Samhain is a little known band that existed for only a short while from 1983 to 1987 but a band that I am quite fond of. Samhain is the Glenn Danzig fronted band that was formed after the demise of The Misfits and would eventually be signed to the Def American label and become Danzig. In its brief existance, Samhain put out two full length albums and one EP. A final LP, Final Descent, would be released posthumously in 1990. Even including that last album, the entire Samhain catalog can be listened to in under a couple of hours.
A lot of casual fans of either The Misfits or Danzig, myself included at one time, were not even aware of the existence of Samhain. Samhain was never as highly regarded as The Misfits and did not have the means of reaching as broad an audience as Danzig. Like with The Misfits, Samhain played the smallest venues in the country and all of their releases were put out on Glenn Danzig’s Plan 9 label with backing from Caroline Records. The band logically serves as the bridge from The Misfits to Danzig, merging horror, punk, goth, and metal to create its signature sound. There really isn’t another band quite like Samhain, and it served as an outlet for Glenn Danzig to try out new ideas.
Originally, the band was conceived as a side project from The Misfits, but when the The Misfits disbanded in 1983, it became a full-time band. Some of the final Misfits tracks were initially conceived by Danzig as Samhain tracks, specifically, “Death Comes Ripping” and “Bloodfeast.” The first LP, Initium, featured only three full-time members; Danzig, bassist Eerie Von, and drummer Steve Zing. Von was a good friend and classmate of Misfits guitarist Doyle who had often followed the band around and served as their photographer for a number of years. Zing was from Lodi, NJ and grew up in the same neighborhood as a lot of the guys from The Misfits. Lyle Preslar, of Minor Threat, played most of the guitars on Initium and was to be in the band but he split over creative differences.
Initium begins with an effects laden track of the same name that Glenn speaks over announcing his rebirth. It was Glenn signifying on recording the end of his previous band and the start of a new one. Hokey, but effective, it leads immediately into the song “Samhain” which also occupies the slot of track 1 on the CD release. The punk attitude is still present but the image conjured up by the band is noticeably darker. The lyrical content is not much of a step-up from the ghouls and ghost imagery of The Misfits but the delivery is noticeably more serious and dangerous in tone. The album’s cover sports the three main members drenched in blood as if they just emerged from an unholy womb.
The album makes use of ambient sound effects and occasional chimes which give it a gothic quality. Some songs sound like they could have been pulled off by The Misfits, most notably the up-tempo and kind of silly “All Murder, All Guts, All Fun” or the catchy “He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named.” One track, “Horror Biz,” is a remake of The Misfits classic “Horror Business.” Its main difference from the original is the more aggressive drum track laid down by Zing and a more methodical vocal delivery by Danzig. Where Samhain separates itself from its predecessor is with moody tracks like “The Howl” or the engaging closer “Archangel.” “The Howl” creates a mood of unease as it tells its tale of murder in a cliche house on a hill. “Archangel” contains two bass tracks and the only thing resembling a guitar solo on the record. It’s mid-tempo and easily the album’s brightest (or darkest) moment. It is also noteworthy for being one of the only songs Glenn Danzig breaks out his guitar for on stage, freeing up the other guitarist to play the additional bass track.
After Initium, Pete Marshall would be added as the permanent guitar player. Marshall would take the stage name of Damien for his tenure with Samhain and played on the follow-up EP, Unholy Passion. The original release of Unholy Passion contained only four new songs and included another Misfits remake, this time “All Breaks Loose” would be re-recorded and re-titled “All Hell.” The new tracks picked up where Initium left off and continued to explore a more goth-infused brand of punk rock. It’s almost a toss-up over which song is the standout track, the death-laden groove punk title track or the roller coaster closer “I Am Misery.” The latter contains some of Glenn Danzig’s more imaginative lyrics as he, as the title implies, takes on the personification of misery. Subsequent versions of the EP would be released alongside an additional track, titled “Misery Tomb” which just contained the wails and some of the ambient noise from “I Am Misery” remixed with the song’s bass track. The CD version of Initium would also be re-released in 1987 with the Unholy Passion EP added on, but with over-dubbed guitars by Glenn (presumably to avoid having to pay Damien royalties). The first release of Final Descent would also contain the Unholy Passion tracks tacked on. Even though the EP runs just a little over 15 minutes, it may be start to finish my favorite Samhain release. For me, this is where the Samhain sound was perfected and would carry over into the following release. Though if quantity plays a role in defining my favorite Samhain album, then the third Samhain release would take the crown.
