Album Review: DANZIG Black Laden Crown
Ever the effortless iconoclast, latter day Danzig tends to draw one of two reactions: dismissive naysayers who point to the ridiculous, unintentionally laughable activities extracurricular to his actual music [no links needed, y'all know what's up], and those who revere his work in Misfits, Samhain and early Danzig and root – often to the point of apologism – for the man to reclaim those old high water marks. In true form, Glenn Danzig continues to satisfy neither of those demands: this year's Black Laden Crown is neither the meme-confirming atrocity that his naysayers want it to be nor the late career renaissance that his diehard fans crave.
Actually, in terms of post-John Christ / Chuck Biscuits era Danzig this is one of the band's strongest efforts in years. In spite of a predictably poor sound mix – Glenn has insisted on self-producing his albums since '96's Blackacidevil – Black Laden Crown largely satisfies on the strength of a solid first half, with the first four tracks in particular representing a fairly resolute beginning; not quite instant classics, any of these, but fans of the Rick Rubin era will find little to gripe about in the title track and, in particular, "Devil on Hwy 9", which – with vocals mixed higher in the mix – betray the cracks of age in Glenn's voice, but the song itself has a lot of that Danzig 1 -4 flair with Tommy Victor's Christ-like string bends and pinch harmonics.
From there on the record starts to get a little spottier: riff-wise, "Pull the Sun" is a morose vocal rehash of the opening track "Black Laden Crown", and with the two combining for 12 of this album's 45 minutes, the familiarity kicks in all too soon. "Pull the Sun" does boast a nifty lick at the end of the main riff that differentiates and puts it ahead of its predecessor, but there wasn't much reason to include two lengthy, thoroughly similar cuts on an album this brief."Skulls & Daisies" tries to recapture the head-nodding biker cool of "She Rides" but Glenn's voice isn't up to the dick swinging "cool" anymore. "Blackness Falls" would have sounded great on one of the Rick Rubin albums but is resolutely buried in quicksand by Glenn's tin-eared grasp of production dynamics.
Aside from "Devil on Hwy 9", there are only a few other uptempo, rocking out tracks on the album, the most notable being "But a Nightmare". Tommy Victor once again channels John Christ, but at this point in Danzig's career – Glenn's voice deteriorating to the point where the harsh bellows and sharp barks suffer diminishing returns – the riffs are the primary ingredient setting apart one song from the next, and though us fans all love a good, downtrodden mopefest from this band, an entire album of them can get a bit rote. Black Laden Crown thus works best when it's balancing rockers like "Eyes Ripping Fire", "But a Nightmare" and "Devil on Hwy 9" with the slower blues numbers like "Last Ride" and "Darkness Falls". That there are more of the latter than the former by a 2:1 edge detracts somewhat from the consistency of the album, but if you can get past the demo-like mix there really aren't any true duds to be found here.
In the end, though, what could have been a great successor to the band's last truly great album, Danzig 4, falls victim to the horribly flat production that continues to be this band's bete noire: obscuring riffs, burying vocals, flatlining the rhythm section. Next time Glenn Danzig demands french onion, someone get this man a Rick Rubin instead.
Score: 7.5/10 (music), 3/10 (production)