It’s hard for a dark ‘n’ heavy rock star to maintain a suitable patina of evil when viral internet memes picture him in a supermarket parking lot carrying kitty litter to his Jaguar. Or when a backstage video with 3,577,795 views shows said rock star going down hard thanks to a one-punch K.O. But with Black Laden Crown, singer Glenn Danzig, sufferer of those online indignities, plows forward, furthering his dark, blues-doom-metal legacy in 43 minutes and nine well-crafted, if generally unremarkable, songs.
Danzig’s legacy is long-solidified, and the sturdy songs on Black Laden Crown will do nothing to further or tarnish it. He’s been musically active since the mid-‘70s, when the New Jersey-born frontman founded horror-punk icons Misfits. Then, in the mid-’80s came Samhain, which morphed into Danzig, the lineup that found its biggest commercial success by moving away from punk and into the Sabbath-spawned slow-burn darkness.
1988’s “Mother”, with its more popular ’93-’94 remix iteration hitting MTV in conjunction with 1993’s Thrall: Demonsweatlive EP, found Danzig’s reach hitting mainstream rock culture. Four albums with producer Rick Rubin and his Def American/American Recordings from 1988 to 1994 garnered the band (and its frontman) the closest they’re likely to come to being a household name. If that era marked the commercial apex of success, Danzig’s dark and doomy mien is timeless, his image and horror-metal bona fides further solidified by his adult comic book company, Verotik.
The vibe of Black Laden Crown can be gleaned by its song titles: “The Witching Hour”, “But a Nightmare”, “Blackness Falls”. The signature Danzig sound is omnipresent and consistent, but those looking for classic Danzig sing-alongs like “Am I Demon” and “Twist of Cain” will be disappointed.
Still, his strength is his nuanced voice, his baritone and tenor as sultry as Jim Morrison’s and his charisma informed by Johnny Cash and Elvis. On Black Laden Crown, his collaborators are mostly longtime henchmen, including Tommy Victor of the band Prong on lead and bass guitars and drummer Johnny Kelly from Type O Negative. But it’s that voice –mournful, mysterious and powerful — that kicks off the surprisingly laborious six-minute title track and makes it memorable. However, where one might expect, or even hope for, ponderous plodding to kick into high gear, double-time, or a signature moment, the songs fall short. “Last Ride” has the slow sexiness that made “Mother” so potent, but it doesn’t follow through on its swing. And there’s scorching guitar work throughout the album, notably on “Eyes Ripping Fire”, but that never really pays off into anything truly fulfilling.
Ponderous musicality can be both mesmerizing and boring, and Black Laden Crown touches on both extremes, with “The Witching Hour” (apparently when “the clock strikes 18, it’s nothing like you’ve ever seen”) starting out nearly hypnotic, but at six-minutes long, winding up dull. And where “Devil on Hwy 9” has a raging mid-tempo metal opening, the rockin’ road trip might have fared better if done by Rob Zombie, with the song’s approach needing a dose of kicky high energy or kitsch. Danzig’s new selection of songs may work for gloomy gatherings, but it falls short (no pun intended) when it comes to building on the group’s previous legacy. Yes, heavy is the head that wears the Black Laden Crown, but to rule, Danzig needs to breathe new life and light into tired tropes.
Essential Tracks: “Last Ride” and “Devil on Hwy 9”