How in the blue hell did I manage to get even this far into the THKD Top 100 without covering a Danzig album?! Granted, the list is in no particular order, but given my Danzig super-fan status, you’d think I would’ve touched on one of the man’s records within the first few posts. The bands/artists you love the most are always the most difficult to write about and let’s face it, I’ve already devoted a fairly exhaustive amount of digital ink to the goddamn mighty GD (here, here, here, here… need I go on?). What’s left to say about my love for the man and his music at this point?
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.
At this point, my status as a Glenn Danzig maniac is far beyond well-documented. Between the Misfits, Samhain and Danzig, I’ve devoted more digital ink to the man’s music than to any other artist I’ve covered here at THKD. The last time I took stock of my music collection, the Evil Elvis dominated it with over twenty releases, not to mention all the t-shirts and other random paraphernalia I own. My one and only tattoo is based loosely on “Thirteen,” the song Danzig wrote for Johnny Cash (my favorite metal singer meets my favorite non metal singer). Cosmo Lee, the founder of Invisible Oranges, even based a post around my admission that I celebrate Danzig’s entire catalogue in my review of 2010’s excellent Deth Red Sabaoth.
Every year as Halloween approaches, I begin doing things to put myself in the mood to enjoy that most horrific of holidays; decorate the house with all manner of skulls, queue up a slew of horror DVDs, revisit the literary genius of HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and most importantly, scare up some appropriately creepy tunes to celebrate the Season of the Witch. Though I typically pick out entire albums rather than individual songs, I thought it might be fun this year to compile a morbid mixtape to share with you, my loyal THKD readers. So, grab a handful of candy corn and gather ’round the jack-o-lantern, not for ghost stories, but for a night of unspeakable audio terror. Although there were many tracks from a variety of genres that could’ve been worthy of inclusion, I decided to keep things as much on the metal side as possible, in the true spirit of THKD. The player is embedded directly below this paragraph, followed by an explanation of each track. Enjoy or die.
I’ve been listening to the Misfit’s Earth A.D. for over a decade now. Every time I listen to it, I hear something different. Sometimes I hear a bruising hardcore album. Sometimes I hear proto-thrash. I most often hear the roots of black metal. Is it a mere coincidence that Quorthon started Bathory the same year or that Slayer’s Show No Mercy was released the same month? Sure, Venom’s Welcome to Hell and Black Metal albums had already been released by the time Earth A.D. hit record store shelves. But the Misfits of Earth A.D. possessed several things that Cronos and his cohorts, or just about any of the proto-black metal bands for that matter, severely lacked.
The first of these key components is speed. I recently read in Steven Blush’s book American Hardcore that Glenn Danzig had tried to get the rest of the Misfits to play slower during the sessions. Thank goodness he wasn’t successful. To my knowledge, the blast beat hadn’t been invented yet in 1983 (Mick Harris didn’t join Napalm Death until 1985), but the blistering speed of Earth A.D. often comes close. A huge part of the album’s power comes from the reckless abandon with which the band plows through songs like “Earth A.D.” and “Demonomania”. It’s a ragged, violent speed, the kind of speed that sounds like the band is going to fly apart at the seams at any given moment. Somehow, the Misfits keep it together for the original album’s fourteen-odd minutes (reissues would include the tracks from the posthumous “Die, Die My Darling” single), but the approach lends a sense of real danger, menace and foreboding to the proceedings that would also be present on second wave Scandinavian black metal albums such as Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or Burzum’s self titled debut.
The second element that pushes Earth A.D. over the edge is brutality. Unfortunately the word “brutal” (and every permutation thereof) has been thrown around in the heavy music world so often that it has lost nearly all of its meaning as of 2011. This is a brutal album. Primitive, barbaric, nasty. Black and death metal bands surely took a great deal of inspiration from the positively corrosive assault of songs like “Death Comes Ripping” and “Hellhound”. Danzig himself sounds like a snarling hellhound throughout Earth A.D., ready to claw his way through your speakers and “rip your face off” while the rest of the band violates their instruments in a manner that’s probably legally questionable in more than a few countries. Earth A.D. was the first Misfits recording where the aggression of the playing and production scheme matched the violence of Danzig’s lyrics. It’s a level of rubbed-raw vitriol that makes early Venom, Slayer, Celtic Frost et al sound quaint by comparison.
