Longtime THKD readers will recall that late last year I finally got to see Danzig live after being a fan of the man and his music for twenty years. Considering the fact that the set included a slew of Danzig classics + a mini-set of Misfits songs featuring Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein on guitar, I was convinced that I could pretty much die happy.
The thought of ever seeing Samhain, the least celebrated of Danzig’s bands never crossed my mind; the band has only reunited twice (in 1999 and 2011-12) since originally calling it a day/morphing into Danzig back in 1987, and their albums have been out of print for over a decade. It similarly never occurred to me that 2014 marks the thirtieth anniversary of Samhain, but when the Danzig Facebook page announced a handful of celebratory dates that included a stop at the Warfield in nearby San Francisco, I jumped on it immediately. Once again, living in California has its privileges.
I’ve always felt that Samhain has been unfairly overlooked within the scope of Danzig’s oeuvre. Granted, the material is tough to track down and isn’t as immediately catchy as the Misfits’ whoa-whoa-driven horror punk or as riff-tastic as the howling, bluesy metal of Danzig; it’s a strange old brew of punk, metal and gothic/death rock that sounds like nothing else that’s come before or since, but is infectious in its own way and still sounds fresh, vital and ambitious to this day. Indeed, this was a rare opportunity to witness a piece of the great unsung chapter in the history of one of my musical idols.
Although Samhain’s backdrop depicted the artwork for 1986’s November Coming Fire, it was their debut album Initium that was the focus of Saturday night’s show, as the band tore through the entire album front-to-back to kick things off. Immediate highlights were “All Murder, All Guts, All Fun” “The Howl” and “Horror Biz,” but it was ultimately the classic “Archangel,” which saw Danzig himself strapping on a guitar, that brought the house down early and ended the first portion of the set on a stunning note.
After a brief intermission in the form of “Misery Tomb,” Samhain aired several songs from the Unholy Passion EP, punctuated by a blistering rendition of “All Hell,” a remake of the Misfits’ “All Hell Breaks Loose.” The band then shifted their attention to the aforementioned November Coming Fire, at which point drummer Steve Zing and bassist London May traded instruments. As much as I love Initium, it is Samhain’s second album that has always been my favorite, so getting to hear the likes of “To Walk the Night” “November’s Fire” “Let the Day Begin” and “Mother of Mercy” was an absolute joy.
By this point Samhain was plowing through songs like a well-oiled machine, and guitarist Pete Adams (on loan from sludge rockers Baroness) was especially impressive in his ability to faithfully recreate every riff. Much like when I saw him a year ago, Danzig sounded like a million bucks and has not lost a step even as he approaches sixty, while the rhythm section of Zing and May were rock-solid, and their aforementioned instrument switch-a-roo to signify the different eras of the band was a neat touch.
Samhain closed things out with the haunting “Halloween II,” the perfect end to a night that saw them rip through the majority of their of their all-too-short discography. It was a satisfying, surreal experience that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Samhain deserves just as much acclaim as Danzig’s more well-known projects.
[Photos courtesy Robert Taylor]
Samhain @ the Warfield, San Francisco, CA 09/20/14 set list:
All Murder, All Guts, All Fun
Intermission (Misery Tomb)
I Am Misery
To Walk the Night
Kiss of Steel
Let the Day Begin
Mother of Mercy