Danzig – Black Laden Crown

The number seven has long been a recurring theme with Glenn Danzig. ‘777’, ‘7th House’, seven albums with numbered prefixes, and now in 2017 – seven years on from his last studio album to feature original material, and at the age of 61 (six plus one…? Okay, maybe that’s pushing things a little too far) it’s finally time for Black Laden Crown (AFM Records), the latest chapter in the Danzig story.

Taking three years to complete, recording began back in 2014 with Prong‘s Tommy Victor taking on not only the lead guitar duties as he has done since 2004’s Circle of Snakes (Evilive), but also handling most of the bass requirements, with Danzig himself lending a hand as he did on 2010’s Deth Red Sabaoth (Evilive).

Taking a more hands on role than usual, Danzig even plays drums on three tracks, sitting behind the kit for the songs on which he also plays bass, guitar, piano, and of course, sings. Four other drummers, three of whom have previous links to the band, were also employed. Johnny Kelly played on Deth Red Sabaoth, long time Danzig sticksman Joey Castillo first appeared in 1996 on 5: Blackacidevil (Hollywood Records), Karl Rosqvist (aka Karl Rockfist) toured with the band back in 2007, and Dirk Verbeuren was part of Swedish Melodeathsters Soilwork.

For an album which took so long to put together, and with so many different musicians, the results are surprisingly consistent. Gothic Doom is the key element here, a lugubrious element highlighted immediately with the main riff and mournful “woah-ohs” of the title track, and the dark crooning on superb closer “Pull The Sun”, both songs sounding like Danzig singing at his own wake.

‘Eyes Ripping Fire’ opens with more DOOM before giving way to a massive, stomping riff which you’ve probably heard a hundred times before but you’ll probably still nod along to regardlessly. ‘Devil on Hwy 9’ is reminiscent of ‘Not of This World’ and ‘Left Hand Black’ but angrier and much more pissed off, while ‘Last Ride’ and ‘Skulls and Daisies’ sound like Satan playing the blues.

One of the most surprising things about the album is just how prominent Danzig’s vocals are in the mix. They’ve always been mixed high, of course, but this time they seem to be up front and in your face more than ever, and that’s something that could take a few extra spins to get to grips with. However, aside from his voice not being as clean as it once was – having acquired a little gravel in the throat over the years – the man still puts in a very decent performance. A little hoarse here, a little strained there, but certainly acceptable for a sexagenarian.

Where the album suffers is its flat and murky production, the drums rarely pop as the vocals (obviously) take centre stage along with the shrill high notes and excessive pinch harmonics of Tommy Victor’s guitar. The songs, as good as some of them may be, are either slow or mid-paced with only occasional, much-needed stabs of aggression and urgency.

There’s also a pervading sense of grim finality about the album. A feeling suggested by its tenebrous sound and funereal tone, and reinforced by the seven year gap between original material.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this is a sign that the curtain is slowly preparing to drop.