Almost an entire generation has passed since the first Samhain album, Initium, was released. As the ‘90s progressed, Misfits retrospectives and latter-day, metallized Danzig releases were the only thing placed on the aural chopping block, leaving an unmistakable gap in horror-rock history.
Following the success of the Samhain box set, E-Magine has re-released each of Samhain's four classic CDs individually, with each disc remastered and including additional artwork. Up for review here are all four Samhain releases: Initium, the difficult-to-find EP Unholy Passion, the classic crossover LP November-Coming-Fire and the mixed bag of Final Descent. Each of these LPs played an important part in the history of both Danzig and the current resurgence of horror-punk-metal as it stands today. Whether you've been frothing at the mouth for your Samhain tapes to be replaced on a digital format, or are quizzically reading along, wondering who Samhain is, this rash of reissues has been a long time coming.
As the last track on Initium, "Archangel", finishes cycling in your CD player, it becomes quite apparent that Glenn Danzig has fully recognized the power of his voice, bellowing out line after line of the borderline heretical lyrics that pioneered a new level of offensive imagery for the moral majority. Along with drummer-gone-bassist Eerie Von and skin-pounder Steve Zing, Danzig releases a brilliant burst of gloom rock that relies more heavily on his early punk roots than the speedy hardcore with which The Misfits ended their career. "Black Dream" is still one of my favorites, as its midtempo punk and cavernous vocal mix turns every listening day into Halloween. The epic "He-Who-Can-Not-Be-Named" not only gives Dwarves fans a historical perspective on that band's enigmatic guitarist, but also gives Danzig leave to hammer his disconcerting lyrics through your bony skull with a musical awl -- and there's absolutely no anesthaesia in sight.
Unholy Passion is perhaps Samhain's least-known release. Maybe the raucous cover image -- a busty, bush-baring succubus -- kept this six song EP off the record shelves when it was released in 1985. In addition to its standard Misfits cover ("All Hell"), Unholy Passion has a strong metal sound, particularly when compared to contemporary metal recordings. Thick and thundering bass lines go hand in hand with Danzig's reverb-soaked vocals, leading to another step in horrific punk. The dark, fear-inspiring howls on "Misery Tomb" are perfectly accented by the menacing production, showcasing Danzig's fear-inspiring vocals.
One of the most memorable record covers I stumbled across in the '80s was November-Coming-Fire. The noticeably improved production and addition of London May's superb drumming bring Samhain to a transitional state, midway between the early horror-punk days and '90s crossover metal. "Mother of Mercy" lets loose a maelstrom of group vocals -- a barely containable form of musical chaos. "Let the Day Begin" sloughs off the horror-rock and takes aim at organized religion, embedding Samhain's pagan seed in many an unsuspecting music connoisseur's subconscious. "To Walk the Night" contains particularly powerful atmospheric elements, including the gripping pregnant pauses and swelling guitar crashes that Danzig would reuse later in the '90s. His melodramatic snarls are downright theatrical, dominating the stage without shunning the thick-skinned rhythms and leathery guitar parts that make this album a true classic.
Rounding out the Samhain era is a compilation of sorts, Final Descent. Part of this nine song CD points directly towards Danzig's evolution into his current being, steadfastly bellowing punk commandments from his recording throne as inflected notes and auspicious lines of paganism saturate the area. Many of the other tunes retain the sinister demon-speed of Unholy Passion. A few tracks, like "Possession" and "Twist of Cain", will be quite familiar to Danzig fanatics, as these unostentatious versions are the mature beginnings of something truly awesome. In particular, "Twist of Cain's" mix is left unkempt, giving it a raw edge that's missed on Danzig's latter-day remake. Intended more for avid collectors than casual fans, Final Descent nonetheless boasts some impressive wares, showcasing the end of the Samhain era and the birth of something just as fiendish.
Finally, there's some hard physical evidence to support the claim that Marilyn Manson ain't the first to scare the shit out of the world's parents. Rather, he's just borrowing -- blatantly -- from the Samhain phenomenon, which placed blood-soaked faces, devil-locks and truly unsettling gloomy punk epics into many a disenchanted listener's mind for the first time. Some music should never fall victim to being deleted from a master catalog. Thankfully, though they did it via corporate-style wrangling rather than unholy rituals, E-Magine has resurrected Samhain's recordings -- to the gibbering delight of any ardent Danzig fanatic or evil-incensed being.