Primitive Origins: Sudden Death – ‘Suddenly’

Primitive Origins is a column where we’ll look back at proto-metal and early metal that deserves a bit of your battered eardrum’s attention. We’re keeping it loose and easy here: there’s no strict guidelines other than it’s gotta be old, it helps if it’s obscure, and it’s gotta rock out surprisingly hard for its context. Pscyh-ed out proto-metal from the late ’60s? Of course. Early attempts at doom metal from the ’70s? Hell yeah. Underground Soviet metal from the early ’80s? Sure. Bring it on. Bring it all on.

Pasadena, California’s Sudden Death is one of the more obscure acts we’ve covered in this column; this album, recorded in March 1972 (not 1971, as is often reported online; also, the band is often said to be from Long Island, which is, apparently, not true, although the PI we’ve hired to try to get a handle on all this is still trying to figure it out) (also, hope my editor will cover that cost) was a demo recorded live in CBS Columbia Records studios, on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and was left collecting dust until its release in 1995.

That cover art is bound to catch the eye of any metalhead, and for good reason: we got skulls, we got a cross, we got solemn dudes… we got all the ingredients for a metal album. And, indeed, a 1972 metal album we have in Suddenly, and a very good one. (Fun side note: the cover art of Suddenly, which finally saw release, on vinyl, on Rockadelic Records in 1995, is apparently a still from the 1979 film Que Viva Mexico).

Opener “Come Away With Me” starts things off trippy and very “Planet Caravan”-y, the sounds definitely more firmly entrenched in the psych/hard rock of the times than anything approaching some of the proto-doom sounds we’ve explored in Primitive Origins past. But don’t let it fool you; while it’s a great song, things get much heavier.

The band get more raucous with second track “Road Back Home,” which combines Sabbath boogie with an outrageous vocal performance that is more MC5 or Iggy Pop than it is Ozzy; it’s a killer combo (and it just made my wife come in my office to close my door and comment about how this music is “crazy,” surely a seal of approval).

One of the very, very few pieces of photographic evidence that this band even existed.
One of the very, very few pieces of photographic evidence that this band even existed.

A few songs in and “The Zoo” is a fantastic centerpiece; at 5:48 you kinda worry things are going to get trippy and boring, but instead it has another wonderfully frantic vocal performance (dude kills it when he’s yelping and screaming; his crooning sometimes falls flat), with wonderful, near-NWOBHM riffs (and, again, let’s not forget the year here). The rest of the album picks up in heaviness quite drastically, creating an odd and uneven listening experience (which is all too common with these proto-metal bands who were both trying to find their footing and trying to please record labels and audiences a bit too hard sometimes, more a product of the era than of any confidence issues, though, I’m sure). But it’s a listening experience that, for the average longhair visiting the Decibel site, just gets better as the album goes on; the second half of this is pure proto-metal gold, the band hitting on early trad and NWOBHM sounds with some early power metal vocal attempts at points. Add in an occasional dip to slower, “spookier” sounds that indicate early occult-rock or proto-doom leanings, and there’s lots to enjoy here.

The band was a contender for when Epic Records was attempting to sign an American rock band to get into the rock game, but didn’t quite make the cut, as the legend goes. Instead, this demo sat around unloved for 23 years. We’re glad it ended up seeing the light of day: the crashing, bashing production, fairly unhinged drum performance, and early attempts at proto-metal work wonders.

Sudden Death’s Suddenly – The Decibel breakdown:

Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: It’s gonna help for a couple songs, but the rockers will give you the natural energy boost the best of metal always gives.

Heaviness factor: Crashing and crazed psych rock that threatens to flirt with proto-doom, definitely flirts with proto-NWOBHM, and full-on courts proto-metal in general, the album isn’t as heavy as its cover promises, but it more than makes up for it with wild energy that any metalhead could appreciate.

Obscura Triviuma: Drummer Charlie Brown (seriously) joined the band after bassist John Binkley saw Brown pushing his stalled VW beetle down the road; Binkley got out to assist Brown, saw the back of his beetle filled with drums, and brought him in to try out for the band.

Other albums: None. These 39 minutes are all that remain of Sudden Death, who, as you can imagine, are very hard to Google with a band name like that.

Related bands: Sky Fire, Hammerhead, Temper.

Alright, fine, if you must: Acid would make the slower songs a trip but would freak you out when the band starts going wild; keep it mellow, man.