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Samhain – The Ultimate Song Ranking

samhain headerIt had to happen, no? After ranking all of the songs puts out by the Glenn Danzig-fronted Misfits last Halloween to ranking every song put out by Danzig in celebration of the band’s 30th anniversary, only Samhain remained. The middle child of Glenn Danzig’s bands, Samhain has always been the most overlooked and least appreciated. This is largely due to the band only really existing for about 3 years, barely giving it time to develop its own sound. Predictably, the band sounds like a mash-up of The Misfits and early Danzig as this was basically Glenn Danzig going solo.

As a result of Samhain existing for such a brief period, the volume of songs with the Samhain branding total far fewer than the other two bands. The band had 36 recordings including instrumentals and oddities like “Initium.” Since it’s such a low total relative to the other bands I am forgoing any sort of rules with this ranking. All songs are being ranked individually. The only recordings not considered are the live versions from Samhain’s lone live album. This means I am including covers (most of which are Glenn Danzig covering himself anyway), and there’s even two versions of one song. All of the Samhain releases are long out of print, but I’m sure there are other means of hearing these songs if you don’t want to pay after-market rates. So let’s get down to it and celebrate the festival of Samhain by ranking the works of Samhain:

36. Misery Tomb (Unholy Passion) – Let’s start with the dubious one, the worst Samhain track. This one comes with an asterisk as it’s not really a song and more a collection of noises. Not on the original release of Unholy Passion, “Misery Tomb” is just the vocal wails and effects from that EP’s closing track “I Am Misery” isolated all by itself. It would have made more sense as a CD hidden track which is usually the realm for oddities such as this, but instead it was stuck among the regular songs.

35. Unbridled (November-Coming-Fire) – Given what I said about the first entry, “Unbridled” can be considered my true pick for worst Samhain song. Most of that is due to the terrible production on the track. The vocals are buried in the mix and the sound is so low it sounds way out of place among the better mastered tracks. The music accompanying it does have a playful malevolence to it that is kind of interesting, but the limitations of the band keep it from progressing into anything worthwhile making this track feel incomplete.

initium

Initium was the band’s debut album, and some would say its best.

34. Initium (Initium) – Most of what I said about “Misery Tomb” applies to “Initium.” The only difference is this one is an intro to the band’s first album, and judged on that merit, it’s effective. As a piece of music, it’s just some wind effects with Glenn speaking over it. The lyrics are pretty campy, but it’s fine for what it is.

33. Birthright (November-Coming-Fire) – “Birthright” is the misstep of side 1 on Samhain III. While the other tracks prioritize melody over intensity, this one mostly forgoes that. Like “Unbridled” the production on the vocals also leaves something to be desired. Perhaps if it had a hook in its chorus it would have worked out better.

32. Night Chill (Final Descent) – The instrumental intro for Samhain’s posthumous LP, Final Descent, feels a bit weak compared with the intro on the prior album, but by itself it’s suitable. As its name implies, it’s more a chilling piece of music and it possesses a spooky vibe, for lack of a better term. In short, it accomplishes what it needs to.

31. Macabre (Initium) – This is a track that is distinct for its lack of melody. The beat is rather mischievous, with that malevolent Samhain guitar tone, but the vocals feel isolated. It’s just Glenn screaming nonsense. The imagery is violent, and the song basically has no hooks, but one gets the impression that it’s not supposed to. Raw and intense, you probably either like that about it or you don’t.

30. Lords of the Left Hand (Final Descent) – This one sounds more like a Danzig song. It’s a slow tempo number with an apocalyptic vibe. It could have been snuck onto the first Danzig record without feeling too out of place. This is the original version, and it’s a song I’ve never had particularly strong feelings for. If Final Descent were a true full-length LP this would have been fine as filler, but when forced to stand out it feels a bit lacking.

samhain band

There’s not a lot of Samhain band shots out there, since the band existed for such a short time.

29. Kiss of Steel (November-Coming-Fire) – Bizarre given the subject matter, “Kiss of Steel” is that old school up-tempo punk song with the Samhain bells and whistles. It’s a song about car wrecks, so it’s violent and fits in with the rest of the album given that aspect, though it still seems like a mundane subject for Samhain. It’s brief and relentless though and does possess plenty of hooks.

28. Trouble (Final Descent) – Glenn Danzig and the band’s first attempt at an Elvis cover, this one was originally released on the version of Final Descent included with the Samhain Box Set. It’s similar to what the band Danzig would record, but with less polish. The vocal track sounds like it was done in one take which gives it a raw authenticity. There’s swagger here, perhaps more so than the Danzig version. It’s pretty cool to hear, and even though it lacks some of that Samhain goth vibe, it mostly sounds like what you would expect given what the Danzig version turned out like.

