For some of you, it might be hard to imagine a time when Glenn Danzig was a seriously bad-ass underground rock star. Maybe it's just because I was 16 when the first Danzig album came out in 1988, but back then he had a threatening, even darkly erotic, presence—Elvis with upside-down crosses, a voodoo-spiked Jim Morrison, the kind of guy who made you think that maybe Tipper Gore and the P.M.R.C. were onto something.
For the last 15 years, though, he's been kind of a punchline. From his overblown, self-important, and often pretentious music—the string of dull and lead-footed industrial-metal albums he released through the late 1990s and early '00s, not to mention the two ridiculous Black Aria albums of "classical" music—to his apparently straight-faced embrace of his own cartoonish persona and the commercial empire he's built of officially licensed Danzig and Misfits merchandise, the more famous he's become, the harder it's been to take him seriously. His ongoing spat with his former bandmates over the Misfits name and his refusal to discuss that band in interviews have greatly diminished his aura. (Earlier this year, he and fellow macho rocker Henry Rollins were the subjects of Henry and Glenn Forever, an indie comic portraying them as a gay couple in a long-term relationship.)
And yet, he's retained just enough of his legend, even as he's descended into self-parody, that it's becoming clear he's not done yet. His new album, Deth Red Sabaoth, is the best thing he's released since at least 1994. It's a stripped-down return to the blues-drenched hard rock of the first three or four Danzig albums, with the grooves and grandiosity finally reclaiming a balance that's been out of whack for more than a decade. (The new record also features guitarist Tommy Victor, of New York hardcore/metal legends Prong, doing a masterful impersonation of original Danzig guitarist John Christ.)
"I think the reason it's lasted so long is that it defies a classification or a genre," he says. "At times, it's bluesy, at times it's whatever, it's so many different things, and that's because I don't put any limitations on what I can do. I can do whatever I f--king want."
Sometimes that creative freedom has led Danzig down the wrong path, but it's also key to what works for the band. Danzig's musical output over his career has pretty much been a catalog of his personal obsessions, from comic books and horror movies (the Misfits) to classic rock 'n' roll, the occult, and sexy vampire women (Danzig). Maybe if he didn't follow every idea that came into his head, he never would have made anything. Maybe his failures are built into his success. He's never envisioned Danzig as an ongoing band of equal members—when he and producer/guru Rick Rubin first conceived the project in 1986, they intended to have a different lineup for each album.
"That was the whole thing about punk—once it got boring you were supposed to change it up and make it not boring again," he says. "And I think a lot of people were just like, ‘Oh, I think I'll keep doing this.'"
In the years leading up to the redemption of Deth Red Sabaoth, Danzig's focus was scattered. In 2004 the band released Circle of Snakes, a half-hearted attempt at returning to its roots, followed by the second Black Aria record (2006) and then The Lost Tracks of Danzig (2007), a two-disc collection of outtakes and early recordings. He's got just as many options ahead of him, so it's impossible to predict what will follow his recent triumph.
"I started a couple of weeks ago working on Black Aria III, and I'm trying to decide whether I'm going to do another Danzig record or if I'm going to do a Danzig covers record, where I cover other people's songs and f--k them all up," he says. "I've been wanting to do a cover record since back in the Misfits. I keep saying I'm going to do it, so maybe it's time to do it. I don't know. We'll see."