In the Summer of 1988 my favourite producer off all-time started a new record label Def American. The first release for the label would be something very special indeed. Fresh from an album that attempted stripped down blues metal and classic album status Rick Rubin must have been slightly disappointed with Electric by The Cult (1987) for the Beggars Banquet label. Rick Rubin had already cemented his amazing production skills on the stone cold classic Reign In Blood by Slayer (1986).
Rubin had always wanted to work with Glenn Danzig – it’s easy to see why. The Misfits and Samhain may have been consigned to music history but Rubin was eager to get the band to play blues heavy metal in the most stripped down, bare and brutal fashion imaginable – he succeeded.
Just the line up of Danzig (the band) made the mouth water in 1988. Chuck Biscuits from Black Flag on drums. Eerie Von from The Misfits and Samhain on bass. John Christ (what a name) from Samhain on guitar. Glenn Danzig, the best hardcore punk vocalist of all-time on, you guessed it, vocals.
Having missed The Misfits and Samhain due to my relative young age I bought the album Danzig when it came out. With a stark skull. White on black. Wrapped around an unnamed gatefold sleeve with a simple sticker on the soon to be removed cellophane it was a great looking record before I’d even heard it. I do miss bus journeys from the city centre to home pouring over an albums artwork and inner sleeve, studying the vinyl groove before the actual listen. The Internet is great but it has damaged music in some ways.
Twist Of Cain on first listen made me think of ‘In My Time Of Dying’ by Led Zeppelin. True it lifts the riff and is uncredited for doing so but Zeppelin were no strangers to this themselves so Danzig is immediately in very fine company. The song hammers home hard and, to me, is far better than the Zeppelin song. Ultra-stripped down blues metal. A killer riff and those vocals. All of I sudden I was thinking ‘this is as at least as good as The Misfits’ – I never imagined that being possible. The song has uncredited backing vocals from James Hetfield who was contractually unable to be named. The bell tolling at the end of Twist Of Cain is as straight-faced heavy metal as you get.
Not Of This World continues with a total stripped down blues / metal blast. Howling guitar that almost matches Glenn Danzig’s bold, clear vocal. Rick Rubin is like an uncredited band member and takes the album to a place it has no real right to go.
She Rides offers a sleazy grind. Danzig (the band) destroy Zodiac Mindwarp in one very simple fell-swoop even if that was never their intention. Playing out like a heavy metal strip club the track achieves and moves the band on from their famous previous incarnations.
Then we get the ‘album as a whole pill’ treatment and stamp as Soul On Fire bleeds in. Bare vocals are met head on with accompanying instrumentation. Precise, clear, sharp stabs are built and built upon until the guitar leaks a solo that Rubin must have been aiming for with The Cult in ’87.
Am I Demon has the power and ferocity of The Misfits and here it is a clear blues metal genre rather than Punk. This is no bad thing at all. Danzig (the album) is relentless and hitting all the right notes. Powerful, brutal and stark metal just didn’t sound like this and all of a sudden one is looking at their Black Sabbath albums thinking ‘that stuff is old’.
Mother kicks off Side 2 and is the most famous Danzig (the band) song. A great riff accompanied by those vocals intro the song. The build is tense and the subject matter captures the imagination. The song refrains as the power still builds. John Christ leaks another solo when the sparse intensity allows. It is a very powerful song and blues metal at its very best. The howling ending makes you give up on genre definitions and you are just ‘all in’.
Possession with its backwards piano intro plays its heavy metal hand superbly well. Backing vocals add layers to Glenn Danzig’s quite supreme vocal. Despite a powerhouse of sound Rick Rubin makes the song sound clear, organic and stripped down throughout.
End Of Time and the undercurrent of evil is tangible. The album carried a ‘parental advisory’ sticker despite it having no profanity at all. Whoever decides those things must have picked up on the sheer raw power of the record and thought ‘yup, that dangerous’.
The Hunter echoes a heavy metal Doors. Not just the obvious vocal comparison but this time the bluesy instrumentation too. ‘When I get a hold of you honey, light you up like Christmas’.
Evil Thing closes Danzig (the album) with that ultra-stripped down formula and production. Beyond Punk. Beyond Heavy Metal. Beyond Blues, Danzig (the band) and Rick Rubin have achieved the unachievable. In ways Danzig (the person) and Rick Rubin have superseded The Misfits – which is just not possible. It is Rick Rubin’s finest ever production barring Reign In Blood and as an album is better than any Misfits actual album. If only the timeline of Rick Rubin and The Misfits roads had crossed earlier the best punk albums of all-time may have had one hell of a run for their money too…