27. Moribund (Unholy Passion) – If you missed the goth texture on the previous song, then you’ll be pleased to know it’s captured here. “Moribund” is sort of Samhain by the numbers. It’s got a bit of a punk thing going on, there’s some added keyboard effects, and it’s fairly catchy. It’s just a little boring compared to the better songs that follow this mold and it’s probably harmed by the fact that its chorus is just the song’s title repeated over and over.

26. Lords of the Left Hand (2nd Version) (Final Descent) – Released with the Samhain Box Set, this version of “Lords of the Left Hand” is much faster. While the original is more methodical, this one is relentless and I think it suits the song’s subject matter better as a result. As a song not deemed worthy of release initially, there is an unfinished vibe to it, but the rawness of the recording is kind of charming as well.

final descent

Final Descent was the 1990 posthumous album from Samhain. It was the only Samhain album to not receive a vinyl release.

25. The Birthing (Final Descent) – Kind of a paradox, as a song called “The Birthing” is essentially all about “The End.” This one has a fun and unique song structure that makes it stand out. Glenn gives a great vocal performance, proving that he’s learned a thing or two since disbanding Samhain, making this one sound a bit more like a Danzig song as opposed to a Samhain one.

24. Death…In Its Arms (Final Descent) – A slow tempo jam kind-of song. It’s another Final Descent track that sounds more like an idea than a realized song. It also sounds halfway between Samhain and Danzig. What is here though is fine, and there’s a groove to this one that helps it stand out. There’s a vocal melody utilized by Glenn here that’s also unique to this song. In short, it doesn’t sound like anything that came before it, or since.

23. Human Pony Girl (November-Coming-Fire) – According to former bassist Eerie Von, when Glenn embarked on writing for Samhain he deliberately wanted to bring in more sexual themes to his lyrics. He had some growing pains and some of the stuff sounds forced or corny, but come Samhain III he seemed more confident. “Human Pony Girl” is one such song and if you like songs about Glenn bare-backing some woman then this one is for you. It’s kind of menacing, and Glenn’s delivery hints at violence without overtly stating anything truly violent. It’s a bit odd as a closer for the album, but I’ve met some female fans who really dig this one.

samhain metallica

The boys of Metallica were fans of the band. James Hetfield would end up singing on the Danzig version of “Possession.”

22. Possession (Final Descent) – Another early version of a song that would appear on the first Danzig record, “Possession” is a rough, slightly faster, version of what ended up being released. It’s not unlike “Twist of Cain” in that regard, which is still to come on our list. The lo-fi recording gives the song a gritty quality that I think suits it rather well though I still prefer the Danzig version.

21. He-Who-Can-Not-Be-Named (Initium) – Like “Moribund,” this is another Samhain by the numbers kind of track. It adds this “whoa” track that would probably sound rather funny if isolated from the song, but works with it and gives the song its own flair. It’s a catchy track and Glenn’s vocal delivery rises in intensity throughout the song giving it a satisfying climax. While “Moribund” felt like perfectly fine filler, this one is elevated above that rank.

20. Halloween II (November-Coming-Fire) – Our first Samhain version of a Misfits song. Samhain was actually pretty adept at taking what was old and making it better. “Halloween II” from The Misfits was a moody kind of track, more of a gimmick than true song, but Samhain adds more guitar and a new groove that really pulls everything together. Glenn went for more of a chant quality with the original recording, but here there’s a distinct vocal melody and he practically shouts the verse at the listener. It gives the song a new dimension, a new intensity, and ultimately makes this my preferred version of the song.

19. Diabolos ’88 (November-Coming-Fire) – Samhain’s best instrumental song, “Diablos ’88” is the lead-off track to Samhain III and it’s really punky and fun. It has a lot of Samhain’s trademarked added texture effects with chimes and chants. It’s very up-tempo and probably could have worked as a song with lyrics if Glenn had so desired, but even as an instrumental, it’s pretty damn great.

18. Twist of Cain (Final Descent) – The other soon-to-be Danzig track included on the Final Descent re-issue, “Twist of Cain” has the impossible task of living up to one of Danzig’s most classic tunes. Naturally, it can’t match that band’s rendition, but it is pretty cool to hear in this unrefined, raw, form. Glenn practically growls the chorus and sounds more menacing here than he will with Danzig. All these years later, it would be kind of cool to see if the band could pull-off a similar live version of this song after years of playing it the Danzig way as I think this version would work really well in that setting.

