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Danzig – “Skeletons”

danzigskeletonscoverpreview

Danzig – “Skeletons” (2015)

“Skeletons” is a covers record by Danzig that has been discussed publicly going as far back as 2010. The first single for the album was unveiled online on the Danzig website in 2012, but it wasn’t until November 27th, 2015 that the album was finally released. Totaling ten tracks with a running time just over 36 minutes, it’s a bit puzzling how such an album could take as long as it did to get released, but so be it. In reading interviews with Glenn Danzig I got the impression that the album was recorded piece by piece over the years with the band never fully committing to just go into the studio and pound through it. And considering a covers record probably isn’t expected to move a ton of units or make a lot of money, there likely was no sense or urgency with the record at any point in time.

When it comes to art, it really doesn’t matter how long something takes to get done, only the finished product matters. Of course, when it comes to a covers record we’re talking a lesser form of art. These are songs all written by someone else and recorded a long time ago. And though artists often like to boast, Danzig included, that they’re bringing something new to a song they cover, the truth is the songs are largely unchanged. In the case of the songs contained on “Skeletons,” most of the songs sound as they were originally recorded but with added down-tuned guitars and Danzig’s voice in place of the original singer. Listen carefully and you’ll pick out some slight variations in the lyrics, but it’s nothing major. And there are some tracks altered more than others, the most obvious being the Elvis cover “Let Yourself Go,” which basically turns a rock-a-billy track into something more resembling a punk track with a sinister groove.

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The cover for the album’s single, “Devil’s Angels.”

“Skeletons” gets to benefit from a couple obscure tracks. The two lead-off tracks, “Devil’s Angels” and “Satan,” are not likely to be known by most listeners making them feel like all new songs. “Devil’s Angels” features former Misfits guitarist Doyle in an uncredited role and features a sound that may or may not answer the question of what a Misfits record in 2015 would sound like with Glenn and Doyle onboard. It’s a fast, uptempo number with really only one hook, but the song ends before it becomes overplayed. “Satan” is from the film Satan’s Sadists, so if you’ve seen that you may know the song, but chances are you have not (I certainly haven’t). “Satan” is more of a blues-based number and the lyrics invoke the Lucifuge era tracks “Killer Wolf” and “I’m the One.” The single release of “Devil’s Angels” features a version of “Satan” that’s just Glenn and an organ. I didn’t care for that version but the album version of the song is pretty rockin’.

Other covers stand-out, including the ZZ Top track “Rough Boy” and the Aerosmith cover of “Lord of the Thighs.” The latter is probably the most surprising inclusion on the record as I never took Glenn Danzig for someone who would be familiar with some of the more obscure tracks from Aerosmith. “Lord of the Thighs” was always an oddball in the band’s library, with its bouncing guitar riff way ahead of its time. Danzig’s version of the song is obviously tuned lower giving the riff a more driving quality to it. Steven Tyler’s vocals on the song come across as seductive, and at times, even a little playful, while Danzig’s are more commanding and dominating which isn’t all that surprising, all things considered. Danzig’s cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Crying in the Rain” closes things out and it’s a nice little downer (in mood) of a track to end the record, though I do wish there was a little more emotion in Glenn’s vocals, but it’s a nice little cover. The only song I really wasn’t all that taken with is Danzig’s Sabbath cover, “N.I.B.” In the case of that track, it’s just a song that’s been done too much before. It even has its own cover by Primus featuring Ozzy on vocals that probably improved the original more than anyone else could ever hope to (not that the goal of a cover is really to improve a song). With Sabbath’s vast catalogue, it just seems like there are songs more suitable for Danzig to cover. Danzig’s take on “N.I.B.” doesn’t bring anything new to the table, it just swaps out Ozzy for Glenn and Iommi for Tommy Victor, which is a clear downgrade as Victor’s noodling outro is more distracting than anything.

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In addition to the standard CD digipack release, “Skeletons” is also being released on vinyl in numerous variants.

