October 30th, 2011 | Published in TCS Reviews
This is not your father’s Misfits.
The first incarnation of the seminal Lodi, New Jersey band only lasted six years—but left an enduring impression. Formed in the late 70s by comic book buff Glenn Danzig and high school footballer Jerry Only, the upstarts combined their loves of rock and roll and campy, B-movie culture into a potent, ghoulishly original punk mix. Their live shows were legendary, what with the well-muscled musicians tearing through incendiary sets of mini-masterpieces like “Astro Zombies,” “Skulls,” and “Nike a Go-Go” at breakneck pace, all while sporting “devil lock” hairstyles, face paint, spiked leather, and confrontational Danzig calling out any fans (or bouncers) who dared interrupt his flow.
When The Misfits called it quits in ’86, bassist Jerry teamed with his imposing guitarist brother Doyle in the short-lived Kryst the Conqueror. Meanwhile, superficially satanic Danzig pursued darker musical visions with Samhain and flirted with rock godliness in his own Rick Rubin-produced blues-metal band. But grunge took hold by the early nineties; Danzig and other head-bangers began repeating themselves, driving kids elsewhere for new voices of vitriol. Those iconic “Fiend” skull patches on a classmate’s backpacks and denim jackets only harkened punk’s past glories.
So Only and Doyle resurrected The Misfits in ’94, tapping vocalist Michale Graves and demonic drummer “Dr. Chud” to knock out the band’s first album of new material in a decade, American Psycho. Follow-up Famous Monsters furthered the band’s M.O. of meshing movie monsters, sci-fi mythology, and Hollywood folklore with infectious power-punk. Some old-school fans cried foul, longing for a return to Glenn’s menacing swagger and Jim Morrison-meets-Elvis Presley delivery—but Danzig made it clear he wasn’t coming back. Open-minded listeners embraced the updated Misfits look and sound, glad the group existed again in any iteration. Younger fiends who’d missed the first go-around were finally able to witness the band live in concert.
Fast-forward another ten years, and Jerry—living up to his surname—found himself the sole remaining Misfit. Graves and Chud were gone. Brother Doyle got semi-domesticated, forming hardcore band Gorgeous Frankenstein with his wife. Undaunted, Only sallied forth with Black Flag alumni Robo (drums) and Dez Cadena (guitar). Project: 1950 saw the guys loosing up on covers of old-school classics like “This Magic Moment,” “Dream Lover,” and “Oh, Donna,” with Only making his debut as the ‘Fits primary vocalist.
Now the gruesome threesome is back with its first disc of new material since 1999.
Coproduced with Ed Stasium (Ramones, Smithereens), Devil’s Rain is a rocking return to form for Only, who once again mined his favorite fright flicks for lyrical fodder. The title track borrows from an obscure, goofy 1975 joint wherein William Shatner and Tom Skerritt battle a bloodthirsty cult lead by Ernest Borgnine. Its director—Robert Fuest—previously helmed the Vincent Price revenge picture The Abominable Dr. Phibes, which was already subjected to a Misfits musical interpretation. The album’s magnificent cover illustration (by Marvel Comics zombie artist Arthur Suydam) is likewise a play on the Fuest film; The Misfits’ black-robed “Fiend” mascot is shown cackling at soon-to-be victims in a desert downpour. The tune itself opens with the sound of a thunderstorm (and—on closer scrutiny—wind chimes), which yields only to new drummer Eric “Chupacabra” Arce’s brutal beat and Cadena’s delightfully distorted guitar chords. Only’s throbbing bass and verses about an evil coven leader’s book with “names written in blood” bring us back to the macabre musical matinees Fiend Club members know and love.
Inspired by entries in George R. Romero’s zombie movie franchise, “Land of the Dead” and “Twilight of the Dead” are re-workings of scorching singles released on iTunes and 7” vinyl back in 2008. “Black Hole” could well be a reference to the dark Disney sci-fi flick from 1979, with its lines about astronauts exploring an alternate dimension. “Curse of the Mummy’s Hand” may refer to one or more of the many Mummy movies issued Universal Studios 1932-1944 (and their sequels). The theme of greedy archeologists plundering sarcophagi in search of ancient treasure is as old as the Egyptian pyramids themselves—but the mummy mythos is revitalized when bandaged in measures of slashing guitar and overdriven bass. Similarly, “Ghost of Frankenstein” references an old Lon Chaney / Bela Lugosi wherein our favorite cobbled corpse again terrorizes villagers. The song even features simulated orchestral strings and guttural grunts from the monster himself to round out the cinematic experience.
Derived from a short horror story by English author W.W. Jacobs, “Monkey’s Paw,” portrays a family of fools who “dream of heaven” but “live in hell” after casting spells with a cursed talisman. Only contemplates alien abductions, UFOs, and haunted shipwrecks on “Unexplained,” then pounds another stake into vampire lore with “Father.” The detectives at Scotland Yard are repeatedly duped by the notorious Whitechapel serial killer in “Jack the Ripper,” whose repeated Where ya gonna go / What ‘cha gonna do refrain bounces nicely over Dez’ relentless rhythm guitar.
Perhaps the odd number among Devil’s sixteen is “Where Do They Go?” because it concerns literal rather than literary monsters—the drug lords responsible for human trafficking in the border town of Juarez. Only’s narrator bemoans the disappearance of his beloved, trying to overcome the guilt he feels for not thwarting the abduction. Heavy stuff indeed, by Misfits standards, but the layered, Ronnettes-esque female background vocals and handclaps help temper the serious tone.
Jerry’s barrel-chested bellow owes more to the melodic doo-wop of the Fifties and sardonic punk / New Wave of the early Eighties than to neo-metal screamers of the Nineties and Naughties. He doesn’t have Danzig’s snarl or cynicism—but then again he isn’t trying to evoke the former ‘Fit. Only’s voice is more Ben E. King and Bobby Darin than Beelzebub, and it’s augmented nicely here by hook-laden harmonies and—in a drastic move for the Misfits—a few extended guitar solos by Dez. Devil’s Rain is neither as noisy or multi-textured as Psycho or Monsters, nor are its songs as barren (or brief) as those on Static Age or Walk Among Us. Rather, the new material has roots in both wicked worlds, making for an exciting entry in the Misfits canon.