Album Review: Black Death, "Black Death"

I would figure that, with being the first all-black heavy metal band ever, some enterprising young hipster would have a done a documentary about Black Death, but yet, no such thing exists! 

There are documentaries on Pentagram, Thor, Anvil, the Mentors, and even the all-black Detroit proto-punk band Death, whose entire career consisted of a demo tape and performing a few backyard parties, and yet the ONLY thing Black Death get are a reissue on Hell’s Headbangers, a name drop in Ian Christie’s book Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, and humorous memes!

It’s hard not to meme Black Death when you see their promo photos, since they REALLY ham it up with the leather, studs, chains, and skulls, but for all the over the top metal shenanigans, they’re definitely no lightweight novelty act.

Forming in Cleveland, OH in 1977, it’s not hard to imagine what kind of heavy metal this band plays on their sole 1984 self-titled LP. People have falsely thrown labels like speed metal and power metal at this band, going to so far as to compare ‘em with Judas Priest. 

You’re a bunch of hipsters who know not of what you speak! 

Alternatively Black Death could easily be mistaken for part of the first wave of doom metal, along with Saint Vitus, Pentagram, Trouble, and the Obsessed; meaning, metal bands that formed in the 70s and continued playing 70s metal in the 80s, refusing to adapt to the NWOBHM.

Nope, guitarist/singer Siki Spacek, guitarist Greg Hicks, bassist Darrel Harris, and drummer Phil Bullard play 70s-style blues metal with a whole lotta low end. Some of the songs are faster, like the middle-upper-tempo opening cut Night of the Living Death and the Motörhead speed blues of Here Comes the Wrecking Crew, but starting with second track The Hunger, we’re right in Black Sabbath or Budgie territory. These are long compositions with multiple parts and lots of jam-out sections, especially in the nine minute long Black Death

In fact, upon close inspection, Fear No Evil sounds like a Sabbath/Budgie hybrid, combining the sort of mystical-meets-political theme of War Pigs with the heavy groove of an early Budgie song. And, for the record, the slow and somber When Tears Run Red (From Love Lost Yesterday) will probably remind some of Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused, or Budgie’s Hammer and Tongs, since I clearly have Budgie on the brain. 

But one thing I find absolutely awesome and unique about Black Death, which I don’t think any other reviewers have noticed in their reviews of the Black Death LP, is the song Streetwalker. One might see a name such as this, and think it’s a typical sleaze ball metal track about picking up a hooker and having a good ol’ time. But, in fact, the song takes on a surprisingly bleak tone, as it’s sung from the perspective of a “streetwalker” trying to make ends meet. See, a lot of hard rock and metal bands are from the burbs, so they sort of make up the drama of street hoods and night walkers for their lyrics, probably getting it out of movies or newspaper headlines. But I assume, a group of black dudes coming from ghettos of Cleveland see this stuff first-hand, so they’re not exactly making it up just to make their songs more exciting. Indeed, this ain’t no Venom Red Light Fever

Oh, and Spacek sounds like Gene Simmons. So, if you can picture a Sabbath/Bludgie/Zeppelin blues-powered metal band from the 70s, but with Gene Simmons on vocals, that’s what Black Death sounds like. It’s a great record, and Hell’s Headbangers did a terrific job with their reissue; a gatefold LP with a couple insert, a poster, and a 7” 45 for the object fetishist. 

And, now, if only some geek would get to work on the documentary…

Edwin Oslan
Revenge of Riff Raff
15th December, 2020

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