A seasonal tribute to Glenn Danzig’s darkest album.
Words by Sean Wright (@stainedglassrevelation):
1997. A younger version of myself is flipping througgh the pages of Metal Maniacs and I come across a ‘retro review’ article about Samhain, the band that bridged the gap between Glenn Danzig’s horror punk icons The Misfits and his highly successful solo career. Up until this particular point, I had never heard of Samhain prior (I was 14-ish at the time), but all I knew was what the article told me and the two stock photos they used for the article: one was the image of their album cover of their 1986 album November-Coming-Fire, and the other an image of vocalist Glenn Danzig and bassist Eerie Von. Glenn Danzig was still with the mop-devilock he and Jerry Only copyrighted in the halcyon of The Misfits and Eerie Von was dressed up in ghoulish make-up and looking like a punk vampire. The article discussed the short history of the band and the reissue of Samhain’s discography. Mind you, this was still fresh off the recent Misfits boxset that had just been released at the time, so this wasn’t just a retro-based review but also a head’s-up. Well, that head’s up lasted for roughly 3 or 4 years. The Samhain boxset was announced yet it spent some time in promotional/legal hell due to ownership rights to the band’s discography. It was 4 years of me waiting and bugging the shit out of the owners of Woodpecker Records in Lakeland, Fl. I was literally asking them every other weekend if there was a release date, until finally, I was told, “YES! THERE IS A RELEASE DATE!”, as in the record store manager finally telling me to shut the fuck up and stop pestering him. When they finally got copies of the box set in stock, I was the first person there that crisp Saturday fall morning and upon paying for the boxset that I had saved my money for, I immediately took the city bus home, ran upstairs to my room, opened it up, and proceeded to put on November-Coming-Fire. It soon became one of those defining albums in high school that wormed its way into my brain and has since become a seasonal album for me to listen to.
November-Coming-Fire is by far Danzig’s darkest offering in his entire career. Even moments of his solo act doesn’t even come close. Misfits? Nah, too upbeat. Samhain bridged the gap and that bridge was this weird fucking satanic amaglamation of deathrock, metal, punk, and goth rock. Hell, I’ve read over the years where some people say there are moments of hardcore-punk in it. I wouldn’t disagree, but again it’s hard to compare Samhain to anyone from that particular generation of bands simply because nobody sounded like them. Samhain were on their own weird wavelength. Remember that the lines between all genres of metal, punk, hardcore, and goth music were drawn in the sand. Metal bands were on the spooky side of music from the get-go, so that was no secret. Only a couple of bands from the hardcore punk side were even remotely brave enough to start erasing those lines, notably Die Kreuzen with their October File (1986) album and T.S.O.L. up until their Beneath The Shadows (1982) LP. But to go full on occult-driven? That was never done before. Samhain legit represented the worship of the
fall equinox: bonfires, shadows, sacrifices, veils and all. The music again was dark as shit and still is to this very day.
November-Coming-Fire opens up with a tribal dance-like instrumental called Diabolus ‘88 that sounds like it belonged in a goth club where the air smells like patchouli and clove cigarettes. In My Grip is straight punk fury that just drives home Glenn’s intentions with the band. Mother Of Mercy is a Sabbath-stomp heavy rocker that has one of the most memorable lyric lines ever: "We all want our time in hell". The song after that, Birthright, keeps the listener twisting and turning with more spooky sounds, that being of tubular bells in the background. To Walk The Night slows down to a gothic crawl that picks up the tempo about a half step and feels like an ode to a blood-sucking creature of the undead stalking an unsuspecting victim in some park on a cool crisp night. Let The Day Begin which sounds like an ode to some sort of pagan cult celebrating the coming of some dark ominous being from time past completely crushing all middle eastern beliefs, is an upbeat track that could have easily been on the 1985 cinematic masterpiece Return of The Living Dead movie soundtrack. Halloween II, which is a re-recording of the Misfits classic, is now more downtuned and demonic-sounding with a powerful reversed latin exorcism of some man possessed by a lycanthropic curse. The title track November’s Fire opens up with dissonant Sonic Youth chords and goes into a chant along chorus both sandwiched between verses that could have easily been influenced by Stigmata Martyr by Bauhaus. Kiss Of Steel is the fastest song on the LP and could have easily been a Misfits song. Unbridled is a galloping track that sounds like about being determined to obtain something and being unrelenting in the pursuit but ultimately never being satisfied. Human Pony Girl, which I’m sure you can use your imagination on this one as far as the lyrical content goes, is a fuzzed-out stomper that just doesn’t let up. Danzig just harrows his vocals off somewhere in the distance and then fades out…
As far as the individual performances go, we’ll start with Glenn Danzig first and foremost. In my opinion, NCF is Glenn Danzig as his most possessed. In The Misfits, he was basically the teenager nerding out to horror movies and jumping around in hyperactivity. His solo albums saw him fully matured into a crooning Jim Morrison/Elvis-inspired pint-sized icon that became another living example of how a lot of the original punk musicians were able to evolve past punk’s narrow-minded definition of music. Perfect examples of this transition would also include Henry Rollins going from Black Flag to Rollins Band, Johnny Rotten going from Sex Pistols to Public Image Limited, even Billy Idol going from Generation X to being an 80’s Pop Icon (just to name a few). Glenn Danzig also provides keyboards and drums on five of the tracks, giving Samhain more atmosphere than he started to do as far back as The Misfits Cough/Cool (1977) 7 inch release. Eerie Von being the bassist provides the necessary bottom-end heaviness that gives the album the Sabbath-heavy feel to it, which he would continue to do so with Danzig in the coming years. Guitarist Pete “Damien” Marshall is doing some really challenging guitar work for NCF. He has an ability to twist and turn through so many different styles and chord changes. What shocks me the most is how very overlooked of a performance he gives here. Then we come to drummer London May, who provides some of the most hard-driving drumming style switching from tribal dance beats, backwards post-punk to straight-up full throttle hardcore blasts. Of course Danzig and Eerie Von were the only two to continue to work together into Danzig’s solo stuff, but that being said, both Marshall and May’s contributions and performances on NCF do not go unnoticed nor are they not remembered. Hell without them, NCF would not have been anywhere close to what it sounds like. Unfortunately for fans such as myself, this cult classic of an album has long been out of print. The last legit pressing of NCF was part of the discography in that sweet-ass boxset, but that was back in 2000. Neill Jameson of USBM Krieg and writer at Decibel Magazine just wrote an article about Samhain. I myself, like him and hundreds and thousands of others, have been begging for a proper re-issue of Samhain’s discography since then.
The Misfits were one of campy, even gallows humor at times. Samhain was Danzig obviously going in a much darker direction, stripping away the somewhat cartoon-ish and ‘fun’ image of the Misfits. Danzig hit not just a creative, but experimental zenith that even at his most commercially successful peak in the 90’s was never able to duplicate. Yeah, one could argue that his solo albums were more straight-forward, intelligent, sleek, and masterfully produced, and yes I am a fan of those as well, but Samhain was Danzig at his rawest and visually most honest. Even bassist Eerie Von himself partook in the theatrical metamorphosis that Danzig laid down with the Misfits. What Danzig and Eerie Von were doing with Samhain, Christ, is still being felt and heard. I felt it when I first heard November-Coming-Fire as a teenager, and now as a father and husband...I still feel it. I feel it every year when that first cool front comes thru and the leaves start changing colors, the days get shorter, and the nights grow longer. Most people have seasonal albums they listen to at specific times of the year. Samhain’s November Coming Fire is my autumn/fall album. It’s an album that has meant a lot to me and is forever the best album to represent the beloved spooky season.