Musically, post-Misfits/Samhain Glenn Danzig and Metallica have little to nothing in common. However, when it comes to their respective career arcs, the curvature is almost identical. Both began with a blinding flashes of unparalleled genius via their first four studio albums and the subsequent influence they inflamed. As their careers wore on, they both experimented with their patented sounds. Metallica dulled their edge and went the more commercially viable route, and Danzig tried his hand at injecting some industrial rock elements into his music. They still sold boatloads of albums, but their fanbases split on whether messing with the formula was a good thing or an unfortunate miscalculation.
Their paths diverged a bit, but they come back together slightly within the last decade when both Danzig and Metallica released what were rumored to be “return to form” albums. Metallica had 2008’s Death Magnetic and last year’s Hard-wired…to Self-Destruct; Danzig had 2010’s Deth Red Sabaoth, and now his newest effort Black Laden Crown. In both cases, feelings range on whether it is a perfect nod to their respective heydays or cringeworthy attempts at recreating the high times. In the case of Danzig, though, the loudest voices are leaning toward the latter.
It doesn’t help matters that the production on BLC is as dry and flat as a saltine; the whole thing seems unfinished or unmixed, as if someone forgot to inject the beef somewhere along the way. There was something warm and wet about the Danzig albums that Rick Rubin produced that would be more than welcome here. Danzig’s egomaniacal control over his music is evident. He could have benefited from an unbiased voice to let him know, “Hey that guitar tone sounds thin. Let’s fix that.” Or “That vocal harmony is off and sour. Let’s try another take.”
The real smoking gun that proves that Danzig needed someone to rein him in is where the vocals sit throughout. His singing is pushed way out in front of the mix. It’s not just that his powerful basso profundo voice has lost some of its profundo from decades of use, it’s that the music and vocals can’t gel like they could when the mix is so imbalanced like this. They sound like two separate entities roughly slapped together. Despite the poor production hinderance, the dark, sensual vibe that he has mastered over the years is strong on tracks like “Last Ride” and “The Witching Hour.” Slow tempos, weighty riffs and Danzig’s bleak croon create moods good for stalking coveted loves.
Other tracks take familiar components from the good old days and abuse them to the point of annoyance. John Christ, the pioneering guitarist from the first four Danzig full-lengths, would often use pinch harmonics to create squealing accents. Just as he did on Deth Red, Tommy Victor, the longtime frontman for Prong and current six-string manipulator in Danzig, uses them incessantly to the point of making them the main riffs in songs like “But A Nightmare,” “Eyes Ripping Fire,” and “Skulls and Daisies.” It gives those tracks an alarm clock quality that is irritating.
It feels a little unfair to hold Black Laden Crown up to the standards of Danzig’s first four LPs, but that’s where the mind naturally goes. It’s important to give the forefathers a fair shake when they release new material, but in the end, odds are you’re gonna reach for the inception of their renaissance before the newest slab. There are exceptions to this loose rule, of course, with active, legendary acts reaching the heights they once soared to with ease. But no matter what the case, there needs to be a balance of reflection, inspiration and originality or things will come off stale and forced. Try as Danzig might, he never does find that equilibrium.