Samhain III – November-Coming-Fire was released in 1986. It was the band’s second full length album and is probably their most popular. For this release the band welcomed a new drummer, London May formerly of Reptile House, who helped to refine the Samhain sound. There’s lots of reverb throughout the record along with a steady stream of background “fuzz” which helps give the album a great deal of character. Stylistically, it is not too different from the previous EP though it does contain more variety. Some of Samhain’s fastest tracks, as well as its slowest, appear on this record which clocks in at just under 29 minutes. It contains yet another Misfits remake, this time “Halloween II,” which takes the old experimental track and turns it into a fully realized song. The guitar is crunchy and the pace almost takes on a slow gallop. It would become a crowd pleaser even into the Danzig years.
Some other standouts include the aggressive first song (second track following the instrumental intro) “In My Grip” and the rollicking “November’s Fire.” The most popular track may be “Mother of Mercy” thanks to the band Metallica who included it on their version of Guitar Hero a couple of years ago. My personal favorite moment for the album is the ballad-like “To Walk the Night” which carries over into the up-tempo “Let the Day Begin,” the latter features probably the album’s catchiest chorus.
It was after “November-Coming-Fire” that Glenn Danzig signed onto a major label and Samhain became the band Danzig. Glenn was able to retain Eerie Von as his bass player but Rubin, wanting to create some sort of a supergroup, paired the two with drummer Chuck Biscuits. John Christ would eventually be added as the guitar player and ended up playing on Samhain’s last LP, Final Descent. Biscuits also contributed drums for one track, “Death…In Its Arms” for that release while a drum machine was used for the rest. Final Descent was released on CD in 1990 and showed off a more metallic edge with some influences from the blues genre. The track “Descent” is a powerful opener that shows off the heavier sound while the previously mentioned “Death…In Its Arms” is more of a plodder with a groove reminiscent of later Danzig works.
In 2000 the long-awaited Samhain Box Set was release by E-Magine Records on Danzig’s own evilive label. For that release Final Descent received additional tracks including early arrangements for the Danzig songs “Twist of Cain” and “Possession,” as well as an earlier version of the band’s Elvis cover song “Trouble.” They were joined by a second version of “Lords of the Left Hand” which was much faster than the previous one. A live album was also added as a fifth CD and contained nearly an hour’s worth of material from 1985-1986. Some bootlegs were also rounded up and mashed together onto a VHS which features a few songs from the band’s final performance as Samhain.
Samhain burned bright during its brief existence and created a memorable catalog of music. It clearly was a transition period both musically and in general for the band’s members. Some of that sense of creativity and experimentation was lost when the band became Danzig so it’s no telling where Samhain would have ended had it not been for the influence of Rick Rubin. Rubin of course would end up overseeing some great records put out by Danzig so it isn’t as if it was a bad thing the direction of the band was interrupted, merely something to ponder. When Danzig left the American label for Hollywood Records to put out Danzig 5 – Blackacidevil, he was quoted as saying this is where he thought Samhain was progressing to. I am not sure I completely agree with him there as I think some of the motivation for that statement was to calm the masses over Danzig’s new industrial sound. I think it is fair to assume that Samhain would have continued exploring other effects and sounds but I’m not convinced the band was heading in so drastic a direction. I’m quite thankful for the internet and the E-Magine releases of the Samhain albums as it allowed me to get acquainted with this interesting and often overlooked band. I suppose The Misfits were more accessible for fans, but I find the Samhain music more rewarding with the Danzig era stuff being my preference. As I continue to amass old vinyls from Glenn Danzig’s past, I’ve gone back to Samhain and I think I’ll continue to do so off and on for the rest of my days.