This article originally appeared in VultureHound Magazine #12. You can read it, on all devices, here.
There are some things in life I’m sure of; Glenn Danzig will never be a guest presenter on BBC’s Songs of Praise, and Jerry Only will never become any kind of wrestling world champion. Up until May of this year there was a third item on this (rather contrived) list – ‘Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only will never again perform on stage as the Misfits‘…
…Then Riot Fest came along. The festival who got punk icons The Replacements and Articles of Faith back together, announced its latest reunion exclusive; this years festival will host the return of Danzig, Only and Doyle as the ‘original’ Misfits, the first time they will have appeared on stage together in over 3o years. Hell has officially frozen over.
Gaining little more than a cult following in the U.S during their original incarnation, the band released just two albums before their split in 1983; Walk Among Us (1982) and Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood (1983). Original debut LP Static Age didn’t get its full release until The Misfits Box Set arrived in 1996, (while 1980’s 12 Hits From Hell will probably never see the light of day). In the years since, Danzig successfully went solo while Jerry picked up the Misfits name, continuing the band with varying degrees of success. After the master-stroke recruitment of a then 19 year old Michale Graves as the band’s new lead singer, Jerry and the ‘new’ Misfits went on to release American Psycho in 1997 and Famous Monsters in 1999.
The success of the Graves-era Misfits saw a whole new generation of fans not only devouring the Misfits mkII’s penchant for sing-a-long horror movie inspired punk, but introduced them to the work of one of the seminal cult bands of the late 70’s and early 80’s. However, despite the success of the band’s resurrection, Graves quit in 2000, leaving Only to plough on in his quest to turn the Misfits band into the Misfits brand. At this point, seemingly more interested in selling action figures, mouse mats, shoe laces, shower curtains, and even baby accessories (though I’m still awaiting a Misfits branded toaster which will brand the Crimson Ghost™ logo into my toast), Jerry Only’s protein powder powered Misfits had become a bit of a joke. It seems the band were good for just one credible re-birth.
Mommy, can I go out and spent a shit load of cash on a bunch of Misfits merch?
Next came the pointless (but somewhat charming) release of Project 1950 in 2003, and the terrible The Devil’s Rain in 2011, as Jerry continued to make the most out of his ‘Toy Town’ empire. Even the recent Static Age anniversary tour, in support of an ever increasingly cluttered merchandise stand, while fun and not without some nostalgic value, felt like a non-event. Not even the devil himself, Glenn Danzig could stop Jerry’s alleged abuse of the Misfits brand, losing a court case in 2014 in which he claimed Only had been misappropriating exclusive ownership of the Misfits name and now iconic Crimson Ghost™ logo. It wasn’t the first time the former band mates had been in court either, after years before fighting it out over royalty payments for the hand full of post-break up records which emerged following Danzig’s solo success. This resulted in Only being allowed to continue performing as the Misfits, while sharing all merchandising rights with Danzig.
So something needed to happen to undo the multitude of past wrongs and restore some credibility to the Misfits name. Well, that something did happen. Back in January of this year, during yet another meeting of ex-band mates and lawyers, Glenn and Jerry walked out of that meeting having agreed to perform together again. Fuck knows how it happened, but who really cares? By money, miracle or black magic, in a few months time the original Misfits will be on stage, together again. And Vulture Hound can’t help but feel a little bit excited.
So what better way to show our excitement than to bring you a delightful retrospective. 30 years and 7 studio albums full of blood, anger, regret and a thousand mint condition Jerry Only action figures…
Walk Among Us (1982)
Well isn’t Walk Among Us nice?
Yes it’s fucking nice. It’s fucking wonderful. It was the bands first official release, after the failed attempts to complete earlier albums Static Age and 12 Hits From Hell. They had already been going six years, tirelessly performing and recording EP’s whilst holding down day jobs. Those six years gave Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only time to refine the sound that would become known as the Misfits staple. Gone were the earlier experiments with keyboards and slower tempos. The band consisted of a classic rock four piece – vocals, guitar, bass and drums. Everything on Walk Among Us is cranked up to ten with machine gun rapidity the name of the game.
‘Vampira’ comes and goes before you have time to realise what exactly just happened. Danzig’s one man gang vocal howling up and down throughout. Incidentally, many have tried but never succeeded in matching Misfits gang vocals. Tracks like ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’, ‘I Tuned Into A Martain’ and ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ showing that no one quite “Ooooohhhh-oooohhhhh-ooooohhhh”‘s like them. ‘Hatebreeders’ sounds like some kind of proto-stadium-punk. You can hear elements of early rock n’ roll and even glam rock on Doyle’s guitar work. ‘Astro Zombies’ and ‘Skulls’ sees Danzig croon his way through two of the ‘original’ Misfits’ most infectious tracks ever, while ‘Braineaters’ closes the album with some kind of deranged pub sing-a-long.
