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Glenn Danzig's DNA is splattered all over the dark underworld of punk, hardcore and heavy metal. And while his work may be footnotes in mainstream music, what footnotes they are.
Danzig's 1993 instrumental Black Aria album topped Billboard's Classical charts, and last year's sequel cracked the top 10, landing between Itzhak Perlman and Andrea Bocelli. Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison performed songs he wrote. And Rick Rubin (2007's Grammy winner for Producer of the Year) produced the early albums from Danzig's self-titled band, which are slowly receiving recognition as rock classics, with moments that evoke the Doors, Howlin' Wolf and Black Sabbath. Not bad for a Jersey guy who made his first marks as a tattooed punk, singing uptempo horrorcore tunes such as "Astro Zombies" in an Elvis croon.
Culled from 20 years of dusty studio leftovers, the new Lost Tracks of Danzig (released June 12 on Evilive) collects 26 unreleased songs recorded during a seven-album cycle that concluded with 2002's 777: I Luciferi and stretched back to Danzig's self-titled 1988 LP—his first collaboration with Rubin.
"The way Rick and I conceived it, each record was supposed to be a different lineup," Danzig recalls. "Each record was supposed to be a different thing. And I would get to work with different musicians all the time. It would be seven records, with a number in each title."
For The Lost Tracks, the singer/multi-instrumentalist dug through his extensive vaults and finished some of his favorite discarded songs. Rough, riff-driven tracks such as "When Death Had No Name" took shape in the final days of Samhain, his Gothic post-Misfits band. An acoustic version of "Come to Silver" was written for Johnny Cash just before Danzig left the American label. "Cold Cold Rain" would have made another fine power ballad for Orbison. Various lineups cover T. Rex's "Buick McKane," Bowie's "Cat People" and the Germs' "Caught in My Eye."
"I wanted to make ["Caught"] darker and creepier, less punk, more just crawling-up-your-spine," Danzig says. "It's similar to the T. Rex cover. T. Rex is one of my favorite bands—Bowie owes a lot to [T. Rex singer] Marc Bolan. Those songs, I pretty much Danzig-ized them. And that's my attitude: If you're not going to change a song, don't cover it."
Danzig is usually on the other side of the covers. In addition to receiving dozens of punk tributes, his songs have been reworked by My Chemical Romance, Guns N' Roses and Metallica. He's actually responsible for two-thirds of the last mandatory Metallica: The metal kings gasped their last breath of underground air in 1988, covering the Misfits' "Last Caress" and "Green Hell." (They also covered "Die Die My Darling" later, but that version sucks.)
In 1993, a live version of "Mother" (from Danzig's first album) became a hit single. For an encore, Danzig purged his swollen fan base by recording three non-dance Goth/industrial albums that don't suck: 1994's Danzig 4P, 1996's 5: Blackacidevil and 1999's 6:66 Satan's Child. They aren't necessarily what you want from a hard-rock auteur, but they're way more listenable than your average darkwave disc.
"I could write 'Mother' over and over again for the rest of my life if I wanted to," he says. "But I don't want to do that because then it's stupid. It also became a progression, almost like bringing it back to the original fans."
It's a boast, not sour grapes. The Misfits' 1983 hyperblast Earth A.D./Wolfsbloodwas a prescient, controversial landmark development in the fusion of metal and hardcore. But since then, he's moved as far away from punk as it gets—just not for long. The Danzig-penned "Thirteen" helped re-establish Johnny Cash's relevance; it's one of the strongest songs on American Recordings, the 1994 comeback LP from the original Man in Black. The Black Aria discs are almost entirely one-man productions that put to shame all rock-band-meets-symphony schlock. (Try to beat that for post-hardcore.)
And while Danzig's a fan of blasphemy and heresy (Holy Blood, Holy Grail was a favorite long before the Da Vinci Code phenomenon), he's not above a little holiday cheer. Danzig appeared in an Aqua Teen Hunger Force Christmas episode, where he made the team's holiday by agreeing to pay a million dollars for Carl's house—because it has a swimming pool full of elf blood.
Laughing, Danzig claims he's not too different from the cartoon version, saying if he didn't have a body of work, he might have a body count. The singer believes if he had no musical aptitude, he'd still be involved in the business somehow—he's kicking around the idea of putting together a book of his photography—from recent Danzig tours back to a Sex Pistols/Damned three-night-stand at CBGB. Asked what he thinks he'd be doing if he had no talent at all, he has a quick answer: "I'd probably be killing people."