I think it's a pretty safe bet that most of you FEARnet fiends have at least heard of the Misfits in one manifestation or another. Whether you're a lifelong fan, a newcomer or just wondering what's the big deal, this band deserves major props for launching the long-standing genre of horror-themed punk rock three decades ago, and despite a revolving door of lineup changes ever since the 1983 departure of original frontman Glenn Danzig, they've crafted a formula that kept them thriving and kick-started the careers of a thousand different horror bands. Given their hard-rocking themes about classic monsters, sci-fi, horror & vintage exploitation flicks, comics and the like, I can't imagine a better time of year than October to experience the band's new release The Devil's Rain – their first new record of all original material since 1999's Famous Monsters. That said, it's obviously a moral imperative that I give this one a spin and share the results with you. Read on for a review...
Since it's been so long since we last heard new Misfits material, it's only fair that they decided to roll in high style with this project. For starters, they enlisted the production skills of Ed Stasium – who not only worked on Famous Monsters, but also produced the Ramones albums Road to Ruin and Too Tough to Die. They also brought back their iconic mascot "The Fiend," rendering him in all his wicked skeletal glory through the art of Arthur Suydam, best known for his work on the amazing Marvel Zombies comic series. For a final timeless touch, they commissioned celebrity photographer Mick Rock – whose shots of music icons like David Bowie, Debbie Harry and the Ramones have become the stuff of legend – to do a new series of band portraits for the inside of the digipak CD. It all adds up to an impressive package that should drive fans and collectors into a frenzy.
Needless to say, the band's definitely set expectations sky-high with this one, especially since frontman Jerry Only has called the record "a total reboot" of the Misfits legacy: "In a sense, it's the debut album from the legendary Misfits of this decade... and redefines the ferocity and melody that has made the Misfits omnipresent and immortal." Then there's the band's many well-known personnel shakeups: bassist/singer Only is the sole original member of the band, now backed by guitarist Dez Cadena (formerly of punk icons Black Flag) and drummer Eric Arce (aka "Chupacabra"). Still, I swore I'd keep an open mind and take in these sixteen songs on their own merit, and I'm happy (and relieved) to discover that the bulk of these tunes are rock-solid, ballsy, clever and entertaining... which in the end is all that matters. I'm not sure if it totally qualifies as a "reboot" – after all, there's no need to reinvent the wheel here – but it does a decent job of retooling the Misfits brand for a new generation of fiends... which I think was their intention all along.
Musically, the band's no-nonsense, punk-meets-vintage-rock style has not changed too much – in fact, they've managed to bring a bit more punk to the table this time, plus some dark, doomy elements that have more than a little solo Danzig flavor. Only's vocals – which are more melodic here – are decent, but lack some of the angry punch of Famous Monsters. But the trio still serves up their usual smorgasbord of rousing choruses and "whoa-ahh-ohh" chants – check "Vivid Red" for a fine example – over solid twelve-bar blues patterns and just the right touch of metalized riffage: dig the track "Death Ray" for a solid mashup of hardcore and metal rhythm styles, "Sleepwalkin" for a fusion of vintage blues-rock onto a punk framework, and the mosh-worthy entries "Cold in Hell" and "Jack the Ripper."
They've also rounded up a great new batch of song themes that should make horror fans cream their jeans – beginning with the spooky opening/title track, inspired by the '70s satanic cult movie of the same name. If you're a fan of George Romero's Living Dead films (honestly, is there anyone reading this who isn't?), you'll dig the tributes to be found in the songs "Land of the Dead" – the first single, which also boasts the incredible Suydam cover art shown below – and that song's anthemic b-side "Twilight of the Dead." There's also a clever Ramones-style nod to TV's Collins family in "Dark Shadows" and a hard-hitting ode to a Universal classic in "Ghost of Frankenstein." Even when the lyrics aren't busting out trademark homages to our genre heroes, a colorful storytelling lyric style benefits songs like "The Monkey's Paw" (co-written by Jerry and former Ramones producer Daniel Rey) and "Where Do They Go," the latter being an eerie, melancholy '50s-style retelling (complete with female backing vocals) of a real-life murder case.
Even if The Devil's Rain doesn't quite come across as the supernatural rebirth we'd love it to be, I still had a pretty good time with it. Maybe it's just this time of year, but there's still a festive spirit that has survived all the band's career ordeals. Sure, there's plenty of folks out there who just won't listen to any of the band's post-Danzig recordings, but this album isn't really meant for them anyway. Taken as a midnight road trip through zombie country in a high-toned hearse, The Devil's Rain is just about everything it should be; no more, no less. We're talking rock 'n' roll, not rocket science, and there's no need to fix what ain't broke... and thankfully, the band didn't break anything on their own. Some of these tunes might wear out their welcome after October 31st, but until then I'll be spinning 'em quite a few times and enjoying the hell out of myself.