The production on recent Danzig releases has been spotty, at best, and the same is true for “Skeletons.” Some of the vocals sound too distant and hollow, with the worst probably being the opener “Devil’s Angels.” Some tracks, like “Action Women,” seem to put the instruments and vocals in competition with each other and they all just seem to be rising in intensity throughout the song. The worst overall track in terms of production is probably “With A Girl Like You” which just comes in so much lower in volume when compared with the surrounding tracks. In some respects, the production adds a garage feel to the album which seems appropriate for a covers record. “Crying in the Rain” has a muted softness that actually works with the material. All in all, for a Danzig record, the production is actually fine and arguably better here than it was on the past two proper Danzig albums.

“Skeletons” is a nice little collection of songs that not only work individually but actually arrange well with each other to form a credible album. My expectations, even as a longtime Danzig fan, were actually pretty low so I’m happy to say they’ve been exceeded. And I guess if you like Danzig covers then there’s good news as the band isn’t done recording other people’s songs. During the recording of this record, the band did several additional Elvis songs that Glenn Danzig decided would make sense to just release separately as an EP. It’s being referred to as “Danzig Sings Elvis” and I really hope he rethinks that title. It makes me think of Anne Murray. There was also an additional song released online a couple of years ago, a cover of the Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra duet “Some Velvet Morning” that Danzig recorded with Cherie Currie of The Runaways. The song was cut from this release and the rumor was it had something to do with Hazlewood’s estate. I don’t know if they just plain didn’t want the song being covered by Danzig or if they were demanding a larger than normal royalty or whatever, but the song is readily available online and I don’t think anyone is really missing out. It would have been the worst track on the album had it been included. There is a new Danzig album also being worked on and it’s expected sometime next year, but with Danzig you should never hold your breath. For now, we have 36 minutes of cover songs to bridge the widening gap between releases.

Top Tracks

  • Devil’s Angels
  • Satan
  • Crying in the Rain

Danzig 777: I Luciferi

Danzig 777: I Luciferi (2002)

By the time June of 2002 rolled around the world was ready for some relevant Danzig once again.  Well, maybe most of the world didn’t much care, but I certainly was.  After two disappointing studio albums and a mostly bad live album, Danzig needed to make a statement.  For better or worse, that statement would come in the form of Danzig 777: I Luciferi.

I Luciferi was released on Glenn’s evilive label through Spitfire Records and would be the band’s only release with the Spitfire logo.  The band thought it had a new long-term relationship with label E-Magine Music but Danzig ended up being that label’s biggest acquisition, and as much as I love Danzig, it can’t carry a label.  By the time I Luciferi hit stores it had been just about 2 and a half years since Satan’s Child was released to mostly negative reviews.  The band had a decent showing on the road due in part to the inclusion of a Samhain set and fans had also been treated to several other releases including a Samhain Box Set and re-issues of Danzig 5 and Black Aria.  Danzig suddenly was a very busy band and even though it had been over 2 years since the last studio effort it sure didn’t feel that long.

The lineup for Danzig 7 was the same as the touring band for Danzig 6 and included guitarist Todd Youth, bassist Howie Pyro, and drummer Joey Castillo.  For all three this would be the last Danzig album they’d play on.  Pyro and Youth would go off to try to make a name for themselves elsewhere while Castillo was offered the drummer position with the much higher profile Queens of the Stone Age.  For the most part, all three go out on a relative high note and have nothing to be embarrassed by.  Like most of the modern Danzig releases, there aren’t a ton of guitar solos for Youth to show off on but what’s there is played capably.  Castillo continues to be the stand out for the group and Pyro’s bass actually has a presence here, which is not often the case with Danzig albums.

Stylistically, Danzig 7 could be called more of the same.  It’s a little louder and more varied than Danzig 6 but with less of an industrial presence.  Where Danzig 6 stuck mostly to power chords and low notes, Danzig 7 brings back the old pinch harmonics the band was known for and some more traditional Danzig-style guitar riffs.  Some of the songs are tried and true Danzig, such as the moody “Black Mass” and powerful outro “Without Light, I Am.”  There are also some new sounds though like the destructive “Coldest Sun” or Gary Glitter inspired “Kiss the Skull.”

