Wednesday, May 27, 2020


"On Earth
As it is in Hell
We'll see you dead and like it in
Kingdom come is not so bad
Bloody Hell is not so bad"

I feel like there was no escaping The Misfits, the New Jersey punk band that combined infectious sing-along whoa-whoa whoas, B-Movie imagery, and muscular aggression. I was destined to find this band and to love them. I didn't know anything about them in middle school, I don't think I'd even heard of Danzig, as he would have been winding down his post-Misfits outfit, Samhain, before going metal with his namesake band. Punk was barely even on my radar. I was obsessed with Metallica's ...And Justice For All and Alice Cooper was still my favorite singer (still is, frankly). I'd see the cassettes for Collection, Walk Among Us, Earth AD, and Evil Live and would always scan down the track listings for each album, always on the verge of buying one of them, but with my limited funds, afraid of throwing my money away on something that might suck. The album covers were amazing; the neon yellow skull, the purple group shot with that rat-bat thing in the back ground, the rough looking zombies, and the group shot individually framed in coffins. Songs like "Teenagers From Mars," "Die, Die, My Darling," "Braineaters," "Astro Zombies"-as a horror kid, I really liked where these guys were coming from. 
Visiting my dad one summer, I was skateboarding with my step-brother and one of his friends, and we were talking about music. Skid Row's "Youth Gone Wild" was big then and the three of us really dug that album. I asked them if either had heard The Misfits, the friend got a big smile on his face.
"The Misfits fucking rule!" He had Walk Among Us on cassette and let me hear a bit of "20 Eyes" on his Walkman. To be honest, I couldn't really tell what I had just heard or if it was any good. Mostly it sounded like a buzzsaw in my head, but the thing about it, I walked around for a year with "20 eyeeees in my head/20 eyeeees in my head!" Starting high school, I got deep into punk, as I've said in previous posts. I still only had a vague idea of who Glenn Danzig was, as his 1988 self titled debut album had completely flown over my head and his second album, Lucifuge wasn't even on my radar, but I'd seen the advertisements on Headbangers Ball. I'd put aside my lunch money for a couple of weeks and on a trip to the mall in Oak Ridge, I made a b-line for the record store and went straight to the cassettes with the intention of buying Walk Among Us. 