Filled with the b-movie horror references they would return to throughout their 30 plus years, Walk Among Us is thirteen tracks of 50’s and 60’s inspired rock ‘n’ roll, re-animated and unleashed with a punk blood lust. (Words: Michael Dickinson)
Earth AD/Wolfs Blood (1983)
In the words of Dethkolk’s Danzig-a-like front man Nathan Explosion; “That’s Brutal”…
Ferocious, violent and oh so brutal, Earth A.D ditches the melodic sentiments of Walk Among Us in favour of a full on thrash metal assault. But just like its predecessor, it flies by in the blink of a gouged out eye.
Danzig doesn’t croon, he violently rants, firing off line after line of increasingly brutal lyrics, all the time keeping speed with the barrage of hardcore drums and guitars. Want a map pointing towards the birth of speed/thrash metal bands like Slayer? Just stick a pin in ‘Earth A.D’, ‘Devilock’, ‘Demonomania’ and ‘Green Hell’, tracks that relentlessly chug along, driven by the guitar work of Doyle and Black Flag’s Robo on drums. If anything Jerry Only’s bass gets lost, just subtly complimenting the breakneck velocity of everything else going on around it. Tracks like ‘Bloodfeast’ and ‘Queen Wasp’ and album highlight ‘Death Comes Ripping’ bring back the catchy gang vocals of Walk Among Us, with Danzig mixing up the brutal with the melodic.
First released as a nine track album, it was boosted to twelve with the additions of three Die, Die My Darling EP tracks; ‘We Bite’, ‘Die, Die My Darling’ and Mommy Can I Go Out And Kill Tonight?’ (which previously appeared on Walk Among Us as a live track). It’s a bit of a window in to the song writing process at the time, each track fitting perfectly into the band’s much harsher approach, with ‘Die, Die My Darling’, along side ‘Last Caress’, becoming the Misfits most iconic track. It’s also an album whose direction Danzig would continue along with new band Samhain and in his later solo career. For the Misfits, however, things would never be this brutal again.
Static Age (Recorded: 1978 / Released: 1997)
In 1997, nearly 20 years after it was initially intended for release, Static Age becomes available, in full, for the first time.
At this point most of the tracks were pretty well known and among the most popular in the Misfits cannon. This was thanks to their appearance on compilations which became available shortly after the bands break up, such as like Legacy of Brutality, Misfits (Collection I), and later on with Collection II. In a way Static Age is like a greatest hit’s compilation, but that’s no bad thing when you take a look at the track listing; ‘Bullet’, ‘Hollywood Babylon’, ‘Last Caress’, ‘Hybrid Moments’, ‘Some Kinda Hate’, ‘Static Age’, ‘We Are 138’, in fact there is not a single weak moment or a track that doesn’t stand out as a Misfits ‘classic’. Would it have been like this without the familiarity gained from the compilation albums that came before? Probably, it’s that good. Plus Static Age gives us a glimpse at how these much loved songs were originally intended to be presented, away from the mix-tape arrangement we’re used to when it comes to the ‘original’ Misfits.
Compared to the relentless speed found on Walk Among Us, Static Age has a sleazier and slower edge. With the exception of ‘Bullet’, it never really wants to break any kind of speed limit, instead it stomps along with snarling rock ‘n’ roll attitude. It’s an album that makes you appreciate how essential Jerry Only’s bass lines were in establishing that attitude so associated with the ‘orginal’ Misfits. Along side Danzig’s unique croon-o-shout, Static Age reminds you what an awesome team Glenn and Jerry were.
American Psycho (1997)
Misfits MKII make their appearance, with Only and Doyle adding new drummer Dr. Chud and 19 year old unknown Michale Graves. Rather than completely ride on the coat tails of the ‘original’ sound, American Psycho is full on melodic, sing-a-long, horror punk.
The use of the Danzig inspired “Ooooohhhhh-ooooohhhhh’s” is ramped up, while Jerry’s bass lines sound much bigger, accompanied by Doyle’s much more prominent, shredding guitar riffs. Most notable though is Michale Graves. For a kid to step in to the shoes of Glenn Danzig with such a confident vocal performance, shows how perfect a match he and the Misfits were. Although traces of Danzig can be heard in his voice every now and then, during ‘Mars Attacks’ and ‘Day of the Dead’ in particular, Graves’ vocal range is significantly bigger than the former front man’s, allowing for a more melodic approach – and American Psycho is all about that attention grabbing melody. Tracks like ‘Resurrection’, ‘Dig Up Her Bones’, ‘The Haunting’, ‘The Shining’ and ‘Dont Open Til Doomsday’ are all crammed full of fist pumping melodies, while title track ‘American Psycho’ and ‘Speak of the Devil’ go fast and hard.
However, at this point any ambiguity and mystery surrounding the band has vanished, instead hamming up the visceral in both look and campy lyrical content. To some extent it sees the band lose the ‘darkness’ so associated with the Danzig-era, replaced instead with a cartoon-ish gloss.
