“Rejoice! Tonight is the night of the damned!” - Night of the Living Death
In 1977, Richard Pryor formed the greatest fake metal band of all time. They were called Black Death. Unfortunately, they only lasted seven minutes before breaking up. Holy smokes did they rock, though. Imagine Kiss with their make-up smeared into corpsepaint wearing hooded robes like the Nameless Ghouls in Ghost, wheeled onto the stage in coffins while their space-glam frontman descends from the Heavens on a wire, half Rocky Shades, half Vegas showgirl on the skids, wielding a Flying V like it’s a snake he’s trying to strangle. The music is a quasi P-funk speed-boogie grind, his vox proto-death metal grunts. Halfway through their performance he pulls out a poison-belching gun and kills the entire audience. The end. In one throwaway skit on his sadly short-lived sketch show, Pryor took rock n’ roll as far as he possibly could, and then tossed it right off a fuckin’ cliff. It was truly glorious. But it wasn’t real. Until a year later, when it was.
Reginal Gamble watched the Black Death sketch and saw infinite possibility. In 1978, this young outsider from Cleveland, Ohio rechristened himself as Siki Spacek and formed what in all likelihood was the first all-black heavy metal band. It wasn’t easy. His bandmates didn’t even know what heavy metal was, really. He had to take them to a Judas Priest show just to show them what they were supposed to sound like. And there really was no precedent for this. Siki had no idea whether Cleveland – or anywhere else in the world – was ready for Black Death. But he knew that metal was founded by working class outsiders, that it was the music of the downtrodden and the misfits, and they clearly fit that bill.
Things did not go smoothly. In 1979, their original bass player, Clayborn Pinkins, was murdered in cold blood. They spent years slugging it out in dives all over Cleveland, watching in frustration as more traditional looking metal bands like Breaker and Shok Paris snatched up record deals and tickets out of town.
Finally, after the inclusion of two thunder-chucking tracks on the now-seminal Cleveland Metal compilation in ‘83, the band signed to Auburn Records and released their debut self-titled album a year later. It has since gone on to become one of the most sought-after cult metal albums of all-time, and for good reason. It should probably be noted, however, that it wasn’t the first all-black heavy metal album. That distinction goes to Total Control, the debut from LA band Sound Barrier, released a year earlier. Total Control is a fairly pyrotechnic piece of work, high-flying flash metal with splayed-leg grooves and a UFO-esque knack for catchy hard rock.
Black Death, on the other hand, is just fucking crazy. The cover of the record is amazing. Siki’s wearing his girlfriend’s underwear on it. It’s held together with a safety pin because Siki is not the kind of guy that should be wearing womens’ underwear. On the album, he sounds like Gene Simmons hosting a Halloween party, and his band chugs along with charming ferocity. On tracks like Night of the Living Death and The Hunger, the band almost sounds like a galloping Hellhammer, spewing primal proto-black metal stabs of ghoulish hell-rock with wild abandon.
But there’s also a dirge-y psychedelic ballad (When Tears Run Red), a howling thrash metal stormer (Scream of the Iron Messiah, recently covered by hipster black metallers Midnight), ham-fisted flash metal (Streetwalker), and a whooping power metal track (Fear No Evil) that opens with a loopy recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. It even came with a bonus 7” single that piled on even more craziness, including their most over the top track, the brilliantly primitive Here Comes the Wrecking Crew. What an album. It’s like a gang of werewolves feasting on the corpses of Black Sabbath, Motorhead, and Motley Crue. This is the most fun you’ll ever have cranking wobbly 80’s metal.
Unfortunately, it didn’t stick. Black Death recorded a second album, but it was never released. They never even got out of Cleveland. Maybe the world wasn’t ready for them. Maybe they weren’t ready for the world. Either way, Siki hung up his headband in ‘88 and went on with his life. And then, in what has become heavy metal’s dopiest cliché, the rival “original band” wars started. Around 2010-ish, ‘77 era guitarist Greg Hicks revived Black Death as an integrated, mixed-gender band.
Siki was not invited, despite being Black Death’s sole songwriter. Naturally, he formed his own version, Black Death Resurrected. I’d go with that one. Last year, they finally made it out of town, playing a one-off gig in Portland. In a charming interview on artist Dennis Dread’s blog, Siki explains that it was his first time on an airplane. He was pretty psyched about it. Rock’n’roll dreams really do come true, man.
**Next week: A Boy Named Jizzy **