Initially, this year’s installment of the October HORROR ROCK ICONS series was going to cover the full legacy of GLENN DANZIG’S career. It was going to be a lot of ground to cover. Well, as we all know, time’s a bitch, and her biological clock is incessantly tick-tick-ticking away. With the amount of other projects currently going on *(TWO IN THE SAME BOAT + 1, putting together my first anthology collection of fiction, musical endeavors, etc.), the backlog of reviews and articles, and the relentless amounts of time involved, with all of it, interspersed with the daily nonsense of “reality” *(as always, subjective), there is no way in hell I can cover the entirety of DANZIG’S career in this year’s edition.
So, quick thinker under pressure that I can be, I’ve devised a most simple solution: This year I will be covering my favorite of the Great GLENN DANZIG Trifecta of bands – – – and the one most fitting of the rapidly approaching holiday of Halloween – – – SAMHAIN, the man’s all too often overlooked and underappreciated foray into a sound and image that is not only iconic to the small cult of intensely dedicated fans that it’s culminated over the years, but also captures the sheer sonic essence and otherworldly energy of the Holiday itself. *(Incidentally, the proper pronunciation is SAH-WIN/SAU-WIN, not the phonetic SAM-HAIN, and is derived from the Gaelic “Festival of the Harvest”, ie: Death, and the coming dark half of the year, essentially one of the main predecessor’s to the cultural Ghoul-Stew that is modern Halloween, of which this band is a celebration of all thereof – – – and so much more.)
SAMHAIN was also the band that bridged the gap between not just the MISFITS and DANZIG, but was also the main expansion point of GLENN’S rapidly piquing fascinations/obsessions with the more real aspects of the occult-macabre *(as opposed to the occasional lighthearted allegorical bleakness of the MISFITS, and what ultimately led to their demise) and gritty grotesqueries of the World in which we live, and in doing so created a completely original image & sound: special, one of a kind, something that can never be captured as such again. Each release sounded completely different, whilst retaining the same general, and usually quite sinister, Autumnal-Death vibe, the themes growing darker with each subsequent release. It was also a revolving door of musicians, beyond mainstays GLENN DANZIG *(founder/vocalist/songwriter) and EERIE VON *(co-founder/bassist/photographer/former drummer for ROSEMARY’S BABIES).
But I’ll get to all that. In short, SAMHAIN is my favorite of GLENN’s Great Trifecta, influential and transformative in ways beyond words. Ladyboys and Germs, Boils and Ghouls, I present to you this Halloween Season the odd and true tale, MACABRE: An Howling Legacy of the Unholy Passions of SAMHAIN.
PART I: A BLACK DREAM’S INITIUM
It was about mid-1983, and tensions both creative and personal were searingly high, causing a fast-paced vacuum of communication, ultimately to result in an unfixable rift between the two founding members of the MISFITS, GLENN DANZIG and JERRY ONLY, naturally affecting the whole of the band, which was already contending with a series of other stress fractures. GLENN already had a side project in the works with ERIC STELLMAN, aka: EERIE VON, who at the time was a roadie and photographer for the MISFITS, as well as drummer for fellow Lodi, NJ band ROSEMARY’S BABIES.
GLENN wanted to forego most, if not all, of the tomfoolery and humor *(much of which I always viewed as metaphor, though some being just that – – – tomfoolery – – – “Ratt Fink”; “Return Of The Fly”; a couple others) the MISFITS so frequently portrayed in their music. He wanted to veer the band away from the B-movie schlock with which they’d become so associated with into real life, A-list paganism and real-world shock *(not necessarily as in Shock Rock, but by confronting belief systems and beleaguered, one-way thought processes, as well as confused fans).
As GLENN was delving evermore into the occult, as well as the musics of BAUHAUS, CELTIC FROST, SEX GANG CHILDREN, BATHORY, ALIEN SEX FIEND and the like, he had his own ideas as to how the MISFITS should proceed; JERRY was doing the same, with his own ideas, but in a polar-opposite direction: he was “awakening to” a Christian Born-Againism, and grooving to the sounds of VAN HALEN and RATT. *(JERRY has commented on several occasions that he was very uncomfortable with both the direction they were headed in and much of the lyrical content of EARTH A.D. / WOLF’S BLOOD.) Add to that the personality conflicts with and eventual deportation of their EARTH A.D. and final tour drummer ROBO *(of BLACK FLAG) back to Columbia, mid-tour, with GLENN and JERRY now communicating almost exclusively in venom spiked tongues – – – the MISFITS finally proclaimed on October 29th, 1983, at an absolute mess of a show in Detroit, MI *(it can be experienced on Youtube) that this was it. Tour fill-in drummer BRIAN DAMAGE *(from GENOCIDE and VERBAL ABUSE, now deceased) was too inebriated to play, and after only a few songs was tossed off stage by DOYLE, and replaced by TODD SWALLA *(of the NECROS). That was the end of the MISFITS.