Famous Monsters (1999)
Famous Monsters probably has an easier job following up American Psycho than American Psycho had following up Glenn Danzig. By this point the ‘new’ Misfits had gone some way to establishing themselves as a whole new entity and, just as the album’s title suggests, the band had now fully embraced the cartoony, merchandise friendly approach.
Musically, Famous Monsters is an American Psycho copy and paste, with a few touch-up’s here and there. It sounds bigger and heavier, yet polished a little too well. The last traces of ‘original’ Misfits lo-fi grit has been hoovered up heavily compressed everything and cliché horror sound effects. Still, it’s a fucking great record. Graves vocals sound more defined, as he rips through the opening three track run of ‘Forbidden Zone’, ‘Lost in Space’ and ‘Dust to Dust’.
Although not as prolific as its predecessor when it comes to delivering catchy melodies, Famous Monsters still has plenty of infiltrating ear-worms. ‘Pumpkin Head’, ‘Hunting Humans’ and ‘Die Monster Die’ all admirable in their attempt at replicating American Psycho’s best sing-a-long moments, while ‘Descending Angel’ proves once and for all that Doyle actually is a guitar god. But this album owes everything to three songs in particular; ‘Scream’, a whooooah-tastic monster, which will forever be the anthem of the ‘new’ Misfits, ‘Fiend Club’, the only song that’s ever come close to matching any of the gang-vocal moments of the Danzig era, and ‘Saturday Night’, the 50’s inspired necromantic ballad, the finest three and a half minutes of Graves’ entire Misfits career.
Project 1950 (2003)
After the departure of Michale Graves, Jerry finally got his hands on the microphone. Front and centre, free of any creative power struggle he could now do what he wanted – he wanted to sing his favourite 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll staples. So along came Project 1950. An album featuring re-worked renditions of Elvis, Bobby Darin, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Drifters, Del Shannon and Bobby Picket.
Now, it’s not like the band hadn’t embraced 1950’s popular culture in the past. In both the era’s of Danzig and Graves, they made reference to a plethora of 50’s B-Movies and pulp sci-fi, even sharing their cover of Bobby Picket’s ‘Monster Mash’ on the post-Danzig demo’s and cover’s compilation Cuts From The Crypt in 2001. But a whole album based around a kitschy/novelty concept of 1950’s covers? It seemed a bit ridiculous – and it was. That’s not to say there’s no value to Project 1950, in fact it was perfectly suited to Jerry’s voice. Maxing out the reverb and multi-layering the vocals had Jerry credibly crooning his way through such ‘classics’ as ‘Latest Flame’, ‘Great Balls of Fire’, ‘Dream Lover’ and ‘This Magic Moment’, although he ducks out on attempting the falsetto that made Del Shannons ‘Runaway’ the hit that it was (probably for the best).
There’s no denying the fun-factor here and it certainly has that unmistakable Misfits sound, with Only’s vocals channelling Danzig more than it does Graves. It also brought new life and attention to some brilliantly written pop songs from the 1950’s. However, novelty and nostalgia only go so far. It’s a record that probably sits more comfortably alongside the Misfits Meet the Nutley Brass lounge tribute than Static Age, Walk Among Us and American Psycho.
The Devil’s Rain (2011)
Their first album of original material in almost 12 years, The Devil’s Rain was horrible. A mess of b-movie and horror clichés, it was the fatter, boring older brother of Famous Monsters. By this point, the cartoon-ish incarnation of the Misfits had long since lost any charm it may have had back in the days of Michale Graves.
The presence of ex-Black Flag guitarist Dez Cadina added some pretty good guitar work, but it just wasn’t enough. Everything on The Devil’s Rain had been done before, and done better. So much better. Jerry Only does his best impression of a Danzig/Graves hybrid, with nothing but a complete indifference. A cold shrug. There’s even a point during the track ‘Twilight of The Dead’ when it sounds like he’s completely given up trying to sing with any kind of melodic consistency. ‘Dark Shadows’ tries so hard to reach the epic sing-a-long gravity of ‘Dig Up Her Bones’ and ‘Don’t Open Till Doomsday’, while ‘Monkey’s Paw’ feels like one classic horror reference too far.
However, by this point you almost feel sorry for Only. Although The Devil’s Rain is far and beyond the worst product to ever carry the Misfits name (give me a Misfits branded nappy changing bag over this crap any day), at least he tried (or appeared to). For such an active band to have gone 12 years without producing any new material, bar the odd single and collaboration, Only had to, sooner or later, produce something. And he did. He did something. This album. This piece of shit…So thats something.
You can catch Glenn Danzig, Jerry Only and Doyle re-living former glories and slaying (the many) demons of the past, this September at Riot Fest: Denver (2nd-4th) and Chicago (16th-18th).