Thursday, June 21, 2012

Flesh on the Bones:

For nearly a decade the future of the Fiend Club lay in doubt. But lo and behold, the corpse rose from its grave to cough up something new, a fresh offering for fiends – the Misfits' newest album, "The Devil’s Rain."
Flesh on the Bones
The Misfits' 'Devil's Rain' / Album Review
June 21
by Chris Homa
Flesh on the Bones
The Misfits' 'Devil's Rain' / Album Review
Released Oct. 4 '11 on Misfits
Words By Chris Homa
For nearly a decade the future of the Fiend Club lay in doubt. Graves had seemingly left and the remains of the Misfits turned to Project 1950, Osaka Popstar and a gag-inducing level of merchandising. The promise of new material slipped further and further into darkness, and most figured the Misfits had finally run their course. But lo and behold, the corpse rose from its grave to cough up something new, a fresh offering for fiends – The Devil’s Rain.

The album marks the dawn of a new era as bassist Jerry Only finally assumes the role of frontman and singer. For those uninitiated with the band, the Misfits began in Lodi, New Jersey in 1977. Fronted by Glenn Danzig, the group pioneered horror punk and released a series of highly influential LP’s, EP’s and singles before disbanding in 1983. After a period of legal trouble concerning royalties and rights, Only reached an agreement with Danzig to continue using the name and image of the band. Michale Graves was brought in as vocalist and the group released two albums to mixed reviews before again disbanding in 2000. Only recruited Marky Ramone and Dez Cadena, and in 2003 released Project 1950, a rock ‘n’ roll cover album.

Until now the Misfits have been mostly dormant, and because Project 1950 only tentatively qualifies as a canonical album (it contains no original material), the band has really been dead for the last eleven years or so. Time breeds anticipation. At least in my case, expectations were high for The Devil’s Rain. Those expectations, however, were promptly met with confusion.

The album opens with the ambient sounds of rain and thunder, a throwback to the intros on Graves-era LP’s. But instead of breaking into fast, punk-style riffing, the titular track brings in moderately-paced drums and a subdued guitar. The Misfits were arguably one of the greatest punk bands under Danzig, and a not-so-bad punk-metal hybrid with Graves, but this song isn’t either. This is hard rock.

Given, the song isn’t bad (nor is it very good), but hearing hard rock on a Misfits album is like finding cheese filling in a hot dog. It’s the kind of thing that makes a person ask, “What the fuck is this doing here?”

Fiends may rest assured that the record isn’t all consumed by the style, but it does find its way into tracks like “Vivid Red” and “Dark Shadows”. In fact, one of the biggest problems with The Devil’s Rain is the inconsistency in style. Instead of ringing with delightful diversity, the album lacks direction as elements of punk, heavy metal and rock ‘n’ roll push past each other to get at the listener.

Still, punk definitely abounds, as do the whoa’s and oh’s that have long been the mainstays of Misfits tracks. Songs like “Land of the Dead” and “Black Hole” fit better into the band’s stylistic history and are standouts on the album. But even listening to the good songs on The Devil’s Rain reveals further let-downs.

First, the band has significantly lost the power that once made it great. No one expects Only to conjure the magical hardcore of Danzig’s time, but songs lack even the drive of Famous Monsters or other Graves releases. The tunes don’t at all sound slow, but against older songs they just don't stand up.

Second, the lyrics have since paled to the point of numbness. This may seem strange as blood, flesh, hell, murder and bodily remains are all discussed. However, compare current fare to old highlights like “Last Caress” or “Dig Up Her Bones” and the change is clear. Danzig sang of infanticide and rape, Graves moaned about disentombing and death-cries, and Only croons regarding ominous occurrences and a B-movie mummy. Part of the Misfits’ lure is indulgence. Sometimes it’s nice to stray into dark and disturbing territory, but for the most part the dark and disturbing have shrunk away.

Oddly, one thing The Devil’s Rain does is make the listener appreciate Graves’ work. Whether he was intended as Danzig’s replacement or not, he and the Misfits produced quality punk records with a driving pace and dark-enough imagery.

For all the flaws, The Devil’s Rain is not a bad album, however. It’s simply mediocre. A fine effort, it has high moments but is ultimately bogged down by a muddling of styles and a few bad tracks. Strange as it may seem, I believe the record would be much better without the title track, “Vivid Red”, “Father”, “Jack the Ripper” and “Ghost of Frankenstein”. Rename it Land of the Dead, after the new premier track.

What’s left is “Black Hole”, a driving two-minute punk piece with a great, collapsing chorus; “The Monkey’s Paw”, a touching and truly sentimental tribute directed at the listener; and “Sleepwalkin’”, arguably the best song on the album. Calling back the old rock ‘n’ roll style of Project 1950, “Sleepwalkin’” builds up an amazing verse with pretty good lyrics as well. Indeed, the roots-rock-inspired songs are all highlights – “Where Do They Go?”, “Dark Shadows”, etc.

The sad thing about The Devil’s Rain is not that it’s mediocre, but rather that this album doesn’t really matter. What’s exciting is what happens next, what direction the band takes. Will they revert to the punk-metal of Famous Monsters, as heard on “Twilight of the Dead”? Will they turn to the newly-introduced hard rocking of “The Devil’s Rain”? Or will they develop the rock ‘n’ roll sound started on Project 1950 and near-perfected in “Sleepwalkin’”?

The reason this album is important is that it proves there’s still flesh on the bones. The Misfits aren’t dead yet, and only fiends may guess where the future lay.
Posted on June 21, 2012


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