However, GLENN already had the project he’d been working on since before the breakup ready to go – – – SAMHAIN – – – kind of. Taking on EERIE VON as bassist, and having already recorded a *(for many years unreleased) song, “Mephisto Walz” *(oddly released on the MISFITS COLLECTION II compilation, they only performed this in a practice once or twice, and have essentially nothing to do with this song – – – it’s still a SAMHAIN song performed by SAMHAIN, that they never did anything with, either – – – go figure). In fact, GLENN used two SAMHAIN songs to round out the EARTH A.D. album and finalize their contractual duties, “Bloodfeast” and “Death Comes Ripping” *(of which no SAMHAIN demos or studio versions exist, to my knowledge, but both were constants in their live sets).
With just the two members, when decked out in their devilocks, ghoul paint, and desiccated funeral Morgue Attendant wear, not to mention a height difference of at least a head, SAMHAIN already put forth a more mysterious, darker and imposing image than the MISFITS had. That being the case, the band was far from complete. They still needed a drummer and guitarist *(although they had played a couple of early performances with GLENN on guitar, it severely limited the full theatricality they’d eventually bring to the altar – – – uh, stage). GLENN had the songs, a very focused idea of exactly what he wanted, yet still needed not just a filled-out band, but a properly filled out band. Once that was found, SAMHAIN would go on to create a legendary, though incredibly overlooked, small collection of transitional, transgressive, and transformative albums that are in all actuality, all dumb-ass genre labels out of the way, entirely their own thing, and in many ways still ahead of their time.
GLENN and EERIE had enlisted fellow Lodi, NJ resident and fan, STEVE ZING *(drummer for both MOURNING NOISE and THE UNDEAD, the latter being fronted by former MISFITS guitarist BOBBY STEELE) in October of 1983, but had yet to find a steady guitarist that fit. BRIAN BAKER *(of Washington, D.C.’s MINOR THREAT, DAG NASTY and later, FUGAZI) played for a bit, but left of his own volition as he didn’t feel his style necessarily fit with theirs. *(Fair enough, I really don’t imagine that as having worked out, at all.) BRIAN had suggested fellow MINOR THREAT and *(founder of) DAG NASTY accomplice LYLE PRESLAR to fill the spot. Strangely so, that would very briefly work, at least to the ends it needed to. An odd lineup still to appear, it was time to record. *(However, PRESLAR would ultimately only appear on four tracks, and at a few performances.) Finally, there was MIKE GUTILLA on the atmospherics, keyboards and chimes.
ARCHANGELS BACK IN THE HORROR BIZ
In August of 1984, SAMHAIN’S debut INITIUM hit store shelves. Written, produced, and arranged by GLENN, released on his PLAN 9 RECORDS label *(which he started in 1977 and lasted until 1995, released most of the MISFITS singles and ep’s, as well as EARTH A.D., and one non-DANZIG band, THE VICTIMS, with their self-titled ep in 1978 – – – Caroline Records eventually became PLAN 9’s distributor), INITIUM *(meaning “beginning” in Latin) is the first in a series of albums like no other.
Starting with the opening track, the spoken word caveat of “Initium,” *(which was recorded in EERIE VON’S home on 4-track, the strange soundscape making up the intro performed/arranged by ZING, the rest of the album being recorded at REEL PLATINUM STUDIO in Lodi, NJ), the INITIUM album explodes into life as a work of musical black art in and of itself. Gone are the Martians, Zombies and Vampire Girls; here are the Lycanthropes and Warlocks, Succubi and their comely, deathly embraces. Tribal drumbeats, death-chimes, off-timing signatures from spastic guitars, reverb a-plenty, and GLENN’S roaring, commanding vocals leading it all like an Autumnal death-harvest ritual drenched in the blood of its own sacrifice, the backing vocals echoing the lyrics in ghoulish, slightly off-key barks and moans. *(One of SAMHAIN’S biggest theatrical leaning was their entrance onto the stage from darkness and clouds of mysterious smoke, absolutely drenched head to toe in blood, much as the INITIUM album cover promises.)
