The Devil Inside
Glenn Danzig is a cartoon character. No, really: Just take a look at the cover of the new Danzig album, which pictures the singer emerging from a bog like DC/Marvel's Swamp Thing. Inch-deep third-degree burns scar his massive biceps. "Yeah, I've got 666 burned into my arm," he deadpans, in a recent phone interview from his office in Los Angeles.
The remark almost makes you want to say to him, in your best Church Lady voice: Well, isn't that special?
But Danzig, who has been accused of preaching Satanism throughout his career, hardly breathes fire. In fact he comes off as thoughtful, well-spoken, and, well, awfully self-serious. Despite his heavy-metal posturing, no one will ever mistake Glenn Danzig for the boys of Spinal Tap.
In fact Danzig -- who performs with his band April 20 at the Chili Pepper in Fort Lauderdale -- is nothing less than a protean figure in the annals of metal. Born into the same infant punk scene that spawned the Ramones and the Damned, he's had more than a bit part in the evolution of American hard rock.
Danzig's first big gig came way back in 1978 as singer for the Misfits, a B-movie tribunal that mixed horror-house themes with blistering protopunk. Next came Samhain, the late-'80s precursor to Danzig, whose sound veered toward polished gothmetal.
Danzig -- the band -- emerged with an eponymously named album in 1988, its sound rooted in Sabbathian intensity and lyrics drenched in pagan sex, devil worship, and blood sacrifice. Danzig II: Lucifuge, released two years later, added a few stylistic enhancements and demonstrated that Danzig's world view wasn't all dark shadows. More sophisticated than its predecessor, Danzig II introduced the sharp, detailed, wide-screen production that moved away from bludgeoning sludge to emulating the cold, desolate danger suggested by the lyrics. Danzig III: How the Gods Kill garnered as much attention for its frightening cover -- by Swiss airbrush artist H.R. Giger -- as the heart-of-darkness riffage contained within. The diabolically powerful Danzig 4, released in 1994, plunged back into ferocious simplicity, taking Black Sabbath's thudding crunch (and passion for the underworld) but updating the package with crystalline production and even Gregorian chants.
But by 1995 the band's long-time label, American, began to sink, threatening to pull the band down the drain with it. Around the same time, Danzig sacked his original bandmates when he felt creative differences -- and substance dependencies -- had rendered them inefficient. New cogs were installed in the Danzig machine, and the reborn clan created Danzig 5: Blackacidevil, borrowing heavily from the computerized malevolence of industrial purveyors such as Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, and Foetus. When the new members -- bassist Josh Lazie and drummer Joey Castillo -- came aboard, Danzig laid down the law: "We have a non-drug policy," he explains. "If you have a drink occasionally, that's OK. If someone smokes some pot here and there, I don't really care, as long as it's not before a show, as long as it's recreational. If you're an alcoholic you might as well look for some other place to go."
With American embroiled in lawsuits and bankruptcy, several parties, Danzig says, expressed interest in releasing Blackacidevil. He decided to go with Hollywood Records, a Disney subsidiary, because they offered him the opportunity to launch his own small label as well. But the entire deal quickly fell apart.
"We had religious groups protesting the signing of Danzig to Hollywood," he explains. "Then we had Roy Disney" -- vice-chairman of the board of directors for the Walt Disney Co. -- "protesting the signing of Danzig to Hollywood!
"Roy freaked out when he found out we were actually on a label that Disney owned," Danzig recalls. "That was it. And after that it was a nightmare. Later on, the same thing happened to Insane Clown Posse. Eventually, we were able to get all our stuff back, sever our deal, and get out of there pretty clean."
These artistic and moral conflicts of interest weren't uncovered until paperwork committing Danzig to Disney was already finished, though, which meant Blackacidevil was officially lost through the cracks, though it should see rerelease later this year. Danzig finally set himself up with his own label -- Evilive -- to handle reissues and new material without corporate/parental control. Now comes Danzig 6:66 Satans Child, which is being issued by Evilive through EMagine Entertainment, a NYC-based, Net-centered imprint.
