Circle of Snakes
posted on 1/2005 By:
Danzig kicks the numerical habit, entitling the band’s latest album sans the usual sequel numbering. Otherwise, Circle of Snakes would be also known as Danzig 8. And maybe it’s a good idea to try a different approach on an album, as Danzig hasn’t really landed a knockout punch for several albums (insert the obligatory North Side Kings reference here, and say their name once more before they slide permanently into fat guy hardcore abyss). The first two records are of course metal classics, and III and 4p were excellent as well. Since then, however, Jersey’s evil son and I haven’t always seen chin to eye. Danzig 5, well, unfortunately it had a good beat and I could dance to it. Still stinging from that, I sat out for Danzig 6, but the general consensus is that although it has some good moments it wasn’t his finest hour. Then came his most recent album, 2002’s Danzig 777: I Luciferi, which was seen as a significant improvement, if not a totally satisfactory release. Circle of Snakes is therefore probably the band’s best post-4p output, if only marginally so. The album is in the same ballpark quality wise with the last one, but is ultimately more rewarding because it sounds more like the Danzig you keep hoping to hear.
For starters, Circle of Snakes is decidedly heavy. Fortunately, there is none of that “Wicked Pussycat” business. Even the couple of slower songs are dark and heavy, and overall the album is a stylistic return to the band’s best work. So it sounds more like the Danzig album you wanted to hear, however the quality of the songs ultimately can’t compete with the early stuff. It certainly doesn’t mean they’re bad, just that they pale a bit next to the monstrous headbanging classics of the first few albums. Glenn put together a new band for this album and clearly made some good choices. The drumming is crisp and Tommy Victor’s (Prong) guitar work is a perfect fit. Not only are the riffs sufficiently crunchy but there is also an ample supply of solos on the album, which hasn’t always been the case with recent efforts. Lastly, Danzig’s voice is a bit more raw and natural, which is welcomed, but also a bit of a mixed blessing, as he doesn’t quite have the pipes that he used to.
The music itself doesn’t really require much description—it’s vintage Danzig. Heavy, repetitive riffing with ample harmonics and swaggering attitude is still the order of the day, and Glenn croons and bellows in true Evil Elvis/necro-Morrison fashion. If “1000 Devils Reign” isn’t making regular appearances on Headbangers Ball, it should be. It serves as a perfect exhibition of Danzig’s strengths—grooving mid-tempo metal that is heavy but also has buckets of melodic sensibility. It’s also one of the better vocal performances, with Glenn sounding impassioned and totally confident. That’s not always the case. He sounds pretty strained and fried on “Hellbent”, one of the heavier tracks, and “Skull Forrest” uses a flat, droning approach, and I can’t decide whether it works or is entirely annoying. Then there are songs like “Netherbound”, one of the highlights. Its beauty is in its simplicity--a basic but gargantuan riff causes involuntary head bobbing while Danzig croons with a commanding sense of melody. Repeat until you want to break something (and I mean that in the best possible way).
It should be noted that Glenn Danzig takes more than his fair share of cheap shots these days (no pun intended), and maybe I’ve taken the opportunity to take a few myself. It is a bit unfortunate. His best work may be behind him, and Lord knows I don’t believe in letting people slide on work they did 10-15 years ago, but if you don’t have three or four albums from Glenn’s projects in your permanent rotation, you’re missing something. The guy may not be able to deliver another “Am I Demon”, but he is still that guy, and there’s a little gas in the tank yet. If you’ve been put off by the last couple albums, Circle of Snakes may be right up your alley, and if you’re a loyal fan you’ll be in heaven, or south of it.
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