Danzig: Metal Detector

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By the time Glenn Danzig (born Glenn Anzalone) got round to fronting his own band, he’d already made a name for himself, first up fronting The Misfits. Despite their perceived cartoon image they were once rightly considered movers of note in the hardcore scene and it was evident throughout a career that spanned 1977-1983, that something set Danzig himself apart. It was Glenn who split The Misfits, following final EP Die, Die My Darling and immediately formed the more metal Samhain (the Pagan name for All Hallows’ Eve).

Glenn Danzig interview from 1995

Samhain serve as the musical link between the bludgeoning although melodic hardcore of The Misfits, and the doomy yet melodic Sabbath style heavy rock of Danzig.

Guitarist John Christ remained with bassist Eerie Von and Danzig when the latter chose his own surname to be the new band name, adding former Circle Jerks/Black Flag drummer Chuck Biscuits in 1987. It didn’t take long for Danzig’s new dark lords to sign a major deal with Rick Rubin’s Def American label, thus surpassing in one fell swoop the endeavours of his previous bands.

The debut album, the atmospheric Danzig, appeared in 1988 and despite stylistically owing more to traditional heavy rock (albeit cloaked in a dark, sinister yet not overtly Satanic imagery) than the thrash attack of the likes of Metallica and Slayer, it still made a major impact. Rich in texture, both morbid and melodic, the music of Danzig’s debut was the perfect vehicle for the singer’s rich Jim Morrison-like baritone, although the tongue-in- cheek distinction between the diminutive frontman and Elvis Presley was rarely absent when Danzig’s name was mentioned in print.

This love/hate relationship with the press, partly due to the fact that Danzig took himself a touch too seriously, was kept at bay over the next few years as the band’s output maintained the impressive form of the debut. 1990’s Danzig II: Lucifuge and 1992’s Danzig III: How The Gods Kill kept the momentum going, even when Glenn took time out in 1993 to record his own semi-classical Black Aria. In the same year, MTV picked up on a live video for Mother, from the debut, giving them a huge hit. 1994’s more experimental Danzig 4:P proved too much for Biscuits who quit at the end of the tour, and within months Glenn had split the band.

He reconvened with a new line-up, but both 1996’s Danzig 5: Blackacidevil and 1999’s Danzig 6:66 Satan’s Child were pitifully poor. Regularly slated by the music press (they delighted at 2004’s footage of Glenn being knocked out backstage at a concert), things looked particularly bleak for the band, not least with Glenn showing interest in acting – he appeared alongside Christopher Walken in 1998’s The Prophecy II – and his own Verotik comic book range.

However with a whole slew of bands from Type O Negative to Coal Chamber to Murderdolls owing at least something in style and sound to Danzig the man and band, Danzig themselves returned in 2002 with Danzig 777: I Luciferi, which hinted at the band’s glory days. And 2004 saw the release of Circle Of Snakes, the band’s finest since Danzig 4… yet which arrived as media reports suggested Glenn was once again about to pull the plug on the band.

AVOID!!

DANZIG 6:66 SATAN’S CHILD

[E-MAGINE, 1999]

Should’ve been aborted!

The mere fact that Glenn Danzig, not noted for his six-string dexterity, handled guitar on Danzig’s sixth album, probably tells you all you need to know about the state the band were in when it was released in 1999. A band that had begun the decade as movers and shakers in the metal world had fallen so far. The danger signs were all over the almost- as-bad Danzig 5: Blackacidevil which preceded this record in 1996. Yet here, with an unstable line-up (Danzig is joined by the effectively faceless Lazie on bass and Joey C. on drums), the band totally lose sight of where they should be going, or indeed what their strengths are, opting for a grim industrial sound more akin to White Zombie, who had supported Danzig in 1992. That might have worked had the band not opted for the now typical Satanic imagery, which looked as tired as the music sounded.

Unspeakable

CAUTIOUS CUTS

DANZIG 5: BLACKACIDEVIL

[E-MAGINE, 1996]

Black. Yes. Evil too. Not for the right reasons though

The demise of the popular original line-up after the tour for Danzig 4:P originally caused Glenn Danzig to call a halt to proceedings. Danzig 5: Blackacidevil puts forward a most convincing argument that he should have left things where they were and concentrated on either his own solo career, acting or his comics. Anything other than Danzig. Admittedly the likes of Sacrifice, the title track and Serpentia are more metallic than some of the experimental sounds the band had conjured up on Danzig 4…, but the problem was that, with a line-up that included Prong’s Tommy Victor on guitar, Joey Castillo on drums and Josh Lazie, the essence of Danzig’s magic seemed lost. Sure, you have his voice, but this proves that Danzig the band was more than just one man. No matter what Danzig himself might have thought to the contrary.