That’s not to say it’s all good.  “Black Mass” is a fantastic opener (following the instrumental “Unendlich”) but “Wicked Pussycat” tries its best to derail any momentum gained.  Glenn’s vocals are clear and pristine on “Black Mass,” but “Pussycat” brings back that hoarse delivery fans seemed to dislike on Danzig 6.  That and the song’s subject matter is about as silly as the title suggests and Danzig’s “rapping” on the chorus caused many to double-take.  Talk to a Danzig die hard today and many will try to tell you he isn’t rapping, but consider me unconvinced.

“God of Light” follows and can best be described as nu-metal sludge.  It took a long time for me to come to grips with that, but it’s true.  The song is melodically offensive and one of the worst Danzig songs ever recorded.  “Liberskull” begins the album’s long, winding road to recovery.  The main riff is a bit too bouncy for my taste, but the chorus and build up to it is well executed and quite pleasing.

From there the album is a bit uneven.  Songs like “Dead Inside” and the title track show promise but ultimately fail to deliver on it.  It’s towards the back end of the album where things pick up.  “Angel Blake” represents perhaps Glenn’s first classic horror tale since his days with The Misfits and proves quite pleasant, if a bit simple.  “The Coldest Sun” combines a dreary and kind of odd verse with one of Glenn’s catchiest choruses of all time.  His vocals are quite strong here, as they are on the closer “Without Light, I AM,” which strikes me as a kind of darker version of 4p’s “Let it be Captured.”

The musicianship is adequate, and while this isn’t the best collection of songs Glenn Danzig has put together it’s certainly quite listenable.  What most fans were really concerned with heading into this album was Glenn’s voice.  I Luciferi eased a lot of concerns amongst the Danzig faithful.  While most seemed satisfied with the vocals during the Satan’s Child tour, the following live album Live on the Black Hand Side caused people to question if what they heard on the road really was any good.  Live on the Black Hand Side contained two discs, one from the band’s glory days from ’92-’94 and a second disc with material from the Satan’s Child tour.  Disc 2 is practically unlistenable.  Some of that is likely due to the band skimping on good tech for a quality recording, but Glenn’s vocals just aren’t very good.  From the opening line of “Black Mass” though people were breathing a sigh of relief.  Danzig’s classic croon was back, and even though virtually no other song on the album sounds like “Black Mass” there are plenty of other stand-out moments.

The production is a little bit of a mixed bag.  While it’s no where near as bad as some of the future releases would present, it’s not quite on par with Satan’s Child.  Love it or hate it, the whisper backing track is still used on some songs but for the most part there’s little or no vocal distortion this time around.  While some people still want to call Danzig 6 an industrial metal album, Danzig 7 is pretty much a straight-up metal album with a modern sound.  The guitars are still tuned low (C once again) but there’s actual attempts made at crafting lead riffs this time around.  The quality of Castillo’s drumming, as I mentioned earlier, is quite good but the production on them is spotty at best.  On some songs it sounds like he’s drumming in your living room, on others it sounds too hollow and distant.  There’s a nice drum solo at the end of “Naked Witch” that could have sounded much better if given a full sound.  Mostly the album is lacking in those warm, full tones which is either a production short-coming or a stylistic choice.

“I Luciferi” vinyl release contents.

As for some technical notes on the release, it was released in 2002 on CD only and came in a blood-red jewel case.  The booklet contains photos of the band posturing with porn star Devon and looking mostly ridiculous.  Danzig has these big rubber gloves that make me think of comic book villain/hero Venom and he would sport them on tour.  Not all of the lyrics are printed in the booklet, a trend started by this release that would annoy most fans.  A vinyl version of the album was released in 2010 in Italy on Night of the Vinyl Dead Records.  Not much is known on how this came to be, presumably the distributor approached Spitfire about wanting to do it and they came to an agreement because the release wasn’t approved by Glenn (or he at least claimed to not know anything about it).  While it’s not technically a bootleg, it wasn’t endorsed by Glenn though I hear he has no qualms about signing it should you own a copy and wish to have him put his signature on it.  Release wise, it’s solid.  The booklet is nice and large and the record has an attractive inner sleeve.  The outer sleeve is the same as the CD artwork (which, admittedly, is pretty shitty though I kind of like the waxy new cross logo) and there’s also a skull lithograph included.  I assume the image is the artist’s interpretation of the classic Danzig logo.  This edition is limited to 500 copies.

