Danzig: the debut album that turned a cult punk icon into a goth-metal superstar

It was 1983. The year that Kiss took off their make-up and Dave Mustaine was fired by Metallica, to be replaced by Kirk Hammett. The year that Manowar gave us Into Glory Ride and Ozzy would Bark At The Moon, and Glenn Danzig left behind the Misfits to start up Samhain, who would eventually become Danzig.

Before we can discuss Danzig the band, we have to look at the early life of Glenn Danzig, born on June 23, 1955 in New Jersey as Glenn Allen Anzalone – the third of four sons. While it was never a given that the young Danzig would get involved in music, he did have a precedent in his own family.

“One of my older brothers roadied for a lot of bands, including Vanilla Fudge,” he recalls. “These days you’d have to refer to roadies as techs, but back then it was still okay to refer to them as roadies.”

Danzig had grown up in a house where his dad was constantly playing music. But you might be a little shocked at the sort of records Glenn’s father would spin.

“He was into all this weird stuff, like tribal music and also country music. He loved Johnny Cash. We used to get a lot of different sounds around. To be honest, there appeared to be far more going on in New York and across the East Coast of America than there was in LA at the time.

“But people like me also turned in the mid-1970s to artists such as the New York Dolls, Patti Smith and the Ramones because we could relate to what they were trying to do. We understood the whole idea of just being able to pick up your instruments and play without having to be a virtuoso.”

Danzig was also getting into horror movies, and was finding a real source of inspiration. One movie in particular would have a huge impact on him.

“I went to see Night Of The Living Dead when it came out in 1968. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. There was no hero and everyone gets eaten. It was amazing, and did so well that soon there was a whole generation of movie makers trying to copy what George. A Romero had done here.”

(Image credit: Alison Braun/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Danzig, got the chance to show what he could do when a local band called Tolus heard him sing. They were impressed enough to ask him to join though the union didn’t last. He would be subsequently involved with a few local bands, none of which would ever amount to anything. But in 1977, he finally got his big break when forming the Misfits, a band who took their name from the title of Marilyn Monroe’s last movie. And it was here that Danzig would finally get the chance to establish his own reputation and soon-to-be-legend.

What Danzig wanted to do lyrically was to explore the human condition. He might have used a lot of comic book and movie references, but behind it all was a fascination with sociological and psychological stress, and the way people dealt with these problems.

In 1977, the Misfits put out the single Cough/Cool, pressing up 500 copies on black vinyl and putting them out on the Blank label. However, the choice of label name immediately hit trouble as there was already a record company called Blank. But Danzig would show his growing business acumen in the way that he dealt with the situation, turning it into to the advantage of his own band.

“There was already a Blank run by Cliff Burnstein, who’d go on to manage Metallica. At the time, he was working for Mercury Records in New York, and they’d give him his own vanity imprint to pursue other projects. So, when he contacted me about the name, I agreed to change what I called my label to Plan 9, on the condition that he got us 20 hours of recording time in a 16-track studio, namely Mercury Studios in Manhattan.”

The band split up in October 1983, as the mounting tensions began to take their toll. By then they’d put out the Walk Among Us album (in 1982), with Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood to follow two months after they’d split up. They’d also established a nationwide reputation in the US, thanks to the approach Danzig took to the band.

“It would’ve been so easy for us to just do gigs in New York. I was determined to go out and play everywhere that we could. That way word would spread about us far and wide, so we went up and down the East Coast. If the opportunity came to play anywhere, I’d ensure we’d take it.”

However, for Danzig the end came because he no longer felt that the rest of the band were as committed to the cause as he still was. “It was difficult for me to work with these guys, because they weren’t prepared to put in the hours practising. I wanted move things forward, and they didn’t seem to have the same outlook. So it was time for me to move on.”

Danzig wasted no time starting up Samhain almost as soon as he’d decided it was all over for his previous band.“I know what I wanted, and that was to bring in people who cared about their musicianship and would improve as we went along. I did think about calling this band Danzig, but I just felt it was a little too egotistical.”

