Sophomore release Lucifuge provided a darker, more demonic vision of a world about to go up in flames.
The original Danzig band, featuring guitarist Johnny Christ, bassist Eerie Von, drummer Chuck Biscuits and Glenn Danzig himsel,f created two albums that remain some of the most solid heavy rock released in the waning years of Ronald Reagan’s America. The quartet’s self-titled 1988 effort took the meat and potatoes metal of The Cult’s Electric and pushed it into new territories while sophomore release Lucifuge provided a darker, more demonic vision of a world about to go up in flames.
Opening with “Long Way Back from Hell,” which borrowed lyrical shades from “Brown Sugar” and added something far more gothic and sinister, the album is a brilliant walk through heavy rock’s blues roots. Along with “Snakes of Christ” and “Killer Wolf,” it builds a one-two-three punch that leaves the listener breathless within the first 12 minutes. With Christ channeling the British trinity of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, Danzig wailing like Jim Morrison at his most hedonistic and the Von-Biscuits rhythm section locking into an unholy alliance, one is hard pressed to think of a contemporary record that made a better case for rock ‘n’ roll’s future.
Aside from the individual playing the LP also spotlights Glenn Danzig’s prowess as a writer. Having written two of the most affecting songs on the Less than Zero soundtrack (“Life Fades Away,” as recorded by Roy Orbison, and “You and Me (Less than Zero)”), the Misfits/Samhain man was slowly building the case for himself as one of the greatest ballad-writers of the era. He certainly didn’t disappoint with the haunting “Blood and Tears,” which also featured some of Christ’s most enticing and electric lead playing. How it failed to become a staple of blues band sets in the subsequent decades is a mystery.
Sure, the man’s lupine howls aren’t for everyone. He doesn’t possess a classically beautiful voice but he could (and can) emote like few of his contemporaries. More than that, he recognized metal’s deep ties to the music of the South and the rural American tradition. That’s perhaps most evident on “I’m the One,” a Delta-style romp that oozes sexuality and danger. Danzig gives the vocal performance of a lifetime, his voice rising from an almost-apologetic whisper to a grown man’s bragging wail. It’s a study in dynamics that burns as brightly today as it did upon the record’s release in the summer of 1990.
Not everything rises to the occasion. “Girl” is a heavy by-the-numbers romp that not even Biscuits can rise above and “Pain in the World” feels like a retread of “Twist of Cain” from the quartet’s debut, no matter the drama lurking in the performances. Still, the suicide note “Tired of Being Alive” and the psycho-sexual confessions of “Under Her Black Wings” are worth the price of admission alone.
A successor, Danzig III: How the Gods Kill would prove enticing and serve as further testament to the original unit’s particular gifts but it didn’t and doesn’t carry the same sensibilities of its predecessors.
A reunion of this lineup seems unlikely: Danzig these days is more invested in being a solo artist while Christ has taken up teaching. Von, meanwhile has a range of pursuits and Biscuits, the subject of a 2009 death hoax, has been remarkably silent. That’s a shame because one imagines that there’s plenty of filthy lucre to be garnered from these four putting the band back together and celebrating a legacy in black. Whether we want to admit it or not, this is one of the most influential and impactful groups of its era, Nirvana be damned.