Sound — 5
Glenn Danzig's name is one that reverberates quite strongly through the heavy metal sphere. From his involvement in bands such as horror-punk rockers Misfits (which he's rejoined as of last year), Samhain, and his own eponymous band, Glenn has been a name to be reckoned with for many, many years.
"Black Laden Crown" is the band's first release of all-new material since 2010's "Deth Red Sabaoth", their highest-charting album since the release of "Danzig 4" in 1994 (2015's "Skeletons" was a collection of cover songs). Perhaps buoyed by the enduring success of Misfits and Glenn's rejoining, it seems a rather appropriate time for Danzig to return with some all-new material, though it seems the core of the band has been reduced to just Glenn on vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums on three tracks, along with Prong's Tommy Victor on lead guitar and bass. Drum duties are handled by Glenn, along with current full-time touring drummer Joey Castillo, Johnny Kelly (who played on the entirety of "Deth Red Sabaoth"), Karl Rosqvist, and current Megadeth/former Soilwork drummer Dirk Verbeuren.
This leads to many of the tracks having a rather inconsistent production when it comes to the drumming, and I find that in particular, the drumming of Glenn himself (on "Eyes Ripping Fire", "Last Ride", and "Skulls & Daisies") is quite a bit weaker than the other drummers on the record. In fact, production is the biggest issue with this record overall. While one can appreciate the heaviness of a track like "Black Laden Crown" and the hard-rocking "Devil on Hwy 9" on a musical level, the production on this album makes tracks that would otherwise sound really great instead sound like an amateur band recording in a basement on cheap equipment. Clipping is such an ever-present problem throughout the album that my copy is essentially unlistenable, even through decent headphones. The vocal is pushed so much higher than the other instruments, and with so much reverb.
There are some great riffs and melodies on the album, as one would expect from Danzig, like the heavy, Black Sabbath-esque "Black Laden Crown", the entirely too-badass "Devil on Hwy 9", the cool ambiance that opens "The Witching Hour", and the doomy riffage of "But a Nightmare". Most of the riffs and melodies are great, but the mixing completely ruins them in the context of the record. Another point of contention is Tommy Victor's guitar solos. While a few of them are decent, like the first half of his solo in "The Witching Hour" and the one that opens "Devil on Hwy 9", most of them are so lacking in finesse, tone, and subtlety that they make Kirk Hammett's work on "Hardwired To Self Destruct" sound like John Petrucci.
Sadly, for any positive points I can find about the album's songwriting (which, granted, is not that bad at all) and performances, the mixing is among some of the worst I've ever heard, and none of this changed depending on which devices or speakers I listened to the album through, and at the very least, the copies I ended up with for review were all but unlistenable. We're talking "Death Magnetic" levels of badness. Perhaps even worse on the tracks Glenn plays drums on ("Last Ride" seems to suffer the most).
Lyrics — 6
I'm going to get this out of the way fairly quickly: I am not a fan of Glenn's vocals in any way, shape or form. Even on the band's biggest hit, "Mother", I often found his vocal performance off-putting. For me, personally, this record is no exception. Admittedly, the sloppy production probably heightens this, and had the record been a little more focused in that aspect, that may have improved my opinion of his performance.
But I am also aware of how influential his singing and performances are to many, and it seemed as if there was a whole revolution of industrial metal singers that seemed to imitate aspects of Glenn's vocals, such as Rob Zombie, that no amount of my personal dislike of his singing will ever take away how influential he is.
There are points where Glenn's vocals do fit the style of music a bit better, almost when the band goes in a bit more of a blues-rock territory, such as on "Devil on Hwy 9", and lyrically speaking, it does actually have some pretty badass imagery: "Little to the middle of a thousand miles/Of a blackish road you can drive/Don't look to the left, don't look to the right/Keep your eyes on the fucking line".
Overall, the lyrics on the record are pretty simple, horror-based imagery, leaving the formula for Danzig's lyrics pretty much unchanged. "The Witching Hour" exemplifies this pretty well: "And the clock strikes one/A chain with the gun/Hear the witching hour comes up on/All the waiting ones/And the hand strikes six/Out on the river Styx/And the witching hour long past dead/Plays a solemn train". Death is often a feature of the lyrics as well, such as on "Pull The Sun": "I wish the moon into your eyes/See how it glows, no surprise/I know the tides shift in your mind/I block the sun out for all time/And it's reigning/Death is reigning".
Overall, there's not really anything wrong with the lyrics. They're mostly dead simple and pretty "Halloween-ish" in their horror stylings, but it's a formula that's worked for Glenn for ages. Sadly, I just can't get into his vocal style, and the mixing of his vocals is possibly one of the worst aspects of this album in general.
Overall Impression — 5
I won't ever try to take away the influential nature of Glenn Danzig and his music, whether it be with this band, Misfits, Samhain, or his other various projects, and he's left a fairly impressive body of work behind him. Sadly, though, I don't think this work is up to par. While it contains some really good ideas for songs and if you're able to wade your way through the sloppy production and playing, you can find true gems of riffs on this record, but the production is just so bad on this record that it sounds almost as bad as some amateur basement-studio recordings (to be fair, those amateurs often make those basement recordings sound much better than this).