See All You Were: Beyond the First Four Danzig Albums

For many metalheads, Danzig’s discography ends with either III: How the Gods Kill or 4p. I on the other hand, celebrate Danzig’s entire catalog. While there’s no doubt that many of his latter-day works signaled a shift away from the bluesy, metallic hard rock that the Evil Elvis made his name on, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad albums, it just means they’re different.  So without further ado, let’s dig beyond the first four Danzig albums; deep, down you go…

The moody, atmospheric 4p may have hinted at what was to come with the quasi industrial-sounding “Can’t Speak,” but few were prepared for the deep dive into mechanized metal that was Danzig 5: Blackacidevil.  After parting ways with what most consider his band’s “classic lineup,” Herr Danzig set about crafting an album that is to this day unlike anything else in his discography; a noisy, hypnotic slab of electronics-fueled heaviness that drenches his legendary croon in distortion and effects.

Surprisingly, Danzig was actually pretty damn good at industrial metal; Blackacidevil can easily go toe-to-toe with stylistically similar albums of the day such as Prong’s Rude Awakening and Ministry’s Filth Pig.  I will freely admit that I was shocked by such a complete reinvention when I heard lead single “Sacrifice” on the local hard rock radio station, but I soon found myself appreciating the man’s willingness to evolve and step outside of his comfort zone.  I never saw it as an attempt to hop on the industrial metal bandwagon, as Danzig always struck me as one of those rare artists that follows his muse and simply does not give a fuck what others think of his work.

Indeed, there is some pretty wild experimentation happening on Blackacidevil, as evidenced by the industrial/doom hybrid sound of “Hint of Her Blood,” the blown-out cacophony of “Don’t Be Afraid” and the battering sonic violence of “7th House.”  It’s no wonder that many a longtime Danzig fan felt alienated or even betrayed by this strange beast of an album.  Subsequent releases would see Danzig retaining some of these industrial metal elements, albeit taking them in a much more accessible direction, and as such Blackacidevil remains a fascinating oddity within the man’s oeuvre.

Danzig ditched his new sound for a nu sound on 6:66: Satan’s Child; indeed, the album feels less electronic in an industrial sense and leans much more heavily towards the dreaded nu metal genre, which had begun its rise to mainstream popularity in the late ’90s.  It’s been speculated that this change may have something to do with the presence of Amir Derakh and Jay Gordon in a mixing capacity; those of you familiar with all things nu will recognize the duo as members of Orgy, the band best remembered for scoring a hit with their cover of the New Order classic “Blue Monday.”

Whatever the case, Satan’s Child is much heavier and much, much darker than the average nu metal joint.  Sure, Danzig might have been soaking up some contemporary metal influences, but he never resorted to faux-rapping or singing about his mommy being mean to him.  Songs such as “Belly of the Beast” “Unspeakable” and the title track pack much more of a wallop than anything on that was on the radio at the time, which might explain why Danzig wasn’t able to replicate the mainstream success of similar-sounding bands such as Static-X or the aforementioned Orgy.

Satan’s Child is also notable for including Danzig’s version of the song “Thirteen,” which he originally wrote for Johnny Cash due to both artists’ association with uber-producer Rick Rubin in the early 1990s.  A decade later, the track went on to appear in the dreadful 2009 comedy film The Hangover and was covered by Mark Kozelek on his 2013 covers album Like Rats.

For 2002’s 777: I Luciferi, Danzig continued down the path of nu metal, but this second excursion isn’t as successful as Satan’s Child was for a number of reasons.  Danzig’s voice doesn’t sound nearly as strong as it did in the past, the production isn’t as good, and the songwriting is for the most part pretty uninspired.  There are some good tracks such as “Black Mass” “Without Light, I Am” “Naked Witch” and “Liberskull,” but there is also a ton of filler, such as the Marilyn Manson ripoff “Kiss the Skull,” the extremely bland “God of Light” and the rather silly “Wicked Pussycat.”

The album as a whole feels unfocused, as if Danzig and co. decided to throw a bunch of ideas at the wall and record all of them without bothering to take a moment to see which ones were actually going to stick.  It’s also the first album that feels a bit like GD was consciously trying to jump on a bandwagon instead of following his muse without a single fuck given.  The result is easily the weakest album in Danzig’s catalog; there just isn’t much here that warrants repeat listens, especially when the rest of his discography is so strong.

As if the all-fronts dip in quality that plagues I Luciferi wasn’t enough, the album came out on the ill-fated Spitfire Records and was extremely poorly promoted as a result; I seem to recall having no idea that it was even coming out until I saw the CD one day at the local record store while I was there to buy something else.  If a Danzig freak like me doesn’t know the album exists, how is anyone else supposed to know about it?

It didn’t take much time for Danzig to craft a follow-up to 777: I Luciferi, but the differences between that album and 2004’s Circle of Snakes are immense.  The songwriting is drastically improved to the point where there isn’t really a dud to be found on the entire album, and tracks such as “Skincarver” “1,000 Devils Reign” and “Black Angel, White Angel” are every bit as good as anything the Danzig/Christ/Von/Biscuits lineup recorded.  Whereas the previous album sounded like a band being pulled in a several different directions, Circle of Snakes sounds dark, catchy, focused and hungry.

Danzig’s voice also sounds about a thousand times better than it did on I Luciferi; some of this might be due to the fact that he has much better material to work with this time out, or it could be that the injection of fresh blood into the band, which included none other than the dread lord of pinch harmonics, Prong’s Tommy Victor, brought with it some infectious enthusiasm.  Whatever the case, Danzig’s performance here is probably his best since Danzig 4p, although it he would ultimately surpass it just a few years later on Deth Red Sabaoth.

