Although considered part of the hardcore scene, New Jersey’s Misfits date back to the first CBGB and London punk surge. Drawing their sound from the Ramones and the Damned, and their look from horror movies and Kiss, the Misfits began by releasing a string of 7-inches on their Plan 9 label. Two of these — the superb Bullet EP and the subsequent “Horror Business” single — are compiled on the English Beware EP (along with the legendary melodic outtake “Last Caress”) and epitomize what made the Misfits great: a combination of hooky power-chording, weird horrific lyrics and singer Glenn Danzig’s distinctive basso roar. (For a musical genre in which tone and articulation don’t count for much, Danzig’s power and control are awesome.)
After years as a strictly underground force, the Misfits seized on hardcore and grafted horror-punk onto slam-thrash. As a result, Walk Among Us practically wallows in psychotronic shock imagery, imbuing many of the band’s anthems — including “Astro Zombies,” “Skulls,” “Vampira” and “Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?” — with a new-found intensity and larger-than-life touch of evil. Years of solid songwriting effort paid off, making this classic album as strong as it is consistent. (As a posthumous Misfits cult grew to gigantic proportions during the later half of the decade, goaded by the avid endorsement of bands like Metallica, Walk Among Us became one of punk’s most feverishly sought-after albums.)
The Evilive 7-inch EP (later expanded and reissued as a full-length album) catches the Misfits on rare good 1981 nights in New York and San Francisco, playing material drawn mostly from Walk Among Us. One cut includes guest vocals by Henry Rollins.
Earth A.D./Wolfsblood is an unfortunate step in the wrong direction — a misguided attempt to conform to hardcore convention. California’s legendary Spot produced; while his monochromatic technique served other groups well, it negated many of the Misfits’ strengths. Danzig’s voice is downplayed, and the faster, stiffer beat robs the songs of their innate tunefulness. Good tracks like “Blood Feast” and “Green Hell” aside (the latter, along with “Last Caress,” was covered by Metallica on Garage Days Re-Revisited), Earth A.D. remains a disappointing finale. (A later German edition adds the terrific “Die Die My Darling”; an American cassette issue appends that single and its two B-sides.)
Legacy of Brutality is a posthumous collection of outtakes and alternate versions, a good chunk of them from the ’78 session that produced Bullet. It also contains a band take on “Who Killed Marilyn,” Danzig’s 1981 solo debut. Though uneven at points, Legacy does preserve some of the Misfits’ finest moments, such as “Angelfuck” and “She.” Originally CD-only, then reissued on vinyl and cassette, Misfits is a 20-cut retrospective that includes remixes, alternate takes and one jarring edit that cuts out the second half of “Teenagers from Mars”/”Children in Heat.”
Guitarist Bobby Steele quit the Misfits in 1980 and formed the Undead, a trio that cut Stiff’s very last US release. (The title refers to the accident that left Steele with a pronounced limp.) Never Say Die! combines the EP with two subsequent independent singles into a solid mini-LP (eight songs in under nineteen minutes). It’s gritty, rocking, catchy and angry but, like the title track, often shows a positive attitude. With a settled lineup, the Undead might have made a super live record; these documents are just as good.
An insert in Never Say Die! claimed the Undead were already in the studio recording Act Your Rage, but it took three years to finish. While Steele’s relish for performing is consistent, the sound, music and lyrics are pretty uneven, and the best isn’t exactly riveting. Even “Put Your Clothes Back On” (the LP’s best title and premise) gets an A for inspiration and a C for execution.
After the Misfits ended, Danzig wasted no time in forming Samhain with drummer-turned-bassist Eerie Von. Initium took a few smart steps back to the singer’s punk roots, mixing in some metal and gloom rock influences and using far more mature and disturbing horror lyrics. This wholly enjoyable LP offers a memorable selection of material, including the band’s invigorating signature tune (“Samhain”), a choppy arrangement of “Horror Business” (every Samhain release featured an updated ‘Fits tune) and “Archangel” (originally written for the Damned’s Dave Vanian). As the residue of an early lineup, Lyle Preslar (ex-Minor Threat) adds some sparse guitar, but the LP is basically Danzig’s affair.
The Unholy Passion EP, a token gothic record, would have succeeded if not for the abysmal production. Still, the dark urgency of the pulsing title track, “Moribund” and “The Hungry End” — laced with new guitarist Pete “Damien” Marshall’s droning leads — is hard to resist. (Initium‘s CD and tape release include a remix of Unholy Passion‘s five tracks and the previously unreleased “Misery Tomb.”)
The transitional November-Coming-Fire has some of Samhain’s most intriguingly arranged songs, most notably the atmospheric ballad “To Walk the Night.” The heavier, more metallic music (exemplified by the crunching “Mother of Mercy”) and lyrical development (the horror angle is out, pagan religion is in) helped pave Samhain’s evolution into Danzig. Final Descent ties up the loose ends from this period, combining a splendid five-song session from ’87 with Danzig guitarist John Christ (the hypnotic, rolling “Lords of the Left Hand” is the highlight of these previously unreleased cuts) and what sounds like the same set of Unholy Passion remixes to reach album length.
At the very crest of Misfits cult mania, producer Rick Rubin decided to help Danzig realize his dream of making Samhain more professional and focused. As Danzig, the band has achieved significant commercial success while remaining true to fans’ sanguinary tastes.
Cleaving Glenn’s signature groaning and pagan-demono-sexuality lyrics to a more basic hard-rock foundation, Danzig ends up as a crunchy cross between the Doors, Misfits and Black Sabbath. With the benefit of a real band — tasteful, metallic guitarist John Christ, Samhain holdover Eerie Von (bass) and dexterous vet Chuck Biscuits (ex-D.O.A., Black Flag and Circle Jerks, one of the greatest punk drummers ever) — behind him, Danzig’s amazing voice has never sounded as clear or as dominant. While roughly half of the album is ominous and mighty (“Twist of Cain,” “She Rides,” “Soul on Fire” and “Mother”), the rest proves shallow on repeated listenings, displaying the weak side of Rubin’s thinly homogeneous production.
Lucifuge corrects the flaws: Rubin’s production is far fleshier, the theatrically demonic muscle-stud angle is entertainingly exercised, the songs (especially the cool, dank beauty of “Her Black Wings,” with its subtly menacing riff, and a ’50s-style melodic tearjerker, “Blood and Tears”) are consistently stronger, and a heavy dose of voodoo blues (check out the stripped-down “I’m the One”) is wisely incorporated into the thematic and musical brew.
In an attempt to exploit their cult fame among the thrash generation, surnameless ex-Misfit brothers Jerry (bass) and Doyle (guitar), always the band’s live albatross, formed a dopey metal act called Kryst the Conqueror. On the self-released five-song Deliver Us From Evil, they’re aided by an uncredited Jeff Scott Soto (who’s worked with Yngwie Malmsteen and others) and Skid Row guitarist Dave Sabo.