Black Totem
II: Shapeshifting

Oh fuck yeah. This is fun.

Long before Glenn Danzig became the ill-advisedly shirtless butt of countless metal memes and jokes, the man was responsible for at least 3 excellent albums of darkened blues-meets-rock/metal before things started getting a little… wonky. It’s easy to poke fun at the guy now, but Danzig I-III are goddamn classics and I won’t have you telling me otherwise. DON’T @ ME.

Which is why it’s been so disheartening to see Danzig reach the depths ranging from tired and uninspired (Danzig IV), to downright fucking cringy (2020’s Danzig Sings Elvis… god, just… why?) and everything in-between since his initial solo-career success. There were a few releases sprinkled here and there that showed glimpses of inspiration or past glories, but for the most part, it’s been pretty bleak.

So if I can’t get the real thing back again, maybe the next best thing is to find the best possible imitation, and just like Gruesome is doing the world a solid and giving us more Death 20 years after Chuck Schuldiner departed for Valhalla, Finland’s Black Totem is more than up to the task of giving the world more classic Danzig 20ish years after the band stopped releasing anything I really give a shit about.

And the imitation is nearly spotless. Blackened, bluesy filth just permeates the whole thing, complete with just enough outrageous, overzealous crooning that made Danzig himself so ridiculous, yet somehow so endearing in his glory years. I feel wrong not having a cigarette hanging out of my mouth and a bottle of jack in hand listening to II: Shapeshifting. While things get off to a slightly more upbeat start than anything from Danzig’s early work, the overall tone and feel of first track “Begone Vampire” is unmistakable. It’s a raucous, energetic song that kinda bridges the gap of all things Danzig, including nods to both The Misfits and Samhain before breaking things down into straight-up dirty blues rock on the back half of the song. It’s a super-fun start to the album and leads nicely into follow-up “The Devil” which is just pure OG devil-blues Danzig. I like the vocal interplay between lead vocalist and guitarist “Spit Poison” and bassist “Wera Wolf” – it adds a little bit of extra dynamic to the song and I plays a fairly central theme to the rest of the album.

The middle stretch of the album does add a few extra fun elements to the Danzig love-fest that help to keep things a little less predictable. “Black Nekro Gloves” is a catchy-as-fuck little surf-punk-inspired jaunt that injects a bit of energy back into the mix after a couple more plodding songs, and “Ghoul of Crow Swamp” adds a sludgy, grungy Melvins or Mudhoney vibe that just adds even more to the grit and grime of the whole experience. But after the band is finished meandering through a couple different alternative paths, it’s right back to our favorite New Jersey dark boi with a three-songs stretch of “Backyard Corpse Blues,” “Welcome Lucifer,” and “Warlock,” that would all find themselves perfectly at-home on Danzigs I-III. To further elaborate would just be an exercise in writing for the sake of writing, because if you know those albums, then you know exactly what to expect here.

Look, I never said this was anything special or mind-blowing, right? If you have a special place in your heart for the days before Glenn Danzig was known more for being an Aqua Teen Hunger Force character or getting knocked out in viral Youtube videos – then grab a smoke, open a beer, and settle down with this little gem from Black Totem. It’s a real treat.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
January 28th, 2021


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