What about atmosphere? Earth A.D.‘s got it in spades. Granted, this probably speaks more to Spot’s ineptitude as a producer/engineer (see also: Black Flag’s Damaged) or the lack of a recording budget (probably both), than it does to any grand design by Danzig and Co. Still, the vibe of the album is pitch black and claustrophobic, it reeks of rage, hate and desperation. It’s a document of a band ready to explode and doing their damnedest to take all of us down with them. The fact that the Misfits broke up only a few months after the album was recorded (on Halloween, 1983) leads me to believe that the palpable fury bursting out of every part of Earth A.D. is much more than just for entertainment value (“and that blood’s so real / ’cause I just can’t fake it”).
If all of this doesn’t make for proto-black metal, then I don’t know what does. Add the grotesque, lovably amateurish artwork and black and white band photos, and you’ve got the blueprints for the sound, style and overall aesthetic that Darkthrone would take to the next level almost a decade later with A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Some call Earth A.D. “the speed metal bible”. I’m more inclined to think it’s the goddamn Necronomicon.
In honor of Halloween, I thought I would take a moment to divert from the regularly scheduled THKD programming. Do not attempt to adjust your monitor. I control the horizontal. I control the vertical. Now that I have your undivided attention, I want to take a moment to a talk a little about a band known as the Misfits.
For me, the Misfits are synonymous with the Halloween season and are one of my all-time favorite bands. My reputation as a Glenn Danzig fanboy is well documented. But what might not be so well-documented is that the Misfits represent my favorite phase of the man’s career. Like many folks from my generation, I was introduced to them thanks to Metallica’s “Last Caress/Green Hell” cover. That was a great version, but nothing compared to when I heard the Misfits playing their own songs for the first time. Mind officially blown. It was as if someone combined everything I loved about music into one band, and then added a visual and lyrical aesthetic that represented everything I loved about vintage horror and science fiction films. I remember buying Collection I and listening to it over and over and over again in junior high (especially “Where Eagles Dare”!). Back then, information on the Misfits was scarce (at least in the Midwest), and since Danzig famously hated talking about the band at that time (no doubt due to the legal bullshit going on between him and Only), I could only speculate about the band’s origins. I was so fucking excited to find a Misfits shirt (XL and baggy as all hell on my tall scrawny frame, just how I liked it) at my local record store, before the band’s “Crimson Ghost” logo became ubiquitous. I wore that thing until it disintegrated.
Very few bands are perfect. The Misfits were one of them. I’m not talking about the Jerry Only-fronted abomination that parades around today calling itself the Misfits. I’m talking about the band as it existed from 1977 to 1983. From songs to style to imagery, the Misfits had it all, an often duplicated but never equalled head-on collision of punk rock filth, ’50s rock catchiness and melody, gothic atmosphere and too much horror business. Glenn Danzig’s lyrics were a heady blend of twisted pop culture references, nihilism and misogyny. His backing band, consisting of bassist Jerry Only, a range of guitarists that included Only’s brother Doyle, Bobby Steele and Franche Coma, and a revolving door of drummers that put Spinal Tap to shame, created a sound that was unlike anything I’ve heard before or since. The fact that stories of alleged grave-robbing and excessive violence (the song “London Dungeon” was supposedly the result of Danzig and Steele spending the night in an English jail after a punch up with some skinheads) were part of the Misfits mythos made them even more intriguing, if such a thing were possible.
The Misfits took the innocence of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll and forever corrupted it. They bathed Elvis Presley in the blood, brains and skull fragments of the Kennedy assassination. Punk rock was founded on speeding up and ripping off Chuck Berry and Scotty Moore riffs, but the Misfits brought a darkness and foreboding to the style in the same way that Black Sabbath brought it to the blues in the early ’70s. They were also better song-writers than any other punk band ever, writing some of the flat-out catchiest choruses ever put to tape (“I ain’t no goddamn son of a bitch, you better think about it baby!”, “Sweet lovely death, I am waiting for your breath…”, etc.). But the band’s real area of expertise is what I refer to as “the whoah-whoah part”. The whoah-whoah part crops up in numerous Misfits songs (“Mephisto Waltz”, “I Turned into a Martian”, “Astro Zombies” and “Some Kinda Hate” to name just a few.) and is the single most infectious aspect of the band’s playbook. The level of craftsmanship the Misfits displayed was so far ahead of the curve in every aspect; it’s a fucking travesty that they continue to be left out of the punk rock history books.
