Record review: Danzig, "Black Laden Crown" (Nuclear Blast)


There are two main reasons to check out the new Danzig darkslab: Glenn Danzig's singing and Tommy Victor's guitar playing. Those factors elevate a collection of riffs & drones into an experience worth frequent returns.

Although the use of four different drummers suggests that "Black Laden Crown" got frankensteined piecemeal, the thing crackles with urgency. Partly that's because it doesn't feel overthunk, as if Victor attacked the tracks when his jones was up, and didn't mess with many retakes. He has a blast with alternate scales on some solos ("But a Nightmare"), and scrabbles with ferocious fire on others ("Blackness Falls"). He plucks a pretty arpeggio ("The Witching Hour"), rides waves of feedback ("Eyes Ripping Fire"), and ladles thick layers of squealing, grinding, surging stringwork everywhere.

The bass (by Tommy? Glenn?) often sounds like an afterthought, plowing a single note right through chord changes on the very first two songs. Since those aren't the only instances of harmonic mayhem, the guys must've violated with malicious intent, rendering them subject to accusations of jazz sympathy.

In contrast to his usual rage and menace, Glenn delivers weary bitterness, and the heart he dredges from his massive chest lends his helltales a truthful resonance that extends beyond comic-book caricature into the sanctum of personal confession. When the Elvis of Evil howls "I'm lonely" ("Last Ride"), we hear not only the cry of a Lucifer condemned to exile, but the pain of a mortal man whom no one understands. A vulnerable Danzig? It can happen, as we also learn via one of Glenn's most beautiful croons on the churning, devotional closer, "Pull the Sun."

All this virtue transpires within a chipped and smeared framework. Aside from the exhilarating raver "Devil on Hwy 9," most of the tracks sound more like ideas for songs than songs, with numerous tempo shifts standing in for structural development. Sure, this method rocks righteously when the groove sloshes at its determined, beat-lagging best ("Hwy 9," "Nightmare"), but the rhythm track often sounds like a drum machine. Several tunes just plod, turning familiar Danzigian incantation, repetition and mesmerization into slumber pills. And the lyrics? We receive poetic gloom and demon capers per contract, but "The hand strikes 6 on the River Styx"? Well, Glenn does crack a grin now and then.

Still, considering the artful textures, the naked humanity and the ear-catching novelties (even a female vocal chorus!), after seven years since Danzig's last collection of original material, "Black Laden Crown" gives cause, in the three-decade life of the band, for optimism. If they have that in Erebus.

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Danzig's Blackest of the Black fest, with Ministry, Suicidal Tendencies, Marduk, DevilDriver, many other bands and some amusing sideshows, rages at Oak Canyon Park, Orange, Fri. & Sat. May 26 & 27; info here.