Glenn Danzig is the Devil's curator for the Blackest of the Black Tour, a metal mini-festival he's been presenting and headlining intermittently since 2003.
For headbangers, the tour has a little of everything. Ohio's Skeletonwitch blends black metal, death metal and thrash into old-school, rip-yer-face-off shredderation. Dimmu Borgir plays some of the world's most elaborate black metal — the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra backed the Norwegian band on 2003's Death Cult Armageddon — and has a stage show to match. The weapon of choice for Spain's Moonspell is midtempo double-bass drum kicks, deployed in slower tunes, and guttural-yet-melodic vocals. Last but not least is LA's Winds of Plague, which deals a modern-metal mélange of black-metal keyboards, death-metal growls and hyper-blast percussion.
Even if you've followed Danzig's varied career, the bands are surprising company to find him keeping. After all, he's one of the most enduringly vital creative forces from the old-school punk and hardcore scenes, which were the underground alternative to big, loud, long-haired metal. He founded Misfits in 1977. Fronting the band, he belted out the tunes like a morbid Jim Morrison, and he wouldn't have been caught dead at a Judas Priest show. He just didn't like that kind of metal.
"Punk and metal are very similar," Danzig says. "When the first Misfits record came out, it was called 'horror metal-punk.' The only thing that separates [metal and punk] are long, boring leads. And maybe a couple other little things, like whiny, screamy vocals. That all changed in metal. You listen to something like Slayer, there's none of that '80s silliness. I think Metallica really changed a lot of it. And Sabbath has always been an influence."
The "horror metal-punk" tag was totally appropriate for 1983's controversial Earth A.D/Wolf's Blood album, which was recorded with Spot, the polarizing SST house engineer best known for Black Flag records. The Misfits' final album jettisoned the band's trademark melodies and went straight for the jugular, in a blast of distortion. Punks were disappointed. Hardcore kids got it. And metalheads who previously hated "that punk shit" suddenly saw the light. The singer says it wasn't that much of a departure — not if you were there.
"Back then, at least here in America, people just did not know how to record those fast guitars," explains Danzig. "Until we got to work with Spot, it just didn't sound like [it did] live. [Earth A.D.] is what the Misfits sounded like live."
The Misfits imploded after Earth A.D. Next, the frontman launched Samhain, a band that was both punkier and artier. In New York for a showcase, Danzig met producer Rick Rubin, a future Grammy winner and music-biz overlord who had just returned to his hard-rock roots after working with the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J.
Danzig and Rubin conceived a musical vehicle that would be called "Danzig," but would have a different backing band each album. The group hasn't changed with every single record, but players have come and gone: Different lineups recorded metal, industrial, goth and darkwave albums that would have been hailed as revolutionary if they'd come from within the scene.
This year's Blackest of the Black trek commemorates the twentieth anniversary of Danzig, his band's self-titled debut and one of the first releases on Rubin's Def American label. The sparse, bluesy record remains an underrated rock classic, an album on which Rubin and engineer Steve Ett spit-shined Danzig's gestating material, like the murderous Samhain nugget "Twist of Cain" and the fan-favorite "Mother" (which found a second life as a single in 1993).
But don't show up late, figuring he'll save those two songs for the encore: Danzig's band will open the show with "SkinCarver" (from 2005's Circle of Snakes), then play favorites from all eight Danzig albums, in chronological order. The singer says he'll also "most likely" play a solo acoustic song for the first time onstage — but, chuckling, he refuses to say which one.
"One of the reasons I've had this whole career, whether it's with Samhain, the Misfits or Danzig, it's being able to defy genres," Danzig says. "I like it like that, to blur the lines. That's really what it's about."
Visit blogs.riverfronttimes.com/atoz for an extended interview with Danzig, including what he likes about the Blackest of the Black bands and nuggets about his history and projects in progress.—D.X. Ferris
7 p.m. Sunday, October 26. The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard. $27.50 advance, $30 day of show. 314-726-6161.
By day, Michael Zapruder works as music curator for Pandora, an online music service that lets listeners personalize song play lists based on their personal preferences. By night, he performs his own music, writing hypnotic story-songs that are sung with an equally magnetic tenor voice. Zapruder launched his career with 52 Songs (www.52songs.org), an online project in which he wrote and recorded one song per week for a year. Since then, he's released three studio albums which challenge the notion that a singer-songwriter is nothing more than a sensitive, acoustic guitar-toting shaman.
With Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope (due in November), Zapruder may have created his Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and not just due to the tongue-tripping title. Working with Scott Solter (John Vanderslice, Mountain Goats) at San Francisco's Tiny Telephone studio, Zapruder cast his songs through ambient lenses and trippy filters. The results are sure to please anyone with an ear for sideways lyrics matched with intuitive but inventive instrumentation. In advance of his show at Cicero's, Zapruder spoke about his day job, the weight of influence and the divide between poetry and pop music.
B-Sides: Your past two records have been a sharp turn away from the acoustic guitar and piano-based compositions of your earlier work. Are you trying to broaden the concept of the singer-songwriter to include more experimentation?
Michael Zapruder: I grew up liking Elvis Costello and the Talking Heads, where every record was really different. The 52 Songs project was me exploring every possible avenue that I might be interested in. After that, I was really focused on getting my hands on some good songs and simplifying the process. That was cool, but I've heard so much other music since then. I think the earnest singer-songwriter thing is played out; you have to do more. You have to write intense, cool songs, but if you focus too much on the words you miss out on the music. I didn't want to second-guess it – I wanted [the record] to be diverse.
The recording of the album was done in just two weeks, but certain songs have a dense, layered feel to them. What was that process like?
It was crazy and great. I've known Scott [Solter, producer ] a long time — he helped me mix my last record. I went in with more than twenty songs and we whittled them down. Scott knew I wanted to do this record all in one session, so we spent the last two days mixing the whole record. Essentially, we didn't sleep. It was pretty grueling, but we came up with some strategies at the beginning. Scott said, "Let's go with a compelling minimalism." We picked really good musicians and they did passes over the song. You may only hear them in little passages when they caught the wave. There's something cohesive — it's more like moments in the songs that tie the album together.—Christian Schaeffer
9 p.m. Wednesday, October 29. Cicero's, 6691 Delmar Boulevard, University City. $5 21-plus, $8 under 21. 314-862-0009.