The differences between the Misfits' Earth A.D. and Danzig's 1988 self-titled debut were almost as wide as the spectrum of music itself. Sure, the topics of being possessed, wicked women, and sexual domination were present in both albums, but where the last Misfits LP was grim and gritty, Danzig I featured slick, clean production. Where Earth A.D. cut songs down to the minimalist elements of music itself, Danzig I blew up riffs creating arena rockers. What few people know, even in the punk community, between these two seminal bands Danzig fronted the punk/metal/goth hybrid responsible for this quantum leap. The Samhain box set, released in 2000, collects every released Samhain track along with a few rarities, which shows Mr. Danzig at his most darkest, and many times, most experimental.
Included in the box are both Samhain studio LPs, Initium and November Coming Fire, the EP Unholy Passion, the rarities set Final Descent, and a live disc. Listening to the discs chronologically shows how the prince of sex and violence morphed from a blazing punk rocker to a Sabbath-influenced metalhead.
Initium, which was released barely a year after Earth A.D., already shows Danzig evolving towards metal, but primarily basing his songs off punk aesthetic and philosophy. The most experimental song is "Archangel," which originally was written for Dave Varian of the Damned while Danzig was in the Misfits and features a sludging riff and ominous howl as opposed to a feral growl. Conversely, there is an updated version of "Horror Business," which slams harder then the original and seems to prognosticate Danzig's claim on ownership of the Misfits songs by almost 15 years. The album's high point is "The Howl," which blends punk and metal perfectly, with a charging tempo that eventually collapses into Danzig stretching out his thick voice on the refrain while always keeping the bark in his throat.
November Coming Fire and Unholy Passion feature Glenn at his most artistic. November itself ends with "Human Pony Girl," which seemingly flies in the face of both punk and metal, chugging along with a slow pace remaining almost quiet the entire time. With its almost gothic structure, the sinister song shows that the differences between genres maybe aren't different and good music might just be good music. "Misery Tomb," off Unholy Passion, might be the first punk dub ever created, as the sole musical sound in its three-plus minutes is the sound of Glenn groaning taken from an earlier song off the album. Is it a rocking tune? No, but it's a neat experiment and that's kind off the point of EPs anyways, isn't it?
Final Descent, the last Samhain record released, was actually supposed to be "Samhain Grim," but once Rick Rubin and Danzig teamed up and reformatted Samhain into Danzig, there were a few songs leftover in the transition. These songs show unproduced sketches of songs which are more metal than punk and even include some earlier versions of songs that would later turn up on Danzig I. Just as it's neat to hear the transition between Misfits to Samhian on Initium, it's neat to hear Danzig shed the punk structure entirely and embrace doom metal.
The live disc, while featuring a sound quality comparable to a good bootleg, shows that while the band was heading towards a more polished sound, the live sows were all about energy. As the band tears through two sets in two different towns, there're wrong notes played, cues missed, and Glenn sings off the microphone -- and none of it matters. The ferocity of the band carries them and shows why playing live is more about feeling and purpose then an exercise in musical precision.
While the music itself is pretty top notch, the remainder of the box is a little sloppily done. The included VHS, which shows a Samhain show at the beginning of the band's career and one at the end, has pretty poor audio and visual quality, and even the opening cards look like they were done in a high school video class. The accompanying comic book equates to a middle school dirty joke. The booklet has some really cool pictures, but for some reason only features lyrics from Initium and November Coming Fire. But it features interesting essays from both Danzig and Eerie Von who accompany the main man in the proceeding metal band.
But, as always, the music is the most important part and here, the music is stellar. The set starts out as gritty as the Misfits and progresses to the final polish of Danzig, but maintains Danzig's vision the entire way. Highly recommended for fans, but novices should start with Danzig or the Misfits first.