REVIEW: DANZIG – “Black Laden Crown”
How do you assess a living legend’s new work? Do you compare every new release to their classic output or do you appreciate it on its own terms and thank your lucky starts that said legend is still working at all? This question brings us neatly to Glenn Danzig’s new album. Danzig is a true living legend, both as the father of Horror Punk with The Misfits, to his work with Samhain and his solo releases. Danzig is also a criminally underrated songwriter, with legendary artists covering his compositions over the years including Metallica, Guns N’ Roses to the late great Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. He has also never been more popular, from last years rapturously well received Misfits reunion shows to pop-culture cameos on Portlandia and his songs featuring prominently in all three Hangover movies.Now Danzig is back with his first original album in 7 years.
Recorded in sessions over three years from 2014 to 2017 , with four different drummers (including former Queens of The Stone Age drummer Joey Castillo) and Produced by Danzig himself, ‘Black Laden Crown’ is his first original studio album since 2010’s ‘Deth Red Sabaoth‘.
Opening with the title track “Black Laden Crown”, it seems to drone rather than shout until the 4.30 minute mark when the pace finally picks up. “Eyes Ripping Fire” is a solid if unremarkable mid paced burner almost reminiscent of Metallica‘s ‘St.Anger’ era.
This is followed by the album’s first single “Devil on Hwy 9”. A bizarre choice as it may be the weakest track on the album with the mix sounding as if Danzig is singing a hoarse and winded karaoke vocal over a frankly forgettable heavy backing track. Opening with cool finger clicks and icy cold lyrics “Lay you down, lay you dead, no more tears, no more bread”, “Last Ride” is a much stronger song that could have fit in well on ‘Lucifuge’. The slower tempo and strong vocal make it a highlight.
“The Witching Hour” starts with an eerie guitar feedback and Danzig singing about the River Styx. Although it has nothing fresh to offer, its a good track spoiled by poor vocal mix. Followed by the better sounding but no more exciting “But A Nightmare”, you begin to miss the finer points of Danzig’s music that always set him apart from the Metal pack; the brilliant nods to 50s/60s melodies subtly woven into heavy punk that brought you back again and again.
Thankfully, “Skulls and Daisies” really gets things back on track. With a stomping riff, strong vocals and lyrics, it is one of the best songs on the album. “Blackness Falls” takes us back to heavy chugging riffs and karaoke vocal mix. Thankfully, the album ends on a higher note with “I Pull The Sun”. This showcases some of that soaring voice and just for a minute, while the music and the vocals click so you can finally appreciate the Gothic beauty of Danzig’s lyrics, not to mention a superb guitar solo outro.
Due to the nature of its recording over several years, the record is uneven and the production/mix problems are more apparent on some tracks than others. This stands in stark contrast to the recent studio work of fellow Misfit Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein , whose 2013 album ‘Abominator’ was a stunning example of what a strong hand and vision in the studio can achieve in Heavy Metal. One can only wish that Doyle was involved in the recording and producing of ‘Black Laden Crown’.
Even if we accept the lo-fi production sound, it only works well with the shortest/craziest songs like those on the The Misfits 1978 classic ‘Static Age’, where the songs were simply so thrilling and short you barely had time to notice the lack of production!
Many of the songs on here are far too lengthy to give the punk sound an impact. Instead it just sounds poor and, at times, distracting. Although you do have to give the man points for not resorting to auto-tune or any other studio trickery, but the end result is still largely unsatisfying.
I suppose your enjoyment of the record might depend largely on how sensitive you are to these issues. They are problems that seem very apparent listening at home on some decent headphones will probably sound less important if you’re blasting the album out of the speakers in your all black and chrome convertible tearing down some empty highway after midnight, which is probably how you should have been listening to the album in the first place.
Even the album artwork is oddly poor. While previous albums have had iconic cover artwork from the likes of H.R. Giger and Michael Golden, the cover of ‘Black Laden Crown’ strikes me as poor and very bland, it could be almost anybody’s artwork. The LP edition does get a point back for a stunning limited edition orange-swirl vinyl. While it would be easy to explain away all the above criticisms and faults with a dismissive “He just doesn’t care anymore”, I think that’s a far too simplistic analysis.
No self-respecting, veteran artist these days is willing to spend the time , let alone three years of it, writing and recording original material if they simply don’t care and know the fans would still come out in droves to hear the old hits, just ask Gene Simmons who, coincidentally, had his artistic self-respect buried in a branded coffin. The only reason you record albums well into a 40 year career in Heavy Metal is if you truly love what you’re doing and still have something to say to your audience. Danzig clearly does both. He just needs to find a real, vital producer to work with to bring his music back to life.
Danzig delivers a solid, frustrating and ultimately uneven album that is hampered by poor production and mix. Although its far from perfect, there are still moments where you can hear the classic Danzig sound, so it is still worth checking out if you’re a hardcore fan.