Misfits – The Devil’s Rain

Give Jerry Only his due. When he finally reformed the Misfits in 1995 (after a prolonged legal battle), he did it right. Not for him the endless punk nostalgia tours playing the same old songs to the same old fans; instead the resurrected Misfits wasted no time in recording the rather awesome American Psycho album before hitting the road, providing a model that other reunion bands (I’m looking at you, Pixies. And you Dead Kennedys) should follow.

Critically reviled for the pop-punk-metal mishmash of their new sound and their cartoony horror imagery, the all-new Misfits were never given the respect they deserved. Yes, they’d lost the teenage 50s psycho-sexuality of their original incarnation, but American Psycho and Famous Monsters are just plain fun, something which sour-faced self-proclaimed arbiters of punk lost no time in denouncing as Evil and Wrong.

Well fuck ‘em.

Now, finally, The Devil’s Rain is here, swinging in through the window with a dagger in its teeth to save us all from the forces of punk rock snobbery.

The album races out of the gate with epic opener ‘The Devil’s Rain’ and doesn’t let up till the unfortunately rather underwhelming ‘Death Ray’. In between is some of the most vital, energised punk rock you’re likely to hear coming from a band rapidly approaching their 30th anniversary (or ‘anniverscary’ as they insist on putting it). The Devil’s Rain is just as good, if not better, than anything they’ve released in the past and can proudly take its place next to Walk Among Us in the Misfits pantheon.

The band don’t try anything radically new, conforming for the most part to the standard Misfits template: 50s-style doo-wop vocals? Check. Melodic poppy punk with an occasional hardcore thrasher? Check. The album has a much darker sound than its predecessors, even as it ramps the shlock-factor even higher, with growly monster noises aplenty adding to the inherent silliness of the record. It has to be said though that Only’s songwriting is often superb, with the title track, ‘Vivid Red’, ‘Land of the Dead’, ‘Sleepwalkin’ and ‘Ghost of Frankenstein’ able to hold their own with anything the Misfits released in their heyday. Besides the occasional pedestrian hardcore-by-numbers tracks like ‘Jack the Ripper’ or the deadly dull ‘Death Ray’, the album maintains its high quality throughout.

The main bone of contention for fans in the run-up to release was concern that Jerry Only’s vocals wouldn’t be able to match the heights of his predecessors. To a degree this fear is well-founded; he doesn’t hit the notes with the consummate ease of Glenn Danzig or Michale Graves but he turns in a solid performance, fully embodying the evil-Elvis aesthetic of the band, and only occasionally sounding like Peter Steele on downers.

Unfortunately, the band stumbles badly with ‘Where Do They Go?’, a light, catchy Ramones-style rocker about the real-life torture, rape, murder and disappearance of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Sung from the point of view of one of the missing women’s ex-boyfriends, its chirpy ‘Where do the girls go? I just don’t know’ chorus comes across as utterly fatuous under the circumstances. Although it could be argued that it at least directs public attention to these atrocious crimes, and seems to be intended as some kind of warning, the song is so upbeat and buoyant that it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. The Misfits have always been about cartoony, horror violence and the intrusion of real crime into their fantasy world is jarring to say the least.

Despite this setback, overall The Devil’s Rain is a growling beast of an album which more than does justice to the group’s long and storied career. The Misfits are back and it’s like they never went away. Who’d have thought that eight years after their last release – a covers album no less – they’d return with such force? Rising from their coffin like Dracula reborn, The Devil’s Rain is a triumphant long-awaited comeback from a band many wanted to fail. Sorry, folks.

Alun Thomas