falling by the wayside as hard rock and heavy metal was exploding in popularity. Instead of trying to “punk-up” old blues riffs, Death was incorporating the heavy rhythms of bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin into their previous garage rock sound. While it devastated their contemporary popularity, we wouldn’t be talking about them at all if they had just tried to sound like a Small Faces cover band.
The first two tracks, “Views” and “the Mask,” show the band in their earliest stage, doing homespun versions of Led Zeppelin and the Beatles. The former experiment doesn’t fail entirely, though the latter, (a wailing, discordant version of “Getting Better”) should have been scrapped. From the third track on, aptly named “the Change,” we hear Death being born. With “the Change” acting like a Tony Iommi interlude a la “Embryo” and “Orchid,” our first taste of unadulterated Death comes in the form of “Can You Give Me a Thrill???,” a driving, thrashy song so hard it makes Screaming Lord Sutch (and his “Heavy Friends”) look like a bunch of dandies. They even manage to beat Black Sabbath to the punch with “the Storm Within,” the echoes of which can be heard in “Cornucopia” from Vol 4.
Like many of the recordings that have re-emerged in the wake of the millennial vinyl resurgence (i.e. the Human Beast, Fifty Foot Hose, etc.), Spiritual.Mental.Physical presents us with not only a band far too ahead of it’s time being slighted by rushed recordings or minimal studio time, but an answer to the question, “How’d this all get started?”
Death might have been a garage band from garageland, but they couldn’t be kept indoors for long.