Review: The Spark Is Gone on Danzig’s Plodding Black Laden Crown
Jake, my four-year-old son has been obsessed with the Misfits for half his life. Part of his interest in the group is purely visual—the vintage press photos with the sculpted hair, makeup, and bodies; the ubiquitous “Crimson Ghost” skeleton on the album covers and t-shirts. Of course, he likes the songs, too. The early Misfits wrote quick, catchy, sing-along horror-pop for people who love darkness, and Jake loves darkness. He dresses like a skeleton sometimes, his favorite stuffed animal is a vampire bat, and when asked by the teacher what’s closest to his heart, he replied “the devil.”
The thing is, he doesn’t really understand who the devil is, which also makes him an ideal Misfits fan. The Misfits are the group my friend Josh and I listened to on cassette at age 14 when we drove to see the Ramones on the back of our learner permits and nervous excitement; we weren’t really sure what “We Are 138″ was about, and we didn’t care. There’s a pitch-perfect atmosphere and infectious immediacy to those early songs, and you can enjoy it without thinking too much about what “Angelfuck” means on some deeper level.
This is why I didn’t have it in my heart to tell Jake that the Misfits reunited last year to play Riot Fest. There’s nothing immediate about a reunion. In his mind the Misfits are those monster movie skeleton guys from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, not real-life dudes inching closer to 70. Plus, I figured it was in his best interest to never know that Danzig would be described by his press release as the “backbone” of the “mosh movement,” that a few years ago a video circulated showing him getting cold-cocked by the angry vocalist of an opening act, and that people poke fun at him for buying pet supplies.
Then again, all of these things do add to his job as a role model for angsty teens of all ages: somebody punk enough to admire, cartoonish enough to mock. The thing is, there’s not even anything very embarrassing about Black Laden Crown, the first Danzig album since 2010’s Deth Red Sabaoth—it’s just plain old boring. It took three years to make with longtime collaborator, Prong’s Tommy Victor, who plays guitar and bass. He and Glenn are joined by four different drummers on it: longtime collaborator (and longtime Queens of the Stone Age member) Joey Castillo, Johnny Kelly (ex-Type O Negative), Dick Verbeuren (Megadeth/ex-Soilwork), and Karl Rocket.
Four different drummers over three years is not usually a good sign if you like your music lively. Here, the the various instrumentalists add up to generic doom metal, and it’s unclear why so many drummers were needed to essentially play the same beat on each song. The music’s solid enough, but severely uninspiring. It’s like Danzig fronting Sleep—albeit more lowercase sleep than uppercase Dopesmoker band.
Black Laden Crown is much more plodding than Deth Red Sabaoth, which had some impassioned songs on it. This feels more like an exercise in trying to keep the name in the headlines in time for Blackest Ever Black Festival and the Danzig shows this summer around the 25th Anniversary of Danzig III than an actual album. Glenn Danzig’s voice—once noted for its powerhouse kick is pretty shot at this point. There’s something wispy, thin, and dry about it. He still does an okay Elvis impersonation, but the delivery is mostly lifeless.
One of the better songs, “Eyes Ripping Fire,” features bluesy group vocals which helps add depth, and the title track offers a little Gregorian moaning to flesh things out. (That, and the moodier, sleazier “Last Ride” includes a bit of snapping, so you know at least somebody in the studio’s alive.) Danzig gets riled up here and there, shouting into the wind on “The Witching Hour,” which kicks into a higher-gear before its lengthy instrumental ending, and he even says “fuckin’” during “Devil On Hwy 9,” a song that reminds me of Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55” colliding with White Zombie. His best vocal performance is maybe on closer “Pull the Sun,” where he croons his heart out (“I wish the moon into your eyes”) amid chugging and soaring guitars. You could look at Black Laden Crown like late-period Johnny Cash, but there’s none of that pathos here. It’s the often quite beautiful guitars that provide the emotion, so it makes sense then that there are also more guitar solos than usual—maybe also a way to let Danzig catch his breath or some Z’s.
In high school, coming across the Crimson Ghost spray-painted on the side of the cranberry processing plant in my hometown made me cry. It was powerful because I imagined the person who did it was a kindred spirit hiding out in my white trash surroundings, someone who, like me, stuck Reynolds Wrap on the end of their stereo’s antenna to pick up the distant college station, rocking out as best they could to a distant, fuzzy “Where Eagles Dare.” Nobody’s going to feel that after listening to Black Laden Crown, emphasis on Laden. To be fair, Danzig doesn’t sound at all excited about it either. As a test, I played it for Jake without saying what it was, and he asked me to turn it off.