The Heart of the Devil!
Be ready for a heavily biased fanboy review of a classic album! Danzig’s third installment – which is also in possession of the most badass-album-title in their entire discography – is this band’s magnum opus, their greatest achievement and their most consistently awesome record.
There’s no fillers here, no steps into dreck territory, no lame experiments, no selling out, no compromises. From the crushingly heavy get-go of “Godless” over the sinister gloom of the title track down to the neck-bursting, priest-crushing beast-riff of “Do You Wear the Mark?” the listener is overwhelmed by a variety of emotions, savagery and lots, lots of darkness.
Released in 1992, we’re right in the middle of Glenn Danzig’s prime, the invocation of “Evil Elvis” and Jim Morrison – at that time already garnished with a remarkable increase of wolfish fierceness – had never been this strong before and only remained on this level for one more record, namely 4p, which already showed the first signs of imminent decay in terms of songwriting quality.
But let’s not talk about such negative things here, alright?
With III, Danzig chose to omit some of the more obvious blues influences and replace them with additional doses of heavy metal riffage, sometimes almost stepping into groove metal realms. Now don’t get discouraged, because we’re still talking about “heavy” and not “nu” grooves here! These are no single-note chugga chugga-cretinisms that started dominating the metal scene around the time. Listen to the main riff of “Do You Wear the Mark?” right now and you’ll agree that this is the kind of guitar riff that Zakk Wylde or Phil Demmel wish they had written back in the day. Generally, a more sinister atmosphere is created due to this heavier approach, leaving lots of the more lighthearted blues/swing moments – most prominently heard on the two preceding albums– in the background, with the more oppressive, death-laden lyrics following suit.
Breaking out of this description a little is “Anything”, a soaring and poetic song that is a lot more than just a ballad, it’s a one-of-a-kind love-anthem equipped with one of the finest guitar solos in Danzig history. It shows that John Christ was perhaps the most important member of the classic lineup and for the Danzig project as a whole. A ballad placed at track #2? This could be a questionable choice on other classic albums, but the way the song flows and develops, it’s the perfect wave breaker between the blazing heavy metal opener “Godless” and the more uplifting – almost relaxing – bass-driven hard rock/whorehouse blues tune that is “Bodies”. With the gloomy title track following and bursting into another less-emotionally challenging song, you’ll soon realize that good flow is key here. One is not simply overwhelmed by sadness or anger screaming at you all at once; the constant shift of feel and its intensity proves to be a major selling point. Danzig make sure that your psyche, your emotional core, is constantly being played with; sorrow, hatred, remorse, regret, rage, lust. These feelings and many more variations of them are in a constant tumble and every repeated listen will have one that reigns above all others, with only one thing being certain: the last notes of “When the Dying Calls” will leave you satisfied and craving for more every time.
Every band member delivers peak performances. In addition to John Christ’s previously mentioned great, great riffs and guitar soloing, Chuck Biscuits’ performance is stellar as well. His drum set has to endure massive poundings here, as the man used to all but annihilate his skins with sheer force and intense playfulness in his years with Danzig, without ever feeling the need to be ultra-technical for the sake of it. His act is flashy and flamboyant due to his hulkishness alone. Eerie Von’s handling of bass duties especially shines on the slower compositions (“Bodies”!) and you’ll be able to hum along with his tasteful melodies in no time.
“Sistinas” and “Dirty Black Summer” are a little less stellar due their repetitive nature. There’s not enough variation in their – admittedly fine – basic ideas to warrant their running time – a little itch that would develop into a raging disease on the band’s subsequent records. Here, it’s just a minor scratch on an otherwise near-perfect representation of what Danzig was about in the early 90’s.
III – How the Gods Kill is a record that should be in every heavy metal collection. I consider it a mandatory listen and if you really have not heard this one yet, you’re missing out, big time!