Well, they didn't have it! All they had was Collection and Evil Live. I went with Collection, as I was never big on live albums and I rode home with the cassette safely hidden in my pocket. (If you missed the previous posts, I was raised in a house that was very strictly against heavy metal music and every album I got caught with was scrutinized and judged and could be thrown in the trash, so I always had to be careful.) Fortunately, I was mostly left alone to my own devices. I lived in a windowless room in the basement, I had a drafting table from my dad, an old desk that someone was throwing away, and a decent/cheap stereo from my twelfth birthday. That night, I went downstairs, put the 2x4 under my door knob, so my brothers couldn't fuck with me, put The Misfits on and sat down at my typewriter to work on a new short story. 
The production quality was rough, to say the least. Very muddy and I couldn't understand many of the lyrics, but the energy the album was flinging off on every track was infectious as hell, revving me up like I'd taken too many caffeine pills. I credit the music for one of the best horror stories I'd written up to that point. It was zombie story (I was obsessed with George Romero's Dawn of the Dead and wrote a fair number of living dead short stories and comic book scripts in high school) called "Long Night of the Living Dead" or something like that. I really liked how it turned out and to this day Misfits are a staple of my writing sessions.
Over a couple of years, I got my hands on the entirety of their small discography and actively looked for any information on the band I could find, which was scarce in the early 90s. Danzig didn't like to talk about the Misfits and bassist Jerry Only and his brother, guitarist Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein hadn't won a lawsuit that allowed them to reform the Misfits yet. Evil Live seemed to be the last of the recorded material available (until the 1995 release of Collection II, which rounded up all the remaining singles and EP tracks not available on Collection I), which on cassette and prior to the remastered version that came out after the box set (1996) sounded too muddy for it to be in heavy rotation and likewise with Earth AD, it just didn't sound as good as anything on Legacy of Brutality or Walk Among Us to me. So those albums mostly collected dust.
Fast forward a few years, I get Earth AD on CD, and I do a complete 180 on the album. You can hear the whole album on Collection I and II as those tracks close out each album, so it's not as if I'd not heard them all a hundred times, but I'll be damned if it didn't feel like I was hearing them all for the first time. I guess it was the clarity of listening to them on CD vs cassette or maybe my ears finally became attuned to a more thrashy sound after years of listening to hardcore punk, at any rate Earth AD went into heavy rotation, usually paired with Black Flag's Damaged.
I read an interview with Jerry Only sometime in the 90s where he said of the album that it was supposed to sound like Motorhead meets the Misfits, hence the thrash direction, with less anthemic sing-along tracks like on Walk Among Us. The album came out on Danzig's Plan 9 Records, two months after the band broke up in 1983. Danzig was already looking for the exit during the album's recording. He was writing new material for his next project while feeling increasingly disillusioned with the direction of the Misfits and not getting along with his bandmates. Until 2016, when Danzig and Only buried the ax and reformed the "original" Misfits, their's had been one of rock's saddest rivalries. There were lawsuits back and forth, shit-talking, lies, accusations, and even after Only and Doyle brought the Misfits back with Dr Chud on drums and Michael Graves on vocals, shit still couldn't work out and Only was abandoned by everyone to start all over again.
But what rock band worth their salt is without drama? What about the music? The original vinyl release of Earth AD was only nine songs long, the title track, "Queen Wasp," "Devilock," "Green Hell," "Death Comes Ripping," "Wolf's Blood," "Demonomania," "Bloodfeast," and "Hellhound." Clocking in at a mere fourteen and a half minutes. Fortunately, the album was reissued with three additional tracks, a studio version of "Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight," "Die, Die, My Darling," and "We Bite." Danzig later said that "Bloodfeast" and "Death Comes Ripping" were originally intended as Samhain songs (and they did play "Bloodfeast" live).
"Earth AD," which I quoted at the top is a tribute to the Wes Craven cannibal classic, The Hills Have Eyes. It sets the tone for the album as a whirlwind with that furious drumming courtesy of Black Flag's Robo. Jerry and Doyle, across the bulk of the tracks, might as well be playing chainsaws, the way they buzz and burn over the beats. From "Earth AD" to "Queen Wasp" you can't catch your breath as the group blasts on with gang chants of "GO! GO! GO!" And then "Devilock" comes on, going even faster and the only moment of reprieve is the brief rumble before my favorite track "Death Comes Ripping" blasts your spine out. I always assumed that "Green Hell" was probably about the Italian cannibal films like Cannibal Holocaust or Cannibal Ferox, because the Amazon rainforest is also called the Green Inferno. Green Hell is also the title of one of James Whale's (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein) last films, from 1940 about hunting for Incan treasure, but the lyrics don't really seem to match up with any of that, so I don't know. It's a heavy song. I love the studio version of "Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight" and that's no knock against the live version on Walk Among Us. The mid-tempo stomping intro that fades into a wash of feedback as Danzig asks the eternal question; "Mommy...Can I Go Out...And Kill TONIGHT??" Before the band thrashes back in like psychos on a rampage is fucking glorious and one of the Misfits finest and most iconic recorded moments. I can easily imagine Danzig becoming a werewolf while singing "Wolf's Blood." "It's wolf's blood/It's pumping like it's fucking in my veins/And I feel my vertebrae shaking..." Such a mean song! And sticking with what I assume must be a werewolf theme, "Demonomania" finds Danzig proclaiming that his "father was a wolf" and his "mother was a whore." "Bloodfeast" is the album's slowest track and you can really hear Samhain coming here as there's more of a goth/death rock feel than thrash/hardcore. And it's a good, catch your breath track, even if Robo is still pounding the fuck out of those cymbals like his life depended on it. "Hellhound" starts with the chorus ("that's gonna rip your face off") spinning out of control, but tucks in for the verses and then releasing again. It's a hell of a fun yo-yo effect, which originally ended the album. Instead though, we're next treated to another one of the Misfits' most iconic songs, "Die, Die My Darling." "Die die die, my darling/Don't utter a single word/Die die die, my darling/Just shut your pretty eyes/I'll be seeing you again/I'll be seeing Hell!" What a break-up song! We end on an absolute rager, "We Bite," which brings back both cannibalism and wolf references, making it a sort of summation of Earth AD.
The brilliant cover art was painstakingly hand drawn by LA punk legend Mad Marc Rude, who spent days on the stipulation and undead characters. Depending on which version you get the black and white art was augmented with a green and purple or green and pink background. For a band known for having cool images on their t-shirts, albums, and 7 inches, the Earth AD is my favorite of anything they've ever released. there's a brilliant and heartbreaking documentary on Marc Rude, currently streaming on Amazon, called Marc Rude: Blood, Ink, & Needles [2014], and I highly recommend checking it out. He also did the artwork for one of Tex and The Horseheads' albums. He was a mighty talent plagued by personal demons.)
Misfits were never a hardcore band before Earth AD, in fact, when they started, there wasn't even a guitarist. Glenn played electric keyboard and the Misfits sounded more like Suicide. But after getting Bobby Steele on guitar and later Doyle, they truly became the epitome of everything good about punk rock. They created the sub-genre of horror punk, and influenced countless bands over the next four decades. Earth AD isn't there best musical statement overall and not the strongest album they could have gone out on, but for the aggression, for the catharsis I get from listening to it-the album is a beast unlike anything they unleashed before or since. When the band came back in 1996, they went for a happy medium between the sing-along anthems of Walk Among Us and the muscular thrash of Earth AD, with greater success on American Psycho than on Famous Monsters. The last album of the only-Only era, Devil's Rain, also reached back to Earth AD, with just a bit more metal influence and longer songs. Now that the "original" Misfits have played a number of shows together, Danzig has stated he's open to recording a new album. Frankly, I don't care if it sucks. I don't think it will, but regardless, they've already sold a copy to me, whatever it winds up sounding like.