by Charlie Daniels Death Wish
album The Siren Song Called Us Home
150 Favorite Songs: #72, “Death Threats,” Charlie Daniels Death Wish (2000)
You’ve never heard this song. Not unless you lived in the Rio Grande Valley sometime between 1999-2001, and even then, only if you went to shows at Trenton Point. So go ahead, click “play” and listen for the first time.
This was the first song that friends of mine wrote that validated, for me, what DIY and punk rock and making your own culture meant. There were other songs I loved that my friends had written, but I loved those songs because my friends had written them. “Death Threats,” though, I loved because it sounds fucking incredible. I love the first half, when it’s a creepy ballad, with a leaky organ and hollow drums and ringing guitars setting a mood that makes the whispered croon about how “I know how your hair gently crests around your head / defining its beauty / tension like moths in its mouth” seem inevitable. I love the choruses when the organ drops out and the atmosphere stops sweeping across with the wall-of-sound guitars, and Donner sings about “And I keep my promise / safe with me.”
And then I love the payoff, when the song stops being about creepiness and tension and setting a mood, and the thing just fucking explodes. A half decade of screamo andall that followed in the early 00’s might threaten to make the sung-to-screamed approach to songs seem like a cheap novelty, but what I love about “Death Threats” is that, even with all of that perspective, it still doesn’t sound like that, because it earns its explosion. This isn’t “Hey, check it out, we’ve listened to a couple hardcore records” showiness — it’s a bridge between the haunting atmosphere of bands like Joy Division and the early Cure and the outright menace you get from big Tony Iommi guitar riffs, or from the ferocity of Pantera. It’s a big emotional swing, yeah, but it also follows a through-line.
"Death Threats" earns everything it puts out there. I remember hearing this song thirteen goddamn years ago now (holy shit, time is crazy) and all of that is still true. I love my spooky songs and mood-setters and tension-builders, and I love "Death Threats" because it was written by friends of mine who knew that all of that stuff could be truly amazing if, after you built all that tension, you released it as aggressively as possible. That’s something that the bands who didn’t live their brief lives down at a reception hall in the southernmost part of South Texas never figured out. I was, and still am, really proud to know that in these small places, my friends knew things that were hard to learn.