I remember being instantly taken with the sound of Danzig‘s self-titled debut when I saw the video for “Twist of Cain” on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. Sure, I knew Mr. Danzig from The Misfits and Samhain, but this was a much different beast. Metal, meaty, manly and catchy as all get out. Thus began my fandom for the man’s solo career, which burned brightly from 1988 to 1996, at which time the biscuit wheels came off the gravy train to the sickening sounds of electronica. Steel Druhm raves for no man, and as Danzig explored weirder and weirder electronica-soaked soundscapes, I was forced to leave the Luci-hall. 2010s Ded Red Sabaoth was hailed as a return to his grim, doom-grooving ways, and it was easily the best thing the man released in 15 years, but still couldn’t touch the classic albums with 50 foot mesh shirt. After a nearly 6 year wait, we finally get new material from New Jersey’s second-most infamous devil. Has the Shirtless One finally reclaimed his grip on the pec-metal genre? Will mothers everywhere shudder anew at the prospect of their daughter dating the dark lord of doom rock? So many questions abound…
I’ll admit going into Black Laden Crown with expectations at low ebb, as Danizg‘s 2015 cover album Skeletons was righteous garbage. With the opening title-track however, prospects brightened and hope began to flicker faintly. Doomy like a funeral march, the dirgy riffs set the mood perfectly, and when Glenn’s Evil Elvis baritone comes in, all seems right in the underworld again. This is really good stuff and could have easily appeared on Danzig II. Glenn’s vocals sound youthful and it feels like a time warp back to the glory days of black wings and killer wolves.
Followups like “Eyes Ripping Fire” and “Devil on Hwy 9” aren’t quite up to the opener’s level, but they’re solid, mid-tempo biker doom with a murky, Stygian charm. “Devil on Hwy 9” almost sounds like something left over from White Zombie‘s La Sexorcisto album with Danzig guesting on vocals. It’s rudimentary music-wise, but succeeds on attitude and moxie alone. “Last Ride” is a return to the atmosphere of his debut with a chorus that sticks, and Prong‘s Tommy Victor spices things up with a trippy, 70s style twist to his solo. Cuts like “The Witching Hour” roil with evil energy, and the album wraps up well with the second best cut, the simmering serial killer love song “Pull the Sun,” which is like a companion piece to older chestnuts “Stalker Song” and “Sistanas.”
All nine songs are good, though “Blackness Falls” runs about 2 minutes too long, and the album’s mostly mid-tempo cruise control would have benefited from a few more upbeat, urgent moments. My biggest issue with Black Laden Crown is the way Danzig’s vocals were recorded. Sometimes it’s as if he was too far away from the mic while laying down his vocals, and others times too close, as there’s audible clipping and distortion when he hits his patented he-man belly bellows. For such an established veteran act so dependent on the vocals to carry the show, this seems particularly perplexing.
Production issues aside, it’s a revelation of sorts how good Danzig sounds. Even on Deth Red Sabaoth his vocals seemed worn out at times, but he sounds re-energized and revitalized here. Sure, he’s lost something off his fastball since the 90s when his chest-thumping vocal heroics garnered him fans far afield of metal and punk, but for a man in his 60s (damn, that makes me feel olde by extension), Glenn can still bring something to the monster mash. Musically, this is a more brooding, mid-tempo platter than the often aggressive Deth Red. I hesitate to call it introspective or reflective as he’s still singing about devils, highways and witching hours, but the mood is definitely one of a sullen, pensive icon in semi-repose. Tommy Victor continues his long-time associate with Danzig, delivering a respectable collection of heavy, memorable riffs and fat grooves, along with some out of left field soloing and jangled fretboard abuse. I still miss John Christ but Tommy does an admirable job of keeping things edgy and interesting.
Black Laden Crown is a much better album than I expected at this point in Danzig‘s career. It’s consistently good, at times even great and gets its hooks deeper in your flesh with every spin. It can’t equal the early classics, but it can sit aside Deth Red as a respectable catalog capstone after so much mid-period pablum. It’s gritty, tough doom rock for black souls and that’s all I need from the man, the myth, the Lodi, New Jersey legend with the blood soaked lawn sprinklers. Danzig, motherfucker!