Ultimately, Danzig 777: I Luciferi is a bit of an uneven release and isn’t going to make anyone forget about the band’s peak in the 1990’s.  It was the best album from Danzig since 1994’s 4p, and while it wasn’t a return to the classic sound, it was a return to respectability.  For a long time after this one was released I listened to it daily.  It was the album of my summer that year and I was never shy to bust it out when someone would ask me if Danzig was still around.  Some of the songs are among my favorite, and for me this is probably a top 5 Danzig release and a job well done.

Top Tracks:

  • Black Mass
  • The Coldest Sun
  • Without Light, I Am

Danzig 6:66 Satan’s Child

Danzig 6:66 Satan’s Child (1999)

Following the critical and commercial failure of Danzig 5: Blackacidevil, Danzig was returned to the underground.  The 9 figure record deals were no longer out there, few promising bands were looking to open for the group, and the band members became as unstable as ever.  There was a tour for Blackacidevil that even included a spot on the main stage at Ozzfest but after that Glenn Danzig was seldom heard from.  He focused more time on his independent comic book company, Verotik, and found himself in court battling with the executives at American Recordings for the rights to the unreleased material from his days at that label.  Eventually, Glenn would set his sights on recording the next Danzig record, the one that would become Danzig 6:66 Satan’s Child and would be the first of many to be heralded as a “return to form” for the band.

When an album bombs as bad as Blackacidevil did, it makes sense for the artist to reexamine the approach taken on previous efforts compared with that one.  For Danzig, this was simple enough.  The early records were rooted in the blues and could best be described as hard rock or heavy metal.  Yes, there were things about each album that separated them from one another but the core was mostly the same.  For Danzig 5, that core was loosely interpreted.  And while it could be argued the foundation was mostly the same, the layers on top certainly were not which helps define Blackacidevil as an industrial record with some techno and metal elements thrown in.  A confident producer would explain that to Glenn and would push him away from that approach as it clearly just didn’t work.  It would be one thing if the album was conceptually brilliant, but commercially misunderstood, but that really wasn’t the case.  The problem is, Glenn was no longer working with a big producer, and is a very prideful man.  For awhile, he insisted that Blackacidevil was his favorite record and spent more time defending it than he has anything else he has done.  Regardless, even he had to admit the best way to promote a new record was as a back to basics kind of thing.  The problem was, that wouldn’t really describe Satan’s Child too well.

More than three years elapsed between Danzig 5 and Danzig 6, so when Satan’s Child arrived in the fall of 1999 the core fan base that had stuck with Danzig was eager to get a listen.  This was before mp3 had really exploded so most fans, myself included, were mostly left in the dark until the album was released.  Before release, Danzig’s new label E-Magine, a young label hoping to better utilize the internet as a legitimate means of distribution, released the album’s first single online, “Five Finger Crawl,” as well as a snippet of “Unspeakable.”  It’s actually a bit confusing which one truly was the first single.  “Five Finger Crawl” was made into a video and some metal-oriented radio stations were playing it while others received CD singles of “Unspeakable.”  Either way, “Five Finger Crawl” was my introduction to Danzig 6 and I mostly enjoyed it.  This was the era where nu-metal was dominating the heavy music scene.  Drop D tuning was in fashion to add a pervasive heavy-ness to most records.  Danzig opted to tune even lower, to C, for this record.  And while Danzig 6 is not an industrial record, it does contain more effects than the previous 4 albums.  There’s an eeriness to “Five Finger Crawl,” accentuated by Glenn’s whispering vocal delivery, particularly the line “You leave me cold.”

The limited edition picture disc release, featuring the internet only cover of the CD version by Martin Emond.

