Danzig: 'Deth Red Sabaoth' - CD Review

Six years have passed since we've heard brand-new solo material from legendary Glenn Danzig – an icon of dark rock whose hauntingly deep voice and horror & occult-themed lyrics shaped the beginnings of the horror-punk genre during his famed stint as frontman for the Misfits, and later in the evil blues-rock flavored projects that followed. Danzig has experimented with other, more modern styles over the dozen-year output from his self-named band – all with varying degrees of success – but there's always been that low, gritty and soulful undercurrent that sounded like it wanted to return to the forefront of his work.

Well, it seems Danzig may be answering that inner call at last with the release of his ninth solo project, which hits stores Tuesday. I got a chance to preview the album recently, and I've gotta say it feels like coming home again – that is, if your home is a cobweb-lined catacombs resonating with the sounds of black magic rituals and the flapping of bat wings. If you're like me, I'm guessing you'd consider that a plus. Turn the page and learn more about the demonic dirges that lie within Deth Red Sabaoth...

In response to many fans' hopes, a lot of this record marks a significant return to the stripped-down origins of Danzig's classic period. Glenn told the press recently how he'd opted for for a vintage “organic” sound on this project, even going as far as to run the guitars through '70s-era Kustom bass amps, and set aside the recording techniques he employed on preceding releases like Circle of Snakes in favor of old-school analog effects and tracking. There are ups and downs to this approach: there's a pleasantly imperfect, spontaneous energy to many of these cuts, which brings you back to the Misfits' lo-fi punk origins, but the rough-edged sound risks creating an uncomfortable fit with the gain-pushing loudness of Danzig's more recent work, which adopts more modern-day metal production techniques.

But that's not to say it isn't a professional-sounding record, especially in terms of performance quality and instrumental & vocal chops. Not only is Glenn's voice in fine form, but he also handles production duties, mans the keyboards, contributes some guitar and bass, and even takes to the drums on one track – quite well, in fact. He's joined by bassist Steve Zing (of earlier Danzig project Samhain), Prong guitarist Tommy Victor (who also contributed to Circle of Snakes) and and Type O Negative drummer Johnny Kelly, all of whom fill their roles with power and intensity.

The record starts big and heavy, opening with the massive Hammer of the Gods... front-loading with this cut immediately establishes the artist's return to old-school skills with massive, crunchy riffs and sweet harmonics, Glenn's main vocals running clean and unaffected, and a deep, down-tempo bridge with whispered lyrics that sounds supremely doomy. Higher-range vocals emerge powerfully from the shadows for The Revengeful, a slow-creeping track based on a minimalist riff but with some fiery solo work. Rebel Spirits is an excellent example of the vintage amp sound Danzig was striving for, with a deeper, darker tone, although the low-end is so powerful it often threatens to smother his vocals during the choruses... but if you're into old style grandstanding guitar solos, this is definitely the tune for you.

Now for my personal faves: Glenn shows he's no slouch on the skins in Black Candy, a monster ballad driven by thundering percussion and pulsing, low deliberate guitar lines, plus some of his best vocal work, making this one of the album's standout tracks. On a Wicked Night works equally well as thematic companion piece, continuing in the same key with a swirling acoustic guitar theme that releases its dark sexual tension in a melodic explosion – another definite keeper.

After the superb tracks that precede it, Deth Red Moon comes off bit more lethargic, with less energy and a murky reverb that tends to “bottle” the tone of the guitar and vocals, but we snap back just fine with the satanic blues-rock of Ju Ju Bone, the perfect setting for Glenn's familiar evil-Elvis singing style. Night Star Hel opens with a sweet, Sabbath-like guitar growl that gives way to slow, ominous power-chord chugs, again almost threatening to overwhelm Danzig's vocal presence in the mix.

Next comes the two-part epic Pyre of Souls, with the instrumental portion Incanticle comprised mostly of piano and gritty acoustic strums, through which Glenn's non-lyrical vox are layered in subtle harmonies. The second half Seasons of Pain cranks up the same melody into the electric realm with a wall of crunchy guitars, through which a squeaky, neck-tapping lead repeatedly dives and resurfaces. The closing track Left Hand Rise Above begins with wide, epic production and an impressive dynamic range, with Glenn's vocals alternating from soft and tense to soaring and ecstatically evil.

While possibly not a 100% return to Danzig's classic era, the songwriting, arrangement and energy of this project all hold true to the elements that make Glenn and company great – dark, haunting and seductive themes, memorable hooks and a solid, warm sound that balances violent musical aggression with a doom-heavy melancholy feeling and still holds the power to seduce listeners to the dark side.