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Unknown New York Newspaper, 8/90


Musclemen of Metal, With a Touch of Soul

DANZIG with SOUNDGARDEN and WARRIOR SOUL. Three alternative faces to heavy 
metal, and a new kind of soul music. Beacon Theater, Friday.

By John Leland

   In the heyday of punk rock, heavy metal was a dirty word - a cliche of 
easy vice and silly clothes just waiting for extinction. But since the 
antipathies between the two camps began to break down in the early  80s, 
the punks have promised to make something of heavy metal - to make its
excesses mean something again. So far, they've succeeded mostly in making 
it faster and less conspicuously the province of fashion victims.
   Danzig and, to a lesser extent, Soundgarden, took their music well 
beyond this point Friday night, in a rare showcase of heavy metal at the 
Beacon Theater. The marathon bill was by turns deafening, boring and 
   Glen Danzig, who led the semi-legendary New Jersey punk band the Misfits 
in the late  70s and early  80s, has long been a cult hero in underground 
rock circles. In a scene dedicated to celebrating excesses of power to the 
expense of most everything else, Danzig is a rare talent: a gifted songwriter 
with an ear for elusive melodies and backwater gothic melodrama, and a singer
with a broad, controlled emotional range.
   After a sluggish start, Danzig's set was little short of remarkable. 
Powerfully built in the body, with leather motorcycle gloves and mutton chops 
down to his Adam's apple, Danzig came on like a man from another world, a 
kind of cave biker, tossing biblical and folk imagery into meditations on 
good and evil. "Do you want to take a life," he roared in the opening 
number,"...  cause it's a long way back from hell/ And you don't want to go 
with me." In Danzig's songs, some of our moral givens don't hold, but 
hyperbole always has a chair waiting by the hearth.
   The songs were alternately raging or hauntingly pretty, with Danzig's 
voice reaching for an upper register it held only with quavering vunerability. 
Unlike most hard rockers, the group used its quieter sections as more than 
just setups for the ensuing hard stuff. There was a macabre beauty to the 
passages Danzig sang accompanied only by John Christ's guitar atmospherics.
   The group played its blues underpinnings for folk mystery - as a tradition 
in which men sold their souls to Satan for musical inspiration, and a slinky 
guitar line signalled the presence of the devil not far off.
   Atmospheric and ruminative, Danzig's show owed as much to Roy Orbison 
(who sang a Danzig composition on the soundtrack to "Less Than Zero") and 
the Doors, and possibly to the mawkish ballads of late-period Elvis Presley, 
as it did to any heavy metal or punk precedents. Like those singers, Danzig 
seemed cut loose in a universe of emotional and moral uncertainty, not knowing
where to turn for deliverance. For that, his show was as close to soul music 
as a hard rock gets.
   In contrast to Danzig's fairly subtle compositions, the Seattle group 
Soundgarden played slow, hypnotic drones. Its conceit seemed to be that when 
smart people play oppressively stupid music, interesting things happen. And 
sometimes they did. The truth was in the tension created by the group's 
love-hate relationship to its material, and to the audience. Turgid and 
monolithic, Soundgarden showed due contempt for the worship of monoliths.
   But too often this played as straight condescension, and when much of the 
crowd returned the band's contempt, the musicians didn't know what to do 
with it. An opportunity for something really interesting was lost.