"Black Laden Crown"

(Evilive/Nuclear Blast)

01. Black Laden Crown
02. Eyes Ripping Fire
03. Devil On Hwy 9
04. Last Ride
05. The Witching Hour
06. But a Nightmare
07. Skulls & Daisies
08. Blackness Falls
09. Pull the Sun

RATING: 7/10

Glenn Danzig is a bona fide metal and punk god. His irreverence for genre conventions has been accepted with open arms within musically conservative music scenes, expanding the boundaries of metal and heavy music from the horror punk of the MISFITS through transitioning band SAMHAIN and finally through to the heavier metal-inclined band bearing his name. Highly publicized events and episodes extracurricular to his actual music have dominated headlines and social media exchanges in recent years, but one can't overstate the man's indelible imprint upon heavy music.

The quality of DANZIG's post-nineties material has been inconsistent and lackluster compared to that early period during which the band released its first four blues drenched albums performed by the "classic" lineup. While 1996's "Danzig 5: Blackacidevil" was a turning point, it was dismissed by many diehards and stubborn critics alike. However, the bold foray into industrial metal terrain was creative and interesting. It was also the first DANZIG material to feature the talents of long-time collaborators drummer Joey Castillo (QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, EAGLES OF DEATH METAL, SUGARTOOTH) and guitarist Tommy Victor (PRONG).

Overlooking 2015's forgettable covers album, "Skeletons", it's been seven years since the release of DANZIG's previous album, "Deth Red Sabaoth", the longest period between releases in the band's career. That effort referenced the older period for which the band is known, but it's a much more comfortably applied starting point and inspiration for "Black Laden Crown". This return to old benefits from Victor's more noticeable adjustment to the definitive DANZIG sound, dialing back his proclivity for lustrous, jagged, industrial-friendly guitar aesthetics—which were perfect for "Danzig 5: Blackacidevil" and "6:66 Satan's Child". Instead, he favors a dingy blues quality reminiscent, but not plagiaristic, of original DANZIG guitarist John Christ, perhaps most evident with his application of pinch harmonics. Victor's performance stands as the album's strongest point, in fact, with simple, bare-bones guitar work highlighted even more so considering the simplistic percussive backbone that was performed, ironically enough, by five drummers: Joey Castillo, Johnny Kelly (TYPE O NEGATIVE), Dirk Verbeuren, Karl Rosqvist and Danzig himself.

Indeed, Danzig's voice was once the undeniable centerpiece, now it constitutes an elemental strand woven together meticulously and thoughtfully with the rest. Simply put, DANZIG's voice isn't as monstrous as it once was. It isn't bad. It isn't weak. It just isn't the same. Perhaps his selection of the predominantly blues driven material was rooted in an awareness of this limitation, or maybe the predominantly pensive, slow burning songs—"Blackness Falls" and "Last Ride"—were crafted as a result of an aging artist's more restrained or lessened sense of angst.

All speculation aside, for better and worse, "Black Laden Crown" is certainly less biting than DANZIG's music has been in the past. The weak production, handled by Danzig himself, doesn't help matters—everything sounds thin. It is a good album, but it is very demo-like since many ideas seem underdeveloped, and there is a sense that most things could have been edited better. The title track, for instance, crawls forth with a likable and memorable groove, however, it drifts on too long. The triumphant upsurge at the tail end would have been just as moving had it kicked in a minute or two sooner.

There is a sense of maturity that's evident with our Evil Elvis, but Satan's child still exhibits a youthful nonconformity and taste for all things dark. This is evident on songs like "Devil On Hwy 9", a track that has a playful WHITE ZOMBIE-via-DANZIG-via-MISFITS quality. Danzig is 62 years old. That certainly doesn't mean he is beyond criticism, yet one can't help but admire his tenacity and fire that still burns.


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