The Misfits. A cult horror-punk band so influential, their inspiration can be heard in bands as diverse as Metallica, Guns ‘N’ Roses, and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Their grinning Skull logo is instantly recognisable (even though it was nabbed from a Marilyn Monroe movie, along with the band name), and they even have their own fan club.
The original line-up of the band, arguably the most popular incarnation, featured the ‘Evil-Elvis’ Glenn Danzig on vocal duties. After breaking-up around 1982, The Misfits returned in the mid-nineties with Michale Graves taking over as the band’s front-man. Graves sang on two Misfits records, before band founder and bassist Jerry Only took over, to helm The Misfits’ current manifestation.
It’s Only’s version of The Misfits that is the most derided. A lot of the long-term fans of the band refuse to accept him as a vocalist, partly because of certain inter-band relations over the years that have sparked feuds, and partly because the most recent album by The Misfits is far-removed from the edgy, harsh original sound that made their name. That album is The Devil’s Rain, and I rather like it.
The Devil’s Rain is the first full-length, original Misfits album in a Hell of a long time. After Graves was booted from the line-up, and Only took over as singer as well as bassist, the band released a rather good covers album of 1950’s rock’n’roll songs, and then a two-track single in 2009 about zombies, before finally unleashing The Devil’s Rain upon the world. This new album lacks the raw, ugly aggression of the Danzig era, or the confrontational punk-metal of the Graves era, instead opting for a heavy-sounding rockabilly record. Apart from a few growling instances here and there, Only croons rather than screams, and there’s a lack of swearing and overly-violent themes in the lyrics. This is an album more about the music itself than the shock value; an album that is proud to feature all of the horror hallmarks we’ve come to love from these guys, but with a new level of musicianship and polish rarely heard before.
The opening track, also the title-track, is a mid-paced, melodic rocker. It’s absolutely the right choice for an album opener, drawing the listener in with thunderstorm sound-effects and the hypnotic beating of the drums, slowly rising in tempo. Then the riff kicks in and we’re off! It’s a ridiculously catchy song, the lyrics no doubt inspired by the Shatner-starring horror film of the same name, and it’s virtually impossible not to sing along to the chorus. We get a lovely guitar solo, courtesy of Dez Cadena, whose playing on this album is top notch, and a pounding and rhythmic drum beat from Eric Arce that drives the whole song. In the past, Misfits albums have tended to launch straight in with fast-paced, aggressive anthems. This is something different, and while those pining for another ‘Walk Among Us’ or ‘Attitude’ will be left disappointed, everybody else can appreciate the atmosphere this tune inspires.
Track two, the stomping ‘Vivid Red’, brings the aggression. Both this and the speedy ‘The Black Hole’ wouldn’t seem out of place on the band’s American Psycho or Famous Monsters albums, albeit much smoother sounding. These two songs are separated by re-recordings of the 2009 EP Land of the Dead. ‘Land of the Dead’ and ‘Twilight of the Dead’ are incredibly catchy sing-along zombie anthems, and Only hollars with fiendish delight, clearly relishing the subject matter. I must admit though, I do prefer the original version of ‘Twilight of the Dead’, but that’s just personal opinion, and nothing to do with the quality of the re-recording.
The record rattles on brilliantly from here, with ‘Cold in Hell’, ‘Unexplained’, and ‘Curse of the Mummy’s Hand’ continuing the trend of heavy rock’n’roll anthems. Cadena really shows off his technical prowess here, with some insanely catchy riffs and nice solo work that really is something new for The Misfits. ‘Dark Shadows’ and ‘Father’ follow, and despite the subject matter, both tracks manage to feel fresh and original, even though vampires have been done to death in recent years.
‘Jack The Ripper’ is perhaps the most heavy metal-sounding song on the album. The screeching guitars, Arce’s pounding drum-beat, and Only’s snarling vocals combine to invoke the sounds of early Motorhead, with a Misfits twist of course. It’s New Wave of British Heavy Metal, only done by a New Jersey horror punk band!
‘Monkey’s Paw’ slows the pace, with a 1950’s style that is more likely to have you swaying your arms than banging your head. It’s a catchy little ditty, and the lyrics are chilling without hammering home the grisly details of the theme. Similarly, the brilliant ‘Where Do They Go?’ manages to be a love-song about a man who’s lost his wife, subtly referencing the Juarez femicides without delving too much into the true nature of these real-life horrors. Taking something nasty and making it sound upbeat is pure Misfits!
Of the last three songs on The Devil’s Rain, ‘Sleepwalkin” is a slow, catchy number building up to a crescendo, while album closer ‘Death Ray’ is a fantastic, hammering sci-fi thrasher – aggressive and frantic, a perfect way to end the record. And sandwiched in between these is the mighty ‘The Ghost of Frankenstein’, a song that has wormed its way into my heart to become one of my all-time favourites. Inspired by the film of the same name, it’s a pacy song, full of atmosphere, with some absolutely superb lyrics. Catchy, haunting, atmospheric – this is a perfect example of just how good The Misfits are when at their absolute best.
This might be a controversial statement, but I can say that The Devil’s Rain is my favourite Misfits album. A ghoulish selection of heavy songs about horror films, brought to life by a trio of musicians at the top of their game, this is everything you need for a Halloween party. Although it is a far cry from how the band used to sound, if you approach The Devil’s Rain with an open mind, you just might be surprised…..
The Ghost of Frankenstein
Land of the Dead
Where Do They Go?
The Monkey’s Paw