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Album review: Danzig’s ‘Black Laden Crown’ is a nearly great throwback

Posted by on June 1, 2017

I will admit it, I’ve seen Danzig live no less than a dozen times. And I look forward to seeing Danzig a dozen more. While Glenn Danzig is the artist so many love to hate, his mark on both punk and metal is indelible and his legacy, undoubtedly, is permanently affixed to all of the horror and heavy blues bands making the rounds today. Danzig, the band, has had its ups and downs, but it’s difficult to not get excited when a new record comes out. A lot is riding on Black Laden Crown, Danzig’s 11th studio full-length release, as 2010’s Deth Red Sabaoth brought fans back to the magic of Danzig I – IV, but 2015’s Skeletons broke fans’ hearts more than the reported death of original drummer, Chuck Biscuits. While, thankfully, the death of Biscuits was a hoax, the release of the downright painful Skeletons was all too real.  

While the record has only been out for over a week now, many have come to criticize the mixing and the overall production. For the younger crop of metal listeners who enjoy their tunes on headphones while riding loud public transportation, I can understand their dismay.  However, for those of us above the age of 40, who still prefer to listen to their (dare I say) CDs in their car, the mix is actually enjoyable. As Glenn stated back in 2010, he mixed his more recent recordings to resonate with those who grew up listening to his music, driving around in their large muscle cars on the streets of North Jersey and New York. I remember, rather fondly, picking up my younger brother and his friends in my 1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass or similar beater from decades back, with How the Gods Kill blaring on the tape deck, to see Danzig play venues like the Roseland and the Ritz in New York City. We were all way underage back then, but in David Dinkins’ Manhattan, no one really cared. There was a bass-heavy, imprecise sound that would make today’s audiophiles cringe, but beyond the Dolby “noise reduction,” it was the best we had and we didn’t mind. We felt the music coming through our torn vinyl seats and we blew out our Pioneer speakers on a regular basis. This newest release feels like it was deliberately mixed to make us feel that nostalgia for burning carbon on East Brunswick streets.

While Black Laden Crown doesn’t quite bring me back to How the Gods Kill or even 4, the record is a vast improvement over Skeletons.  Joey Castillo’s drums (which sound great by the way) on the driving “Devil on Highway 9″ elevates the track along with a catchy chorus clearly designed with the live show in mind.  Castillo is back on a slower, bluesy number, “Blackness Falls,” which is a bit drowned out by Tommy Victor’s overuse of pinch harmonics. While John Christ has proven to be absolutely irreplaceable in Danzig, it’s difficult not to love Tommy Victor – especially in the live show. Tommy is clearly happy to be there and he’s more than paid his dues.  I remember first meeting Tommy standing outside the New York clubs in the late 80’s handing out flyers for the early Prong shows as fans excited the music halls. Your King’s X show might have ended by 12:30 am, but Prong was likely playing somewhere at 1:30am and you’d still be able to catch them before heading home for the night. Tommy Victor still grinds it out and his hands are all over the leads with the standouts being “Eyes Ripping Fire,” the title track and “Last Ride.”

No doubt Johnny Kelly has some big shoes to fill in Danzig, following the very much alive Chuck Biscuits, (one of the greatest punk and hard rock drummers to ever live) and Joey Castillo, but, like always, Kelly steps in and helps everything come together. I wish Kelly was given a bit more freedom on this record because his drums seem to be a bit perfunctory at times, as do Glenn’s. Dirk Verbeuren’s (Soilwork) contribution suffers the same fate. Glenn handles bass duties along with Victor, and no doubt Steve Zing will handle live bass for the upcoming shows. Much love to Eerie Von, but bass has always been in Danzig’s backseat, if not trunk.  That doesn’t change on this record.

There’s no H.R. Giger artwork on this one and while nobody will ever come close to How the Gods Kill in terms of covers, Black Laden Crown gives us, frankly, a ridiculous cover right out of an early 90’s Verotik comic book. I guess on the plus side, the cover doesn’t feature Glenn wearing a pair of plastic black pinchers leftover from a straight-to-Netflix C-level horror flick like he dons on I Luciferi, but given the iconic covers of Danzig and Danzig II (which, you might remember, folded out into an inverted cross) one has to wonder if part of Rick Rubin’s magic was to keep Glenn out of the art production. There likely will be a video released soon, and in keeping with recent Danzig tradition, it will feature surgically enhanced females go-go dancing in front of poor renderings of CGI fire, skull masks from one of those SoCal thrift stores featured on Storage Wars and a few remaining remnants from set of Paris Hilton’s House of Wax. Give me the video for “Bodies” or “Dirty Black Summer” any day of the week.  

But the appeal of Danzig, the later years, has not been centered on short form videos and album art.  What has been paramount to the band’s longevity is the dedication to the fans and the live show.  We know about the mess in Minnesota and the notorious French onion soup incident in Texas, but as many a fan will tell you, those are aberrations, and Danzig live, with all the rules about cellphones being put away (which I respect the hell out of) and the gossip about backstage brawls, Glenn and co. have always put on one amazing show – and they’ve done it for much longer than today’s hipster keyboard warriors have been ordering babyccinos in Park Slope. The band just doesn’t give up and is unafraid to play the crowd pleasers, preventing audiences from over indulging on the new material. The KISS Psycho Circus tour, this is not. No specified bathroom breaks.  Not too loud, no unnecessary pyro, just four guys sweating and working their asses off – and that’s the way its always been. Glenn gets a ton of flack for everything does, and while some of it is warranted and some of it is puzzling (why do people make fun of him for taking care of his cats??), through it all, Danzig has always been incredibly gracious and downright friendly to his fans.  I’ve watched Glenn, at over 60 years old, dripping with sweat, patiently and politely sign all sorts of items for fans and pose for photo after photo after photo. He comes from Lodi, New Jersey, and like the people of Lodi, with “blood and tears” comes eventual success. So while Black Laden Crown isn’t going to take us back to the glory days of John Christ, Eerie Von, Chuck and Rick Rubin it is an enjoyable listen and certainly worth your ten bucks.

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