Door Of No Return
Steel Pulse
December 27, 2008

Label Wiseman Doctrine/MVD Visual
Format DVD - Region Free
Languages English
Subtitles None
Length 60 minutes (approx.)
Producer/Director Michel Moreau
Steel Pulse was formed in 1975 in Birmingham, England, specifically the inner city area of Handsworth. The founding members were schoolmates David Hinds (the primary songwriter as well as the lead singer and guitarist), Basil Gabbidon (guitar), and Ronnie "Stepper" McQueen (bass). All of them came from working class West Indian immigrant families, and none had much musical experience. They took some time to improve their technical proficiency, often on Roots inspired material by the Wailers, Burning Spear and several other prominent Jamaican artists. McQueen suggested the group name, after a racehorse, and they soon fleshed out the lineup with drummer Steve "Grizzly" Nisbett, keyboardist/vocalist Selwyn "Bumbo" Brown, percussionist/vocalist Alphonso "Fonso" Martin, and vocalist Michael Riley.

In the beginning the group wound up as an opening act for punk and new wave bands like the Clash, the Stranglers, Generation X, the Police, and XTC, and built a broad-based audience in the process. In keeping with the spirit of the times, Steel Pulse developed a theatrical stage show that leavened their social commentary with satirical humor. Steel Pulse's first single for Island was the classic "Ku Klux Klan," which happened to lend itself well to the band's highly visual, costume-heavy concerts. It appeared on their 1978 debut album, Handsworth Revolution, which was soon hailed as a classic of British reggae by many fans and critics, thanks to songs like the title track, "Macka Splaff," "Prodigal Son," and "Soldiers." Riley departed before the follow-up, 1979's Tribute to the Martyrs, which featured other key early singles in "Sound System" and "Babylon Makes the Rules," and solidified the band's reputation for uncompromising political ferocity. That reputation went out the window on 1980's Caught You, a more pop-oriented set devoted to dance tracks and lovers rock.

Steel Pulse moved on to Elektra/Asylum, which released an LP version of their headlining set at the 1981 Reggae Sunsplash Festival. Their studio debut was 1982's True Democracy, a generally acclaimed set that balanced bright, accessible production with a return to social consciousness. The slicker follow-up, Earth Crisis, was released in 1984 and featured producer Jimmy "Senyah" Haynes subbing on guitar and bass for founding members Gabbidon and McQueen, both of whom left the group by the end of the recording sessions. They were replaced by guitarist Carlton Bryan and bassist Alvin Ewen for 1986's Babylon the Bandit, another Haynes-produced effort that ranked as the group's most polished, synth-centered record to date. It won a Grammy for Best Reggae Album.

In 1988, Steel Pulse released State of Emergency, their most explicitly crossover-oriented album yet. They also contributed the track "Can't Stand It" to the soundtrack of Spike Lee's classic Do the Right Thing. In 1991, they released another heavily commercial album, the Grammy-nominated Victims, which featured the single "Taxi Driver." Founding member Fonso Martin left that year, reducing Steel Pulse to a core trio of Hinds, Nisbett, and Brown. Their backing band still featured Ewen and was elsewhere anchored by guitarist Clifford "Moonie" Pusey, keyboardist Sidney Mills, trumpeter Kevin Batchelor, Saxophonist Jerry Johnson and Trombonist Clark Gayton.

The 1992 live album Rastafari Centennial marked the beginning of a return to the group's musical roots, and earned another Grammy nomination. 1994's studio album Vex completed Steel Pulse's re-embrace of classic roots reggae, though it also nodded to contemporary dancehall with several guest toasters and a digital-flavored production. 1997's Rage and Fury continued in a similar vein, and was nominated for a Grammy.

Fast forward a long seven years since their previous album, Rage and Fury, Steel Pulse would return yet again, this time with African Holocaust, and yet again have their ranks dwindled. Core members David Hinds (vocals, rhythm guitar) and Selwyn Brown (keyboards, backing vocals) are the only ones to remain from the band's original line-up, but they more than hold their own and they're joined by a deep roster of supporting musicians, a list too long to list.

'Door Of No Return' is a Steel Pulse in-depth documentary/road movie that confirms once more the unique status of the band as being the most important roots reggae band coming out of the UK, playing their timeless revolutionary sound all around the world for more than 30 years now. The film includes concert performances alongside interviews which give insight into the band. The title comes from a track from the 2004 Grammy nominated album "African Holocaust" and points to the door of a slave house from where their ancestors left.

The DVD follows Steel Pulse from the 1999 Amnesty International concert in Dakar, Senegal to the US tour and their visit to Birmingham, the place where it all started for Steel Pulse. The Amnesty International concert was held to promote human rights and the construction of a health center in a poor area in the north of Senegal.

It becomes quite clear that the music they perform is more than just 'music' for the members. Being a member of Steel Pulse is more than being 'one of the guys'. It's a coherent part of their life, making it possible to reflect their thoughts about serious issues, but also to teach the audience about the history of the black man and the motherland Africa.

Although the line-up has changed over the years, the direction and mission of the band and its music is still the same. Their well-written, Afrocentric songs are rebellious without being negative or inflammatory and will always arise positive feelings wherever the band performs.

We still reject the absence of subtitles. Although a lot of people are familiar with the English language, there are millions who are unable to follow the interviews on the disc because there are no subs!

All in all the DVD is a fine document about Steel Pulse, their music and mission. The audio (5.1 and stereo Dolby sound) and video (4:3 Full Frame) are above par.

A few bonus features are included on the dvd:
  • The song 'Ravers' performed live from Rio 1996
  • The song 'Back To My Roots' from the Doheny Music Festival 2002
  • Steel Pulse Tributes: a selection of artists, producers and celebs who big up Steel Pulse (among others Jr. Jazz, Afire, Ansel from The Meditations, Ranking Joe, Mikey Jarrett).