Satans Child is stereotypically excessive, channeling comic caricature into head-banging glory and focusing Danzig themes (pain, evil, death) into a shiny black mass. Combining the band's trademark mayhem with Danzig's finest Metal Elvis/Lizard King vocals, Satans Child has much in common with the scary apparitions that grace those old monster comic mags.
The album opens with a fast, lean (and to be fair, hummably melodic) anthem, "Five Finger Crawl," which bursts forth with sneering, chanted vocals and a panzer-division guitar assault. "East Indian Devil (Kali's Song)" shows that Danzig's love for dark entities runs multiculti, while "Unspeakable" and the plodding "Apokalips" depend on raging, circular guitar lines and undercurrents of synthetic bass for their firepower. Typical Danzig fare, but "Cold Eternal" -- one of his best-ever compositions -- breaks through the pain.
Danzig refers to the piece as a "ballad," but anyone expecting prettiness will get a shock: It's just a slow, moody slice of nihilism that could have come from the dark days of the Cure.
"'Cold Eternal'?" muses Danzig regarding the song's origins. "Well, it's about of course, you know death, you know."
The album ends with "13," a tune Danzig penned for Johnny Cash, which originally appeared on Cash's 1994 album American Recordings. The dusty country-and-western undercurrent remains, but back in Danzig's hands, the song becomes a pulverizing dirge.
EMagine Entertainment is also responsible for hosting www.danzigverotik.com, a Website devoted to the band's music, and Verotik, the comic book side of the Danzig equation. Verotik, which Danzig began in 1998, is a hobby/business that allows him to manage a stable of artists producing colorful comic books devoted to -- what else? -- sexually charged, violent imagery.
Verotik's comic book agenda is hot for busty, scantily clad über-vixens (check out Satanika) battling foes for conquest of the planet. Some of the artists Verotik employs have been noticeably influenced by the Frank Franzetta/Heavy Metal school of cartoon art.
"It has an underground sensibility," Danzig says, "but with the best artists and stories. It's for people who don't want to buy superhero crap." However, with the edgy titillation and demonic imagery found in Verotik's comic line, there's been some resistance finding distribution. "Some people have tried to steer retailers away from our books, telling them they'd be arrested if they carry them," he complains. Start talking about these enemies of art, and Danzig practically spits out, "Fuck everybody."
The burgeoning comic book empire is but one project in a year that has turned out to be the fortysomething rocker's most productive yet. He's also set to crank out a complete collection of Danzig B-sides as well as a double live album chronicling the band's recent tours with Korn, Soundgarden, Marilyn Manson, and Type O Negative. He'll also release a second installment of Black Aria, his 1992 solo record of self-penned instrumental classical pieces designed to parallel Milton's Paradise Lost. Black Aria's follow-up, he says, will be in a similar vein, with nods to the "awesome" group Dead Can Dance and newfound instruments like Japanese kodo drums. Evilive will also reissue the Danzig back catalog and release a comprehensive Samhain boxed set later this year. In conjunction with that project, Samhain will temporarily re-form and open shows for Danzig on its upcoming U.S. tour.
With all this activity, it's no wonder Danzig doesn't have a lot of time to pontificate about the Dark Prince, Good vs. Evil, or fundamentalist preachers. He altogether refrains from entering into debates of religious philosophy with antagonists or evangelists.
"None of those guys want anything to do with me. They only want to get into conversations with people they can make look dumb. So anyone with a modicum of intelligence they're not really going to want to talk to. They want really stupid people to come on and say, 'I'm a Satanist!'"
And cagey Danzig ain't about to give anyone that pleasure. Guarded when it comes to his opinions, he's not given to outlining his each and every belief. What he will say -- and emphatically -- is that he's not catering to heavy metal's lowest common denominator. He scoffs at the notion that all metal fans are Beavis and Butthead clones.
"Any group of people can be a very dumb group" is how he sees it. "I'm kind of lucky in that Danzig fans are pretty intelligent. They're pretty smart, or at least they want to be -- they want to expand their horizons. That's one of the things I like about my fans. There's always stupid people in every group, but that's not anything I'm interested in."
Contact Jeff Stratton at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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