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DANZIG (Buy CDs by this artist)
Danzig (Def American/Geffen) 1988
Danzig II — Lucifuge (Def American/Geffen) 1990
Danzig III: How the Gods Kill (Def American) 1992
Thrall — Demonsweatlive (Def American) 1993
4 (American) 1994
Blackacidevil (Hollywood) 1996

At the very crest of Misfits cult mania, producer Rick Rubin decided to help ex-'Fits vocalist Glenn Danzig realize a dream of making his current group, Samhain, more professional and focused. It worked. In Danzig, the diminutive New Jersey hunk moved his dark hard rock into the commercial mainstream while remaining true to fans' sanguinary tastes. Although Danzig's satanic pretensions are too much for some to bear, they are easy to set aside or ignore; the group's undeniable might, its songwriting skill and the phlegmy singer's melodramatic bellow cast a far more potent spell than any comic-book malevolence.

With the benefit of a real band — tasteful metallic guitarist John Christ, Samhain holdover Eerie Von (bass) and dexterous drummer Chuck Biscuits (ex-D.O.A., Black Flag and Circle Jerks) — Danzig is a crunchy and lusty demonic cross between the Doors, Misfits and Black Sabbath. Roughly half of the album is ominous and mighty ("Twist of Cain," "She Rides," "Soul on Fire" and "Mother"); the rest displays the weak underbelly of Rubin's thinly homogeneous production.

Lucifuge corrects the debut's flaws: Rubin's production is much fleshier, and Glenn exercises the theatrical satanic-pagan muscle-stud angle to entertaining effect. The songs (especially the cool, dank beauty of "Her Black Wings" and the '50s-style melodic tearjerker, "Blood and Tears") are consistently stronger; a heavy dose of voodoo blues (the stripped-down "I'm the One") adds pungent flavor to the thematic and musical brew.

Producing himself (under Rubin's executive eye), Glenn proves the quartet's intrinsic mettle on How the Gods Kill, a roaring slab of leathery rock that isn't overly troubled by his lyrical obsessions. Actually, for an avowed underworld-lover, the thoroughly unintimidating singer sounds a lot like a recovering Catholic ("I couldn't take it anymore/And so you leave me godless"); his lyrics in "Do You Wear the Mark" and "Heart of the Devil" are littered with references to "evil," "devil," "heaven," "soul" and "blood." As its namesake shows the confidence (or hubris, same difference here) to sing "Sistinas" as a ridiculous croony gothic ballad, the band spends most of this exciting record roaring down the power alley in tight, martial formation, lashing songs to tense riffs that give way to explosions of energy. (The title track's verses are held back for a Blue Öyster Cult-style buildup.) Economical and efficient, an organic blend of vocals and instrumental intensity, How the Gods Kill is great bleak fun.

As if to acknowledge his wry insincerity, Danzig recorded a straight-faced version of "Trouble," Leiber and Stoller's innocuous rewrite of "Hoochie Coochie Man" ("Because I'm evil/My middle name is misery/Said I'm evil child/Don't you mess around with me") for Elvis Presley, as one of three new studio tracks on the otherwise live-in-Irvine Thrall-Demonsweatlive. ("It's Coming Down" is a worthier, and original, addition to the band's repertoire.) With something from each prior album, the four concert cuts are loud, buzzy and ringed in crowd noise, but — other than Christ's phenomenal displays of fret frenzy — not nearly as exciting as witnessing the real thing in the buffed flesh.

The remainder of 4's title is one of those unprintable runic phrases ("Bowling Night"?). The album itself, however, is in English — dark, sinister, violent, theatrically overstated English. Reaching new levels of lurid posturing, Danzig sounds a personal note amid the usual fictional depictions ("Bringer of Death," "Stalker Song"). "I Don't Mind the Pain," "Son of the Morning Star," "Let It Be Captured" and "Cantspeak" disguise what appear to be mundane feelings of loneliness in grandiose imagery, although that doesn't explain the sexual violence of "Little Whip." Elsewhere, he indulges in a little garden-variety self-deification ("Brand New God," "Until You Call on the Dark"). The dynamic variety of the long, ambitious record (complete with a bonus sepulchral chant) is better than ever, but it's an audibly strenuous effort. Too self-conscious by half (the sound effects are a bad sign) and sonically thick-skinned where previous albums ripped away flesh, 4 is pure, but not prime, Danzig.

After playing on 4, Chuck Biscuits left the band and was rebuffed when he asked to rejoin later in '94. Joey Castillo became Danzig's new drummer, only to have the boss replace the rest of the lineup and sign the band to Hollywood Records.

[Greg Fasolino/Ira Robbins]