Samhain became something of a punk supergroup. Taking their name from the Celtic new year, they featured members from Minor Threat, Rosemary’s Baby and Reagan Youth on the 1984 debut album, Initium. But the line-up soon settled down to Danzig on vocals, Eerie Von on bass Damian on guitar and Steve Zing on drums.

By the time the 1986 album Samhain III: November-Coming-Fire was released, the band had started to attract label interest. It was to be Rick Rubin, the man who ran Def American (where Slayer had made their mark) who finally signed them, after seeing the band play live on the advice of Metallica bassist Cliff Burton. In fact, it was the passionate interest of both Burton and James Hetfield that helped to get Glenn Danzig wider recognition, as he himself admits.

“I first met them at a Black Flag gig, and then we became kinda friends. We’d often bump into each other on the road, and then one day Cliff called me up asking for the lyrics to Last Caress/Green Hell, the old Misfits song. It seemed Metallica were planning to do this for a covers EP [1987’s The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited, although by the time they got around to recording this, Cliff had died]. So, James and Cliff helped to spread the word about me, and I was very grateful to them.”

Once Danzig had realised that Rick Rubin was a like-minded individual with whom he could work professionally, there was to be another major change. At last, it was decided that the band should just be called Danzig, rather than Samhain.

“Rick convinced me it was the way to go, and would also provide me with a lot more artistic freedom. After all, I was now in charge of where we were going musically, so if I didn’t want to do something, it was a lot easier to say so.”

In many respects, the first, self-titled Danzig album from 1988 set a style and tone that many feel has come to represent what the band should always be about. With only Eerie Von remaining from the Samhain days, the line-up was completed by guitarist John Christ and drummer Chuck Biscuits. Rubin himself handled the production.

“I suppose we were lucky to find an approach that so many could identify with – and who could know at the time that over 20 years later, it would still resonate with so many. We set out to come up with something that had the lasting appeal of AC/DC or Led Zeppelin, and we managed to do exactly that.”

What helped propel the album was the song Mother. An attack on the way that the Parents Music Resource Centre in the US were attempting to introduce censorship, it’s now regarded as a classic rock song of the era, one that has taken on a life of its own.

“We got loads of airplay on FM stations,” Danzig recalls. “I lost count of the number of times I heard this follow something by Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith. That was always a source of satisfaction to me.”

Despite the success achieved by the debut album and Mother as single (reaching number 62 in the UK), Danzig felt no pressure to repeat himself. As he states. “I’ve always insisted that if you haven’t anything worthwhile saying then don’t make a record. It’s a plan I’ve always stuck to.”

Glenn Danzig, has certainly created a persona that has allowed him to be who is whenever he wants. Because unlike many others, he isn’t hidebound by the desire for success. However, one thing that Danzig has faced is confrontation with others in public. None more so that in 2004, when he was knocked off his feet by North Side Kings singer Danny Marianinho. This followed problems when the bands played together. To this day, there are those surprised that someone with Danzig’s martial arts training should have been so easily knocked down.

“I allowed it to happen,” he says now. “Why? Because there are always those looking to goad you into hitting them, so they can sue you. It happens to public figures all the time. It’s a way of life.”

Glenn Danzig’s career now stretches over 30 years, with the Danzig project itself taking in nine albums. So what is it that gives him the most satisfaction?

“The one thing I am happy is to ask where the naysayers and detractors are. The labels guys who said I had no future in music, what are they doing now? Living in cardboard boxes and selling hotdogs. That gives me a glow of vindication.”

Originally published in Metal Hammer 163

Malcolm Dome

Malcolm Dome had an illustrious and celebrated career which stretched back to working for Record Mirror magazine in the late 70s and Metal Fury in the early 80s before joining Kerrang! at its launch in 1981. His first book, Encyclopedia Metallica, published in 1981, may have been the inspiration for the name of a certain band formed that same year. Dome is also credited with inventing the term "thrash metal" while writing about the Anthrax song Metal Thrashing Mad in 1984. With the launch of Classic Rock magazine in 1998 he became involved with that title, sister magazine Metal Hammer, and was a contributor to Prog magazine since its inception in 2009. He died in 2021