Danzig – Skeletons (2015)
Label: Evilive/Nuclear Blast
Welcome to the first edition of “Nathan’s HOUSE OF WAX,” a weekly look into the world of macabre music, with a specific, but not limited, focus on vinyl releases.
The prospect of a covers album is always dicey. You’re instantly running the risk of releasing an album that appears to be a lazy, easy, cash grab (not to mention the fact that covers are usually a “damned if you do/damned if you don’t” scenario). If you change a song too much, the cover stands to lose whatever appeal the original may have held; if you stick too close to the original, the ever-present question of “What’s the point?” becomes more resonant, almost by default.
The prospect of a new Danzig album at this point seems dubious. It could be argued that Evil Elvis’ post-Misfits, post-Samhain career has been more successful than the Misfits have been without Danzig (I mean, c’mon – even considering the fact that the Michale Graves-era Misfits is much more maligned than it should be, nothing in the post-Danzig ‘fits oeuvre can even touch the first four DANZIG albums). None of Danzig’s more recent efforts seem to represent what Ol’ Short-&-Spooky can really do as a frontman and a vocalist. Sure, there was a lot to like with 2010’s Deth Red Sabaoth; even more with the 2007 compilation The Lost Tracks of Danzig. 2015’s Danzig Legacy TV Special showed that Danzig hasn’t lost the power to croon and bellow with the best of them, but he seems to be more vital as a figurehead than a musician these days, and the chances of a Misfits reunion becoming a reality are most likely null and void.
This brings us to Skeletons, Danzig’s first LP in five years: a collection of songs Danzig “digs” and a “foundation” to the original music that he ultimately created in his years with the Misfits, Samhain, and beyond. This collection of songs is a motley crew of 60’s rock, early metal, and, strangely enough, The Everly Brothers. For the most part, it works. It’s only when you look (or listen) past the array of choices and really start to dissect the production that the album really starts to come off the rails. In an effort to replicate the down-and-dirty aspect of 60’s rock that he loves, Danzig has intentionally muddied the production, choosing to honor – or attempting to create – a garage-rock aesthetic, sometimes at the expense of the song quality. In all, Skeletons is a mostly solid collection of covers – some expected, some surprising – that nearly buckles under the weight of some shoddy production choices.
The dichotomy of this album – inspired choices marred by a subpar mix – is immediately apparent in a duo of biker-film anthems from the 1960’s – “Devil’s Angels” (originally by Davie Allen & the Arrows, from the film of the same name) and “Satan” (from the film Satan’s Sadists). Both tracks feature that aforementioned murky production, but, in this case, it mostly works… except when it begins to hide or mask the raw power of Danzig’s voice. Why anyone would ever hide that devil-croon behind squealing guitars and a muddy audio mix, I’ll never know.
Things improve a bit in Danzig’s cover of Elvis’ “Let Yourself Go,” with Glenn brining shades of a devil-worshiping Jim Morrison, covering the King (the word from Danzig is that he’s planning a full album solely of Elvis covers, but as I’m still waiting for his dark blues album with Jerry Cantrell and Hank III, I’m not holding my breath). Unimpressive bass guitar riffs battle ass-kicking church chimes in Danzig’s take on Black Sabbath’s “N.I.B.,” leaving us all wishing for Geezer Butler (or, hell, Jerry Only, even). It’s a seemingly easy choice for Danzig that is surprisingly low-balled when he could have knocked it right out of the park.
The last half of the album actually works better than the first, with Danzig taking on Aerosmith (“Lord of the Thighs”), ZZ Top (“Rough Boy”), and The Troggs (“With A Girl Like You”). All of these songs work on some level, but Danzig loves his guitar squeals and plodding riffs more than any of his other dark creations, so the album never really takes off the way that it should. Don’t get me wrong – there’s something awesomely perverse when Danzig covers Aerosmith, but I expected to be blown away, rather than simply nodding my head along with the beat.
The out-of-left-field high moment on the album comes in the final track, with Danzig’s take on The Everly Brothers’ “Crying In The Rain.” Dropping the usual guitars for piano, drums, and some cool backing vocals, Danzig lets go of his usual tricks and delivers something pretty magical – a nicely produced track letting his kickass voice and some nice “Wall of Sound” audio production that supports, and doesn’t fight, the singer’s raw power.
Overall, Skeletons is more of a hit than a miss, but its shoddy mastering and audio work constantly threaten to overpower and kill the album. As a fan – and an admitted Misfits/Danzig apologist – I’m happy to see Glenn back in the saddle with another album, and hearing his take on songs both familiar and new (or, rather, exhumed) satisfies more than it disappoints. Here’s hoping that, if an Elvis cover album appears, Danzig hooks up with a producer that works to support his vocal instrument of destruction, rather than indulging his audio-mixing demons.
Nathan Erdel is a screenwriter. He wrote Headless and some other stuff. He likes beer, metal, pizza, and horror. He has three cats and one wife.