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Addresses: Record company-- Def American, 3500 West Olive, Ste. 1550, Burbank, CA 91505.
Tattooed men with hair flowing down their shirtless backs who jammed high-volume, guitar-and-drum rock and roll with blues underpinnings demarcated the heavy metal music genre, until the advent of American bands like Danzig. Glenn Danzig, lead singer and songwriter for the group that bears his name, pens lyrics that traverse disturbing domains. More sophisticated in his handling of the wordplay in the netherworld than his most often-cited precursor, Black Sabbath, Danzig belongs to a surge of innovative groups whose music is diverse enough to render the term heavy metal too restrictive. The band's delvings into the demonic dimension of the genre often unnerve its critics. "When I see films and videos of us I laugh, because I guess I am kind of scary," Glenn Danzig related to Legs McNeil in Spin. "It's weird. I don't try to analyze it, but when I sit down and think about it, I think, yeah, very dangerous, very violent."
Danzig was conceived, in part, as a result of the lessons Glenn Danzig learned as lead singer and songwriter in two previous groups. In the early 1980s, when he wrote and sang for the Misfits, his campy lyrics, which dealt with such B-level horror movie mainstays as chopping heads and digesting brains, elated fans. One of the first groups to embody hardcore rock, the Misfits took on almost fabled proportions. Though their musical influence was still active after their demise, Danzig did not consider the Misfits the apex of his career. "The funny thing is that the Misfits weren't really popular when they were around," he commented to McNeil. "Also, they weren't very good live. I was good, as good as you can be at eighty-million miles an hour." Disappointed by the lack of professionalism in the group, Danzig felt a commitment to fans the other band members did not share. "I don't think a lot of people got what I was doing in the Misfits," Danzig revealed in Spin. "The guys in the band didn't even get it."
After the Misfits disbanded, Danzig formed another group, the experimental and short-lived Samhain, which included his friend, bassist Eerie Von. When all the band members left Samhain, except Eerie Von, Danzig contemplated forming a new group under the same name. With the additions of drummer Chuck Biscuits and lead guitarist John Christ, Danzig reconsidered. It was a brand new band, and Danzig wanted it to have its own identity; he decided to drop Samhain and give the group his surname.
In 1986 Rick Rubin, the cofounder of Def Jam Records and head of Def American Records, heard Danzig perform at the New Music Seminar. He invited Glenn Danzig to New York City and subsequently signed him to the Def American label. Glenn Danzig's physical resemblance to Jim Morrison, the deceased lead singer of the Doors, coupled with the intonations of his baritone voice--which were also reminiscent of Morrison--brought the group immediate attention. And, though the singer also exhibited an eroticism similar to Morrison's, his bold ventures into the netherworld became the mark of his originality.
Producer Rick Rubin spent two years with Danzig working on their self-titled debut album, a carefully instrumented record that wedded elusively eerie minutia to basic guitar-and-drum tunes. The sounds of backwards-masked Latin hauntingly pervade one introduction, while bells mix lightly with guitar in another number. "Rubin's keen understanding of dynamics permeates nearly every track," observed Kim Neely in Rolling Stone. "The songs, at once soothing and savage, provide a perfect foil for Danzig, who makes a habit of vocally lulling you into a peaceful state and then scaring the pants off you with a guttural, tormented wail." Though she pointed out that Danzig took credit on the album for "The Hunter," a song by bluesman Albert King, Neely was more surprised by the "creepy realism" of the songwriter. "Whether this album is the heartfelt product of Danzig's personal beliefs or just an exercise in maudlin role playing, the fact that one even wonders is a tribute to his abilities as a lyricist; it's easy to come away from Danzig convinced that its author is consumed by some very nasty business indeed."
While Toby Goldstein, writing in the Wilson Library Bulletin, noted Glenn's debt to Jim Morrison on Danzig's second album, Danzig II-Lucifuge, he argued that Danzig's departure into the underworld might have been the natural outcome of Morrison, had he lived. "The erotic component of Danzig's music isn't that far afield from another sexually obsessed composer--The Doors' Jim Morrison--and that's not really surprising, considering that Danzig's vocal style owes more than a small debt to Morrison.... But where Danzig gets into its own forbidden territory is with its leader's fascination with spirituality's dark side.... Set to a throbbing, guitar-based hard rock beat, Lucifuge contains the kind of disturbing images that taunts its detractors. Then again, if Jim Morrison were a brash young rocker today, he'd likely be writing and sending out a very similar message."
Rolling Stone summed up the reaction of many critics when it termed Lucifuge "bizarre realism," but Spin took a different slant and declared Danzig symbolic. "No, this isn't about satanism or a struggle between church and state. Nor is it about censorship. This goes way beyond that.... Glenn Danzig is a new hero to America's post-apocalyptic youth--a comic book cover come to life, proving that they can flourish and endure in the wasteland." Danzig makes its own bid at durability by maximizing terror and the lawlessness in human hearts and producing music that is difficult for the most astute reviewer to categorize. "You know if you're gonna fantasize go all the way," Glenn Danzig told McNeil. "That's my problem with people. They fantasize half-way. I always believed fantasy was, How far can your mind go? Don't settle for nothin' when you can have everything. That's how my life is. Why set your sights on ten when you can set your sights on a million, a billion, a trillion?"
by Marjorie Burgess
Glenn Danzig (lead singer and songwriter), songwriter and lead singer for the Misfits, early 1980s; originated the experimental group Samhain. Band members also include Chuck Biscuits (drums), John Christ (lead guitar), and Eerie Von (bass).
- Rolling Stone, November 17, 1988; October 4, 1990.
- Spin, January, 1991.
- Wilson Library Bulletin, September, 1990.
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