When invoking the name “Danzig,” there are certain musical and idolatrous tropes that immediately spring to mind. First and foremost, the man himself, possessed of a larger-than-life attitude and a booming, rafter-shaking voice. More than that though, Danzig’s music has always conjured gothically romantic images of the single man standing in defiance of the universe, hand clenched and raised in prodigal fury. Some of that reputation is undoubtedly the result of the man’s occasionally self-absorbed theatrics, but there is a certain portion that is the product of song craft and emotional manipulation.
Listening to his newest release “Deth Red Sabaoth,” Danzig still channels all of those images, but they are largely memories, and his status as a living iconoclast might now exist predominately in between his own ears.
The difficulty of judging an album like “Deth Red Sabaoth” is that it really comes in two parts. The actual music, in short, is perhaps the sharpest that has been produced in any act associated with Danzig since the seminal “Danzig III: How the Gods Kill.” In cooperation with Prong’s Tommy Victor, and Type O Negative/Seventh’s Void’s Johnny Kelly, the attitude and presentation of the music is remarkably crisp. “Hammer of the Gods” is an attention-gripping, appropriately dramatic piece of music that should have set the stage for the bulk of “Deth Red Sabaoth.” The implementation of sharp, cutting guitar tone brings back all too fond memories of the heady days of John Christ, with simple but effective atmosphere-setting riffs. To that end, “Deth Red Sabaoth” is a triumphant success.
However, in what I might have called the least likely of scenarios, the album’s failing is that of Danzig himself. His voice, for lack of a more eloquent term, just doesn’t have it. I thought perhaps it was the unfortunate endgame of poor production decisions, but after successive listenings, there is something more. I have a difficult time believing that Danzig would put a stamp on his own pet project and mail it in; his limitless ego simply wouldn’t allow for that. Instead, be it because of age or simply lack of maintenance over time, Danzig’s voice has slipped. Without that single and all-important quality, the end result is somewhat disappointing; no matter the quality of the music.
Most egregious is the single “Revengeful,” which features a sharp riff, and a hammering beat, but resorts to a gang chorus and layered, produced vocals…what? The very concept is so un-Danzig as to be unthinkable. The near-ballad “On a Wicked Night” contains winding and artful old-school guitar solos, but also features a singularly teeth-clenching performance from Danzig.
There are songs in the middle, most featuring either intentional misspellings in the title or words that don’t exist, where the music becomes more mundane and forgettable. “Deth Red Moon” has all the hallmarks of the Type O Negative writing influence, but in trying to blend it with the traditional Danzig archetypes, it ends up plain. I have no idea what Danzig’s “Ju Ju Bone” might be, but the more I think about it, the less I want to know. This might be his most cringe-worthy song since his ill-advised “The Hunter” back in 1988. “Night Star Hel” has a delicious funeral-style marching cadence, but at a hefty 6:42, crawls past the finish line. It is not helped by Danzig’s semi-tuned yelping.
The music as a stand alone entity is, if not imaginative, refreshingly gritty and appropriately fine in its execution. Still, the album lacks the classic feel of Danzig’s ‘dirty soul’ if you will, and suffers for it. It is saddening to have to say such negative things about an album that possesses so many fine qualities. Judged against the balance of what passes for new heavy metal in the true, blues-based sense, “Deth Red Sabaoth” would stomp down on lesser competition. Yet, it rightfully should be judged against its own breed, and this new release is not the best of its class.