The Misfits might not get the respect they deserve, but that’s beside the point. The fact that they have influenced everything from thrash to black metal to gothic rock to doom says a lot more about the band than some jag-off rock critic who refuses to acknowledge their greatness. For me personally, a lot of bands have come and gone over the years, but the Misfits sound just as exciting, vital and visceral today as they did when I heard them for the first time in 7th grade. They are total fucking anarchy by way of an alien invasion/zombie outbreak, lead by the reanimated corpses of Vampira and Marilyn Monroe. They are the soundtrack to an Autumn filled with “brown leaf vertigo / where skeletal life is known”. They are the Misfits. Beware.
I admit it, I’m a complete Danzig fanboy. When someone says “They could put out a recording of their bowel movements and someone would buy it”, that “someone” they are talking about is me. I celebrate the man’s entire catalog, from the Misfits to Samhain to Danzig. I even own two different versions of the much maligned Danzig 5: Blackacidevil (the original Hollywood Records pressing and the E-Magine/Evilive re-issue w/ bonus tracks). I defended Danzig’s honor with the fervor of an angry pitbull when that morbidly obese douchebag from a d-list hardcore band sucker-punched him. Glenn Danzig doesn’t have the first clue who I am, but dammit I would walk through hellfire ‘n’ brimstone for him.
But even I can’t argue with the fact that Danzig seemed to have fallen on hard times ever since Blackacidevil. Choosing to bury his biggest asset (that Jim Morrison meets American Werewolf in a London Dungeon set of pipes) in distortion and trading his hellhound on my trail mojo for synthetic beats were poor career choices that he never seemed to be able to fully recover from. His voice appeared to be weakening on subsequent albums (6:66 Satan’s Child and 7:77 I Luciferi) and the songwriting was largely hit and miss. 2004’s Circle of Snakes showed signs of life though, with some even claiming that it sounded like a Samhain record (I beg to differ). But just when it looked like Danzig was on the comeback trail, things went quiet. I started to wonder if Circle of Snakes would be Danzig’s last hurrah, which seemed like a shame considering how much of an improvement it was over the last few albums.
Enter 2010 and Danzig has come back from the netherworld with Deth Red Sabaoth. This is the sort of record that we critics like to refer to as a “return to form”. The minute Danzig starts howling on opening track “Hammer of the Gods”, it all comes rushing back. The swagger, the grit, the beguiling, blues-based power are all present and accounted for. It’s almost like albums 5-8 never happened and Danzig is picking up where he left off on Danzig 4, albeit with a different lineup.
And what a lineup it is. Prong’s Tommy Victor does his best to approximate the squealing, bluesy style of long lost original Danzig six-stringer John Christ and Type O Negative’s Johnny Kelly brings the thunder on drums. Danzig himself plays bass along with keyboards and additional guitars. GD even jumps behind the kit for “Black Candy”, another signature stripper anthem along the lines of “She Rides” and “Her Black Wings”.
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”. That is the real triumph of Deth Red Sabaoth. There are vocal moments on this album that give me the chills, the same chills I felt discovering Danzig for the very first time. 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. He is as mesmerizing on Deth Red Saboath as he’s ever been.
My one and only complaint with Deth Red Sabaoth is 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 I can’t help but think these tracks would benefit from being allowed to breathe a bit more.
Overall though, what we have here 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 Deth Red Sabaoth will endure the test of time and sit alongside Danzig’s classic albums, it’s too early to tell, but there can be no doubt that he’s redeemed himself. As an extremely biased fan, I think I’ll just be content to have another great album from one of my all-time favorite vocalists and worry about the rest later.