Ahh, Samhain. Birthed from the unholy coupling of the Misfits' horror-punk and Glenn Danzig's self-proclaimed "better understanding of the world," Samhain was a step beyond high-school cult band -- not a step forward or a lateral step but a step down into a grimmer, more serious underworld. Instead of relying entirely on the whiplash riffs and hypercaffeinated polka drums of his immediate past, Danzig slowed things down. His guitars were murkier and more deliberate. His drum lines were martial and tribal, sometimes twisting back and forth on themselves in the middle of songs. Lyrically, Danzig abandoned the sci-fi/horror-movie conceits of the Misfits and embraced stark terror as his muse. This exploration and exaltation of the macabre progressed from Initium to the Unholy Passion EP and blossomed into a majestic, noisome fleur de mal by the time of November-Coming-Fire. And then it was over. Samhain turned to ash, and in its stead came the wholly metal Danzig. If the Misfits were the goofy Halloween wiseacres of punk, Samhain represented the muttering priests of an ancient cult who masterminded a brief but memorable reign of terror.
Sixteen years later, you can own all the chants and incantations of the long-dead sect in one handy-dandy package. Box Set gathers together the hard-to-find original Samhain releases, throws in a live CD and video, and tops it off with a full-color booklet featuring lyrics and essays by both drummers (Steve Zing and London May) and Mr. Danzig himself, whose musings are either terribly revealing or terribly funny, depending on whether you read it in his voice or in Count Floyd's. The video is a 40-plus-minute compilation of various live shows and is worth its weight in wolfsbane for the footage of a blood-soaked Samhain in full sanguine glory. This would stand as the highlight of the set, were it not for the inclusion of an expanded Final Descent. The epilogue to Samhain, it encapsulates all the good and bad of Danzig's middle years. "Lords of the Left Hand" in its original form is menacing, dark and grandiose, the best representation of Samhain's intentions. "Trouble," on the other (right?) hand, is overheated voodoo blues weighed down by the chintzy keyboards of Satan's roller rink. Also included are alternate versions (demos, perhaps -- the CDs have no liner notes, which is the set's most glaring flaw) of songs that ended up on Danzig's first album. "Twist of Cain" here is a sinewy, loping predator that eviscerates the album version and fuels much pondering of what might have been. Ahh, Samhain: You can never go home again, especially if you're an undead lurker doomed to walk the night forevermore. Nevermore.