7th House

NEEDED NOISE

DANZIG 4: P

[AMERICAN, 1994]

The last of the originals As great as the first three Danzig albums are, it is true to say that they tended to follow the same basic blueprint, going so far as to repeat Danzig’s Twist Of Cain on both second and third offerings. 1994’s Danzig 4:P attempted to change things with a more experimental sound. Less heavy, a bit more bluesy in places, and with a slight nod towards the more industrial approach of Danzig 6:66…. The album opens strongly, with Brand New God, Little Whip and Cantspeak, but admittedly loses pace and sense of direction as it progresses. Initially the signs were good, with the album cracking the US Top 30, but fans swiftly lost patience, preferring the harsher approach of earlier albums. It was too much for drummer Biscuits too who quit after the tour. Danzig folded the band, and although they’d return, they’d never be the same.

Cantspeak

DANZIG II: LUCIFUGE

[AMERICAN, 1990]

Two in and they’re rocking

Danzig’s second album picks up where their 1988 debut left off, chock full of bullish metal and imbued with what would become the band’s trademark Satanicish imagery. In a show of typical braggadocio, Glenn opted to have his muscular chest adorn the cover, but posturing aside, the band are on fine form. The album opens with the excellent Long Way Back From Hell, and maintains its momentum throughout the likes of Snakes Of Christ and Killer Wolf. The brooding Tired Of Being Alive is one of the band’s finest moments and Blood And Tears also shows them adept at keeping it menacing when the music’s not raging. It’s not quite up there with the debut or Danzig III…,and Snakes Of Christ sounds vaguely familiar due to its similarity to Twist Of Cain on the band’s debut. A quality album nonetheless.

Snakes Of Christ

DANZIG LIVE: ON THE BLACK HAND SIDE

[RESTLESS, 2001]

Live and not so lively action

1993’s Thrall: Demonsweatlive EP had been the only live Danzig document available for some time. A stop gap for fans as Glenn worked on his Black Aria solo project prior to Danzig beginning work on their fourth album proper, only four of its seven tracks are actually live anyway, though it did contain blistering versions of Am I Demon and Mother. This situation was somewhat rectified by 2001’s On The Black Hand Side, which highlights three different eras of the band. Naturally, the ‘classic’ early line-up fares best, but that’s because they were the better band. If you doubt Hammer’s word, check out the material from 1994, when Joey Castillo had joined the line-up, or worse still, the songs from the 2000 tour, where you can hear the band wading though the mire of later material. Still, it’s worth it just to hear Glenn and company rock through Dirty Black Summer.

Left Hand Black

NOT FOR ALL

777: I LUCIFERI

[SPITFIRE, 2002]

Clawing their way back

Three years on from the doldrums of Danzig6:66… and ol’ Danzig was back for another try, although by this time few people were either taking Evil Elvis too seriously (a cynic might ask when did they ever?) or even giving the band the time of day. A pity, because although not classic Danzig by a long shot, there is enough on 777… to suggest Glenn had recaptured sight of what the band were supposed to be about in the first place. And although the single Wicked Pussycat grates severely (although admittedly not as much as the appallingly misogynistic promo video that accompanied the track), Black Mass, Without Light, I Am and the more rocking Liberskull are some of the best songs that the band had recorded in some eight years! Sadly, the inefficient backing band couldn’t nearly hold a light to Danzig’s original line-up, but it was good to hear Glenn fired up again. A pity the resulting live shows sucked!

Liberskull

CIRCLE OF SNAKES

[EVILLIVE, 2004]

The best of the newer breed

If 2002’s 777: I Luciferi suggested something of return to form, then 2004’s Circle Of Snakes was the best thing that anyone had heard from Danzig in the last 10 years. So how typical of the bullish and complex individual that it arrived amongst a host of whispers surrounding the very future of the band. Danzig are darker, moodier and heavier than they have been for years on tunes like HellMask, Skull Forrest and Black Angel, White Angel. Typically, Tommy Victor has recently quit the band (once again!) leaving Danzig in yet another state of flux. Yet even if this is the last we hear from them, it’s a damn fair crack of the hellish whip.

Black Angel, White Angel

BLACK ARIA

[E-MAGINE, 1993]

Solo and what a show

Aha, yes indeed. Not strictly a Danzig album but a solo offering from the Diddy Dark Lord himself. And it sounds nothing like Danzig the band at all. Neither should it be judged thus, for here Glenn takes the tale of Satan’s fall from grace with God and goes all classical on yo ass. Okay, so the dark and Satanic themes are still typically Danzig, but the music will definitely surprise people, not least those dyed-in- the-wool metallers who won’t open their ears to anything other than bludgeoning riffs. True, there’s a sense of repetitiveness to pieces like Battle For Heaven plus And The Angels Weep, and Glenn’s not the most talented composer you’ll come across. Equally it’s a bit of an ego wank for an already big ego, but he should be commended for attempting something like this. It’s perfectly enjoyable, listenable classical music from an unexpected source, though it should be noted that he’s hardly Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!