As is a theme to *(most) SAMHAIN releases, there’s a much darker, stranger re-arrangement of a MISFITS classic: on INITIUM it being “Horror Business,” reformed into the clattery, brilliantly disorienting “Horror Biz”. It’s been mangled and mutilated into a brand new song. Pagan sex dreams and slithering Succubi haunt such startlingly different tracks as “Black Dream” and the dirge of death, “Macabre”. “All Murder, All Guts, All Fun” is a one of a kind classic about finding joy in some of the, mmm, simpler things in life, like giving in to the primal urge to mutilate. “He-Who-Can-Not-Be-Named” leads the listener to a strange occultic Being they may not want to know *(or already do – – – there happens to be a strange letter written from DANZIG to a then Adept Practitioner of the Dark Arts asking about information for a song, and the letter implies, logically, it could only be this – – – check the included pic – – – neat stuff). With “The Shift” and “The Howl” we get tales of lycanthropy and witches, transformation, curses, perversion, human sacrifice, and in that grand GLENN DANZIG tradition, dead children. *(Really, the man must loathe the damn things as much as I do.)
However, the most interesting bit of complicated trivia comes with the album’s closing track, the beautiful “Archangel.” Apparently, the basics of this track were written and recorded in 1981, by the MISFITS. It was never “officially” recorded or released *(however, if you look around you can find both an instrumental from ’81, and a pre-SAMHAIN version with GLENN singing). The most interesting part comes here: the song was originally meant to be sung by DAVE VANIAN of THE DAMNED *(who just turned 60 on October 12th, I might add, and is still going strong – – – plus he’s married to PATRICIA MORRISON of THE BAGS, CASTRATION SQUAD, THE SISTERS OF MERCY & THE DAMNED, as well as her own really decent solo release – – – lucky bastard), or as a duet with GLENN, or possibly even to just be given to the U.K. Punk legends altogether. Such was obviously not the case, however, and this ends the album on a very interesting, theatrical cliffhanger that only leaves you wanting for more amidst the demonic howls and GLENN’s frenetic, prolonged emotional guitar solo, sounding as though credits should be rolling over this epic finish. Usually the closer to most of their performances, GLENN would often take up the guitar for this song live, as well, while the guitarist would take up a 2nd bass. Also, on the resultant recording of this song, AL PIKE of REAGAN YOUTH guests on the second of the dual bass tracks that make this a thick and thunderous journey downward and onward, and GLENN the delivers the driving, tempered throb of a drumbeat. The end of an album – – – and the beginning of a cycle – – – eventually to become an era-cum-Legacy like no other. Very shortly, the band would be properly filled out with a Death-Dirge personel, much more subjectively and gruesomely hooking us further into the Veil of the Season of the Dead.
INITIUM is an absolute classic debut album from a band that in a very short timespan would grow to enrapture not just the very essence of their namesake holiday, but create a very dark and volatile, multi-influenced/multi-influential style of gritty, Gothic Death Punk, when nary such a thing as this existed, just barely even in the underground metal world. SAMHAIN were able to bring punks, deathrockers, metalheads and goths into a room without killing each other, and were one of the first bands to do so *(pre-Crossover, along with CELTIC FROST, VENOM, MOTORHEAD, MERCYFUL FATE, THE PLASMATICS, DISCHARGE, ALIEN SEX FIEND, GBH, and a handful of others, many one-offs or unknowns), at a time when very few others could bridge all gaps, or even wanted to, within the darker realms of the underground. For what SAMHAIN did, for all it’s bestial primality and harsh production, it’s still a blood soaked, mythic piece of nature’s dark music that would eventually morph into a Beast unlike any other. Changes were soon to come as the black winds blew – – – drawing the heathen unit ever closer to their ultimate lineup and ghoulish subsequent masterpiece(s).
SAMHAIN: INITIUM lineup:
GLENN DANZIG – Vocals, Guitar, Keys, Drums (on “Archangel”)
EERIE VON – Bass, B. Vocals
STEVE ZING – Drums (all songs except “Archangel”), Ambience on “Initium”
LYLE PRESLAR – Guitar on “Black Dream, Macabre, Horror Biz, The Shift”
MIKE GUTILLA – Keyboard Chimes on “Horror Biz” & “The Shift”
Al PIKE – Second Bass on “Archangel”
Coming Soon: MACABRE: An Howling Legacy of the Unholy Passions of SAMHAIN, PART II: Moribund Passions; Unholy Hells; Enter The Misery Tomb
Vincent Daemon, writer, editor, musician, photgrapher, film/music buff and historian, and rabblerouser, can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vincent.daemon.1 as well as his spontaneously updated blog of writing news and nonsense THE WRITINGS OF A DEPRAVED MIND http://vincentdaemon.blogspot.com/Some of his music can be painfully experienced at http://www.reverbnation.com/vincentdaemonsageofdesire3 His email is firstname.lastname@example.org