The one area in which Circle of Snakes falls a bit short is the production quality; this would prove to be an ongoing issue for Danzig going forward.  The mix lacks the depth and richness of classic Danzig albums such as How the Gods Kill and Lucifuge and the guitar tone doesn’t have the same razor-sharpness that John Christ brought to the table on said classics.  But these flaws are minor in the scheme of things and the songs themselves are strong enough to easily overcome them, making this one of Danzig’s best post-first four albums.

After what felt like an eternity of silence, Danzig finally reemerged from the netherworld in 2010 with Deth Red Sabaoth, the sort of record that critics like to refer to as a “return to form.”  The swagger, the grit, the beguiling, blues-based power were all present and accounted for; it was almost as if the experimentation of albums 5-8 never happened and Danzig was  picking up where he left off on Danzig 4p, albeit with a different lineup.

The album is memorable from front to back, with the Elvis-on-steroids voodoo of “Ju Ju Bone”, the Sabbath-ian heaviness of “Night Star Hel” and the enormous choruses of “Deth Red Moon” being the immediate standouts. Danzig sounds completely rejuvenated vocally, especially on “On A Wicked Night”, “Rebel Spirits” and the spine-tingling closer “Left Hand Rise Above”.  No matter what you think of Danzig the man or how he is portrayed, few can argue that when Danzig the singer gets behind the mic, there is nobody better.

Much like with Circle of Snakes, Deth Red Sabaoth‘s only flaw lies with the production. The sound seems overly compressed and I would have preferred a more spacious, organic production like those found on the classic Danzig recordings. The record is extremely heavy, probably the heaviest sounding album in the Danzig catalogue, but these tracks would benefit from being allowed to breathe a bit more.

Overall though, Deth Red Sabaoth is a certified barn-burner of a Danzig album, something fans haven’t been able to say since III: How The Gods Kill. Whether or not it will endure the test of time and sit alongside his classic albums, it’s still too early to tell, but there can be no doubt that Danzig redeemed himself in the eyes of many longtime fans.

All of this brings us to Black Laden Crown, Danzig’s tenth album, which sees GD and Co. coming back from a seven year layoff between full lengths (not counting the wildly uneven covers album, Skeletons).  After such a strong showing with Deth Red Sabaoth, many wondered if Danzig had another late career banger in him; Black Laden Crown isn’t quite as strong as Deth Red Sabaoth, but there is still plenty to like about what might be one of the gloomiest albums in his career.

Indeed, tracks such as “Black Laden Crown” “Witching Hour” and “But a Nightmare” are essentially straight-up doom metal, flaunting Danzig’s Black Sabbath influence to the fullest, slowly trudging their way across the shadowy sonic landscape the band so effortlessly conjures.  “Devil on Hwy 9” “Eyes Ripping Fire” and “Pull the Sun” on the other hand are classic Danzig, part Elvis brawling with Johnny Cash, part howling hellhound blues with a dark metallic edge.  This is late-period Danzig doing what he does best, falling stylistically between the more modern heaviness of Circle of Snakes and the catchy, back-to-basics approach of Deth Red Sabaoth.

As for Danzig himself, his voice is in pretty damn good shape, especially when one considers the fact that he’s now sixty-two and has been singing his ass off for pretty much his entire life.  Of course his pipes sound a bit weathered from time to time, but this only adds to the album’s somber atmosphere.  “Witching Hour” “But a Nightmare” and “Pull the Sun” are probably his strongest performances here, but on the whole Black Laden Crown is incredibly solid and a massive improvement over his vocal work on Skeletons, which often came off as uninspired.

Black Laden Crown suffers from a wonky production scheme, as is the case with everything Danzig has released in the past decade or so; this is likely due to the fact that the album was recorded in bits and pieces over the course of several years, as well as the lack of an outside producer.  While there is no doubt that the album could’ve been a crusher if another set of ears had been involved, it isn’t nearly as bad as the internet hive of armchair sound engineering experts would have you believe.  The more one listens to the album, the more one becomes accustomed to the album’s sonics, to the point where it eventually becomes a non-factor.

As with Deth Red Sabaoth, it’s too soon to even begin discussing where Black Laden Crown falls within the Danzig pantheon; it’s a good album with a few great moments that doesn’t sound quite like anything else in the man’s vast catalog.  On initial listens it doesn’t quite measure up to what came before, but quickly proves itself to be the very definition of a grower.  Fans that have stuck with Danzig through thick and thin will likely find much to enjoy with repeated listens, but it definitely isn’t an album that’s going to convince the legions of naysayers.

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2 thoughts on “See All You Were: Beyond the First Four Danzig Albums

  1. Good recap – I find myself listening to “Deth Red Sabaoth” a lot. It was the lp that “brought me back” to Danzig after years of not paying too much attention to him. The newest one is interesting, I mentioned it to you on twitter already, but I *really* like how Danzig’s age is showing in his voice. Adds a lot of personality to the record. I also appreciate how underproduced it is.

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    • I love Deth Red Sabaoth… I’ve followed Danzig through the years and I like all his albums to different degrees, but DRS is the one that I hold in the same esteem as the classics, along with Circle of Snakes to a slightly lesser extent. I think his voice sounds great on Black Laden Crown considering his age and you’re damn right that it gives the songs a lot of character, kind of like the later Johnny Cash records that came out on American Recordings. Cash’s voice sounds weathered on those albums, but it’s still classic JC and gives the songs a certain gravitas.

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