|Photo by Ben Clark|
“City of night,” Jim Morrison named it. “City of the dead,” Glenn Danzig says he used to call L.A. before he moved here from New York some 15 years ago. “’Cause it was always sunny, and everything was dead — the air was dead,” he says, chortling over the phone. He laughs a lot for a dark guy.
Well, it is funny how death attracts art. Morrison laid that stone, and after a while all the dark rockers came to party with Jimbo’s ghost. Local old-line undertakers include Blackie Lawless of WASP, Ronnie James Dio and Zakk Wylde — all of whom have dropped great new murk buckets in the last few months. Marilyn Manson, yeah. And Ozzy will be back.
Our climatic warmth is okay. What’s not okay with Danzig is gentrification, which he’s experiencing around his digs. Thinks he might want to live closer to the beach. But not on the beach: “I hate the sunlight.”
Transition, that’s where the voxman is at. He says he’ll retire from touring after this year’s edition of his Blackest of the Black caravan (featuring his former Misfits teammate Doyle), which will hit L.A. around Halloween. He’s set to direct his first feature film. He wants to explore different musical highways, including a “dark blues” album with Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell, another L.A. gloom transplant. (Terrific idea.) There’s always his Verotik comix empire to keep him busy. You’d half think that he himself planted the overcirculated candid video clip where he gets punched out in public — just to shed some of the tough-guy armor a muscled-up rock demon always has to wear.
But none of that means the new Circle of Snakes isn’t a full-on Danzig album. With Prong’s Tommy Victor grinding the ax, the guitar sound couldn’t accumulate more layers of dirt if a team of gravediggers perspired together. The drummer is Bevan Davies, an old Cantrell crony who sprinkles artistic double-kick while delivering the basic power — “I want somebody that can really beat that thing,” says Danzig. Always dreaming up new ways to treat his voice, the singer was rooting around in the Paramount Studios equipment room when an unfamiliar microphone drew his eye. “Maybe that would get the bottom end that I never hear,” he guessed, and paired it with another mike to give his vulpine howl a special melancholy dimension.
The songs live up to Danzig’s rigorous standards — and he’s done his best work over the last five years, matching the might of 1988’s Danzig, which brought “Twist of Cain” and “Mother” screaming into the world. “You gotta let stuff breathe,” says Danzig. “That’s one cool thing I did learn with Rick Rubin,” who produced the first four Danzig records. Circle of Snakes breathes with its own sinewy simplicity. “1,000 Devils Reign” is pure primitive crunch. “Black Angel, White Angel” is a lurching anthem of conflict and desperation. “Nether Bound” showcases a scary vocal effect that sounds like old Glenn spiraling down into the pit. And the slow night sweat of “Skull Forest” originated from a dream where Danzig walked “through a corridor full of bones and rotting corpses, and people’s faces I knew.”
Death preoccupies him even more than usual. Not laughing now, he says the “Skincarver” line “All the world must die” was originally “All my friends have died” — one example being the suicide this year of Martin Emond, who illustrated some of the Danzig CD booklets. G.D. says he too could have numbered among the cadavers if he hadn’t left the path of excess and incarceration he was treading with the Misfits 20 years ago: “I’d been in and out of the Tombs in New York. And also in England, and down in New Orleans, and pretty much everywhere, I was getting put in jail. And it was from doin’ stupid stuff and being fucked up.”
Danzig got clean and survived for today’s planet, which he calls “a more complicated, more difficult, tougher place than it used to be.” His new album has already been rejected by one chain, apparently for Dorian Cleavenger’s illo of a viper-nippled woman. Maybe Danzig should pick something less controversial. Like a corpse.