17. The Shift (Initium) – “The Shift” is a slow, brooding, track that’s over before it can really get going, but what it does accomplish in its brief run time is pretty cool. Like a lot of the songs from this album “The Shift” feels like a horror film made song. It’s overshadowed a bit by the songs that follow it on Initium, but shouldn’t be overlooked because of that.

unholy passion

The Unholy Passion EP was the band’s second release. Start to finish, it might be the band’s tightest release.

16. The Hungry End (Unholy Passion) – This one kicks off with an unsettling, frantic, yet simple, guitar riff. As Glenn comes into the picture he’s screaming about a baby in a meat slicer, his voice straining above the piercing sounds of the guitar. There’s a rawness to the vocal delivery, as if it was done in a single take, and the song relents when it gets to a fairly melodious and tastefully delivered chorus. It’s a really neat, and unique, song amongst the Samhain catalog and it really drives home how, even though the band wasn’t really much more talented than The Misfits, Glenn was better at utilizing what this band could do to craft its songs.

15. Black Dream (Initium) – “Black Dream” is a fairly no-frills punk track, an early example of Glenn Danzig trying to incorporate some sex into his lyrics. It doesn’t quite reach the mark in that regard, but what is here is a very catchy punk song that could have come from The Misfits had Glenn chosen to do so. The only thing that makes it sound like a Samhain song is the minimal use of keys to accentuate some of the bass during the chorus.

14. November’s Fire (November-Coming-Fire) – Raise your hand if you sometimes forget this song is called “November’s Fire” and not “November-Coming-Fire” like the album and chorus would lead you to believe. I know I do. It’s obviously not important, and I think it’s still safe to consider this the title track of Samhain III despite the slight difference in naming. This one follows “Halloween II” on the album and logically seems to be about the festival of Samhain as it references fires and the month of November. It’s catchy, with a fun guitar hook. The chorus has a gallop quality to it in the drumming which is pretty unique for Glenn Danzig songs. It can safely be considered one of the band’s signature songs.

13. Horror Biz (Initium) – A new take on The Misfits classic “Horror Business.” This one emphasizes the drumming of Steve Zing and utilizes a more deliberate vocal melody while somewhat downplaying the guitar in comparison with the original. The slightly improved production makes Glenn’s lyrics easier to decipher, including the final line of the song which is mostly unintelligible in the Misfits version. It’s also slightly slower, sacrificing some of that speed and intensity for a more refined groove. Unlike “Halloween II,” I don’t prefer this version to the original, but I do appreciate it. There’s room for two and that chorus will never not be fun to sing along to.

samhain iii

I’ve encountered many fans who consider Samhain’s third release, and last while together, the band’s best.

12. Mother of Mercy (November-Coming-Fire) – This one is perhaps the most famous Samhain song due to its inclusion in the Metallica version of Guitar Hero. It’s obviously a favorite of Hetfield’s and with good reason. It seems to be about giving one’s self up to an older dominatrix, or at least submitting to an older woman. It almost doesn’t matter, as like any good Misfits/Samhain song it really leans into some nice, catchy, hooks that render the song’s subject matter practically moot. This one was apparently also a favorite of Glenn’s as Danzig would keep it in its set list for a few years after Samhain’s demise. It’s not a particularly fast or slow song, but there’s something undeniably fun about that chorus, “We all want our time in Hell.”

11. All Murder, All Guts, All Fun (Initium) – This is another Samhain song that could have easily been a Misfits recording. It’s very punk in nature, uptempo, catchy, and the lyrics are deliberately offensive in order to garner attention (presumably). It’s also graphic, like a lot of Misfits stuff. To make it feel like Samhain has moved beyond The Misfits though there’s a bridge that would be atypical for a Misfits cut. And even though the song slows down for that bridge it still manages to remain catchy, in particular the “Do-you-do-you ree-ah-lize…” conjuring visions of the 50s in some respect. It’s a fun, juvenile, song though that’s rightfully played at every Samhain show.

10. I Am Misery (Unholy Passion) – Perhaps Samhain’s most ambitious song, this one gives up some of the catchy aspects of Samhain’s best, but incorporates perhaps Glenn’s best lyrics. The voice of the song is misery personified, and it’s rather effectual. It moves between being uptempo and mid and there’s plenty of layering and textures added. A great way to kick off Samhain’s Top 10.

9. Samhain (Initium) – The band’s title track, and the only Glenn Danzig band to have such a thing. It’s a great way to introduce the listener to what Samhain is all about. The lyrics are clearly inspired by the actual holiday. It’s very brief, but it works so well. It’s got enough attitude and atmosphere to make it sounds kind of dangerous. It feels minimalist, but it’s so catchy. And when it ends it leaves you wanting more which is the mark of a good song. ‘Tis the night to laugh at Death, indeed.