The mood of the track is still decidedly Danzig, in the end.  The thing that had fans talking though were the vocals.  Glenn whispers throughout much of “Five Finger Crawl” before hitting a shouting chorus.  On that chorus, his vocals sound deep and slightly hoarse.  This had fans worried about what kind of shape Glenn’s vocal chords were in.  The song alleviates some of those fears to a degree with the close, where an unfiltered Danzig wails the “You leave me cold,” line, but there’s still a hint of hoarseness on there as well.  We would find out during the press tour of the album, that Glenn opted to record his vocals digitally this time, and offered up the excuse that he augmented his vocals to sound the way he hears them when he sings to himself.  The result is a deeper Glenn on this record, but he also uses a whisper track on many songs which create a hoarse quality.  The whisper track is cool when used a bit conservatively, but it probably is overused on this record.  With most things Danzig though, the truth often lies somewhere in the middle.  He may have chosen to record his vocals in a certain way, but perhaps he also did that to help mask the fact that they just weren’t what they used to be.  The tour would confirm as much.  The good news is that later records would show improvement, but unfortunately Danzig 6 marks a low point for vocals on a Danzig record.

That is not to say the vocals do not have any shining moments here.  On the contrary, I already mentioned the close of “Five Finger Crawl” as being exceptional, but songs like “Lilin” and “Cold Eternal” showcase Glenn’s vocals just as well.  There are low moments though, such as the thunderous “Apokalips,” a decent enough song, but one where Glenn’s vocals border on annoying as he has a shrill quality to his shouts.  Overall, the vocals are not a make or break thing for the record, and perhaps actually end up being the album’s best feature, because unfortunately it ends up lacking in several others.

For one, the structure of the songs are perhaps too basic.  There are really no memorable guitar riffs and very few guitar solos to liven things up.  Josh Lazie’s bass is audible, but not spectacular.  Joey Castillo’s drumming is solid, if not a bit restrained.  He’s capable of so much more.  I assume Glenn thought little of session guitarist Jeff Chambers, which helps explain why the guitars come across as an afterthought at times.  Or perhaps creatively he was just in a funk.  The band recorded over 20 tracks for this album which tells me that Glenn was really indecisive with this one and was probably at some-what of a crossroads with his band.  I should take the time to point out that the slide guitar on “Cold Eternal” is a nice touch and does add some nice texture to that track.

If the approach musically was a bit boring, then it makes sense that the finished songs are as well.  There are some nice tracks here that I have already mentioned.  One I didn’t was the closer “Thirteen,” the song Glenn penned for Johnny Cash in the early 90’s and finally recorded himself.  It would later show up in the hit film “The Hangover.”  It’s a simple but cool little track and it’s lyrics suit the public persona of Glenn Danzig.  Sadly, the lyrics on that one represent the album’s peak in that department, for in some instances they’re just bad.  “Cult W/Out a Name” is a decent enough rocker, but the lyrics there are just embarrassing.  Some, such as “I am teeth of fire/taste a thousand shames” annoy because they don’t make sense, but others annoy me because they’re just stupid “I am street designed.”  “Belly of the Beast” is one where the ending of each line rhymes with the next, just for the sake of doing so.  Again, if the music accompanying these lyrics was more interesting they could be overlooked, but here they’re hard to ignore.

The back of the picture disc, also the back cover of the CD version. Apparently Glenn was really into black and pink around this time. They had to kick Jeff Chambers out of the band to include more devil chicks.

Thankfully, most of the tracks are absent the industrial fuzz that permeated Blackacidevil, but not all.  “East Indian Devil (Kali’s Song)” is a track that could have fit on Blackacidevil, which isn’t a good thing.  The vocals are heavily distorted, and there’s little melody to the song structure.  It’s one I am happy with skipping over.

In the end, was Danzig 6:66 Satan’s Child a return to form for the band?  Only in the sense that it left behind most of the industrial elements of Danzig 5.  This is still a rather weak output when compared with the rest of the Danzig catalogue.  It’s an okay listen, but there’s just few standout tracks.  It’s no surprise that this album is hardly ever featured in the live set these days, and future releases would improve upon it.

Top Tracks

  • Five Finger Crawl
  • Cold Eternal
  • Thirteen

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