Battle For Heaven

DANZIG III: HOW THE GODS KILL

[AMERICAN, 1992]

Three’s no crowd

Danzig’s third album shades the second thanks to a definite attempt to broaden the band’s musical scope. There’s plenty of their blues based rock sound, but equally they stretch further when both getting heavier (the title track) or slowing the groove right down (Sistinas). Godless, Do You Wear The Mask and Left Hand Black are classic Danzig tunes; commandingly heavy, yet just the right side of refined as opposed to much of the metal being made at the time. The brilliant Dirty Black Summer sounds somewhat redolent of Twist Of Cain from the debut, but that’s nothing compared to How The Gods Kill itself, which is a blatant rewrite. Sadly for Danzig, grunge was just taking off, and although they still ruled the roost in 1992, their time in the spotlight was almost up.

Dirty Black Summer

MUST HAVE METAL - NEED THIS!

DANZIG

[DEF AMERICAN, 1988]

Blacker than a black thing

In 1988 the metal world was split between two distinct camps. On the one side the likes of Bon Jovi, Europe and Skid Row held the flag aloft for the big hair brigade with their poppy choruses, tight trousers and little-girl appeal. Skulking away on the other side was the brutal riffage and unrelenting approach of Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth, spearheading the thrash metal movement that would go some way to blowing the world of metal wide open. In the middle sat the more traditional acts like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and even Black Sabbath, all viewed dimly as past their sell- by-date (all three of whom, it should be noted, now in the best of health). And then there was Danzig. And their self-titled debut. Given the past of the band members, Danzig easily had street appeal; they opened for both Slayer (in the US) and Metallica (UK) in support of Danzig. Yet listening to the 10 songs that make up this assured debut, you’re struck by how mainstream and melodic the music is. Of course it’s heavy, but the likes of Twist Of Cain (that Danzig would shamelessly rewrite on the next two albums!), Am I Demon and Mother are both excellent and very catchy metal tunes. Their choice of The Hunter, also covered by rock legends Free showed the band’s roots steeped in blues rock rather than heavy metal. With their Sabbath-like bluster and dark, quasi Satanic imagery, as well as Glenn’s own bullish demeanour, off-set with a Morrison-meets-Elvis roar, Danzig sat in a field of one when their debut was released, almost single-handedly claiming goth from the pasty-faced punks who followed the likes of the Sisters Of Mercy like hungry dogs cowering after their master. Whether we should thank Danzig for this, or revile them, the effect of their classy debut cannot be underestimated.

Mother

THE REST

The only Danzig release not to make our list is 1993’s Thrall: Demonsweatlive, and that boasted four new songs and four live ones, recorded at California’s Irvine Meadows in 1992. It’s a fine release too, but there’s more live Danzig to be heard from the classic line-up on 2001’s Live On The Black Hand Side, which tends to show up the performances of later line-ups as well.

As yet there’s been no Danzig compilation, although the time would seem right for collecting the band’s finest moments together on one disc. Maybe that’s something that Glenn’s thinking of should he fold the band, as rumours suggest, in the imminent future.

One the moving picture front, there has been the Danzig Home Video which features videos of classic early tracks like Mother, Twist Of Cain, Am I Demon and others, as well as interviews with the classic line-up, which was released in 1990. There followed in 1991 the Lucifuge Home Video, which repeated the feat with more material from the band’s second album.

And 2004 saw the release of Archive De La Morte which features various different performances of Dirty Black Summer, How The Gods Kill, Sistinas, Bodies, the live version of Mother which proved such a hit with MTV, It’s Coming Down and Left Hand Black. However, keep your eyes peeled for the release of Il Demeno Nera, a new DVD from the band. Although no tracklisting was available at the time of writing, the Danzig website reports that this DVD will feature rare and unreleased promo videos from the 1994-1997 period of the band’s career. It’s due for release in America in July. This also featured footage shot at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood in 1994.

Glenn Danzig talks about books in the Danzig Home Video

Happy birthday to Glenn Danzig, who is 59 on June 23.

Danzig released the …Lucifuge album on June 23, 1990.

This was published in Metal Hammer issue 144.

Who has Glenn Danzig recently sued? Find out here.

There’s also a crazy plan involving Evil Elvis and a dragon. Find out what’s going on here.