8. All Hell (Unholy Passion) – The last of The Misfits covers, “All Hell” is a new version of “All Hell Breaks Loose” and it basically kicks ass. Gun to my head, I probably would take this over The Misfits version, but I love both. Like “Horror Biz,” the drums are really emphasized here and the vocal melody is altered for a more deliberate delivery. The way the song is structured really suits this style and adds to the rising intensity the song tries to build up to. The better production also doesn’t hurt in separating it from its predecessor.

final descent CD

Early versions of Final Descent contained the Unholy Passion EP tacked-on the round things out. It wasn’t until the E-Magine reissue that the early Danzig demos were added.

7. Unholy Passion (Unholy Passion) – If someone asks me what Samhain sounds like relative to Glenn Danzig’s more popular bands, this is a song I would point them towards. It’s a mid-tempo track that starts off with a simple bass line and then gradually layers upon that before breaking into the full song. It has all of the atmosphere it needs which is why the EP from which its taken doesn’t need an instrumental lead-in, this accomplishes that task while also delivering a full-fledged and terrific song. There’s a distance in the vocals that adds a haunting quality to the song, and also covers up some goofy lyrics. And as the song states repeatedly; it’s unholy.

6. To Walk the Night (November-Coming-Fire) – This might be Samhain’s slowest song. I’ve never actually measured it, but it’s the closest to a traditional ballad the band recorded. It possesses a somber tone with an understated, but effective, vocal performance from Glenn Danzig. It’s easy listening, which makes it stand out. It’s a personal favorite of mine.

5. Descent (Final Descent) – Final Descent was basically an encore for Samhain. It’s not a bad release either, though I do rank it behind the other three Samhain releases. The songs are worth hearing, but the only one that ever struck me as special is “Descent.” It likely benefits from being recorded essentially by the band Danzig and it contains the best production of any Samhain track. Danzig’s vocals are awesome and intense, and I wish this song received more love from the band during the various reunions that have taken place over the years.

4. The Howl (Initium) – Another moody little horror cut, “The Howl” is a fan-favorite song. I love Glenn’s vocal performance, and the slow gallop of the drums thumps along driving the tempo. It’s a fun horror story, that probably predictable given the song’s title, turns into a series of howls to close it out. Seeing the band perform this one live covered in blood is about as “Samhain” as it gets.

3. In My Grip (November-Coming-Fire) – A power fantasy made song, Glenn Danzig has always had the ability to take what looks corny on paper and turn into something convincing in song. The nature of this song makes for an easy comparison to the Danzig song “Left Hand Black” since it contains similar themes. I love the uneasiness the verse’s guitar creates which leads to the explosive chorus. A great way to kick-off what many feel is the band’s best album.

danzig blood

Glenn Danzig’s affection for Samhain has led to multiple reunions over the years where he once again covers himself in blood to perform.

2. Let the Day Being (November-Coming-Fire) – The companion track to “To Walk the Night,” which leads into this one on the album. “Let the Day Begin” is the polar opposite – uptempo, catchy, and a whole lot of fun. A reckoning is falling upon the world ushering in a new age with fire and fury that will spare no one. It’s uncompromising in its lyrics, which if perhaps given a higher profile would prove controversial, but since this is Samhain it gets to fly under the radar. The song is anchored by its chorus which is perhaps the catchiest one produced by Samhain. Just go and try to get it out of your head.

And the winner is…

Archangel (Initium) – The signature Samhain song, the best of the best. I wrestled with what should be number one since I primarily consider Samhain a punk band and punk bands tend to write fast songs. “Archangel” is not fast, and it’s the band’s longest song at that. Nothing else in the band’s catalogue really sounds like it, but it’s arguably the band’s most complete song. It’s a song that could not have been recorded by The Misfits, and likely wouldn’t sound like this if Danzig had recorded it too. It’s distinctly Samhain. It has an extra bass track that would necessitate Glenn to pick-up an axe himself for live performances, something he rarely ever does. The production is just lo-fi enough to give it a haunting quality and Glenn deftly maneuvers his voice through the song knowing when to croon and when to howl. The song is paced well and the outro it possesses is just another way it separates itself from the rest of the band’s catalogue. It’s a natural show closer, and ultimately my pick for Samhain’s best song.

 

There you have it, all of the Samhain songs ranked. It wasn’t the endeavor that ranking the Danzig songs was, but it was a lot of fun revisiting these songs I’ve listened to so many times during the course of my life. I hope your Happy Halloween has led into a Scintillating Samhain. And just because the holiday has passed doesn’t mean you can’t still listen to Samhain. As far as I’m concerned, it’s always in season.


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