When most of us think of the Misfits, we’re thinking of the legendary Glenn Danzig-fronted lineup that walked among us from 1977 to 1983. The band that single-handedly invented horror punk, and went on to influence a slew of heavy metal bands from Metallica to Marduk. But what about the other Misfits? In 1995, Misfits bassist Jerry Only and his brother Doyle re-activated the group sans Danzig after a protracted legal battle with the singer ended with Only retaining the ability to record and tour using the name, while he and Danzig split the merchandising rights. The brothers recruited drummer Dr. Chud and vocalist Michale Graves and set out to re-establish themselves as an active band over a decade after the Misfits’ heyday.
While nothing will ever touch the Danzig-era material, I have to admit that I have a soft-spot for the Graves-fronted incarnation of the band. Since my status as a Danzig fanatic is at this point ridiculously over-documented, it may surprise THKD readers that I have any interest whatsoever in the post-’83 Misfits, but I’ve always thought of them as two completely different bands that just happened to share the same name and iconography. It’s pretty easy to do when you take a step back and look at the two different versions.
One needs look no further than 1997’s American Psycho to see exactly what I’m talking about. The Misfits’ Graves-fronted comeback is essentially a metal album, which is in stark contrast with their earlier filthy punk sound. It is glossy and modern and defined by the precision of the performances, as opposed to the sound of a band that could fly off the rails and explode at any moment, as documented on the likes of Static Age and Walk Among Us. Sure, Earth A.D. flirted with thrash and even proto-black metal, but the original Misfits sounded like they didn’t give a flying fuck what anyone thought, whereas the Misfits of American Psycho sound like a band trying to fit in and compete with the slick sounds of the time.
In spite of shedding a sizable portion of what made the original Misfits so great, American Psycho is a surprisingly enjoyable album. Every song is a catchier-than-herpes nugget of punk-tinged heavy metal; it’s evident that (with the notable exception of the title track) Only had little interest in the nihilism and misogyny that Danzig brought to the table, instead focusing on the b-movie horror aspects of the band, upping the Misfits’ already considerable pop sensibilities in the process. The biggest surprise here is Michale Graves; he’s got a great set of pipes but is about as far removed from a Glenn Danzig clone as you could get, his voice closer to something along the lines of Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin.
The performances of Only, Doyle and Chud are tight and energetic, and Daniel Rey’s aforementioned production packs a punch in spite of being so far removed from the band’s lo-fi roots. Chud’s drumming deserves special mention, as the original Misfits’ one weakness was an ever-revolving door of drummers; he brings an exacting rhythmic approach to the band, hitting hard and really driving the songs forward. Doyle’s guitar tone cuts through the mix like a knife through butter, and he gives that creepy, droning feedback that characterized Earth A.D. a modern makeover on several tracks. Though it lacks the danger and recklessness of the classic Misfits recordings, American Psycho is impressive in its own right for depicting the reincarnated band as a well-oiled machine.
American Psycho peaked at 117 on the Billboard Top 200, which apparently wasn’t good enough a showing for the band to stay with major label Geffen Records. In spite of this, they showed up on World Championship Wrestling as allies of Vampiro, which was one of those weird moments when my two obsessions collided. It should come as no surprise that the Misfits (even without Danzig) are a much better band than they are wrestlers, and their time with the company was both unmemorable and thankfully short-lived.
The band jumped to Roadrunner Records for 1999’s Famous Monsters, which to my ears was a more punk-sounding album, but suffered from weaker songwriting and at times gets a little too poppy for its own good. There are some great cuts here, such as “Scream” “Pumpkin Head” and even the ’50s-sounding ballad “Saturday Night,” but there is also a ton of filler; the likes of “Fiend Club” “Lost in Space” and “Crawling Eye” could easily have been left on the cutting room floor. Unfortunately this album would also be the Graves-era Misfits’ swansong, as he along with Chud would quit the band in 2000. It’s probably for the best that this version of the band dissolved at this point, considering they were obviously on a downward trajectory if Famous Monsters is anything to go by.
One cool thing that came out of Famous Monsters is the George A. Romero-directed video for “Scream.” As one might expect, the video depicts the band in full-on zombie mode, laying waste to a hospital ward in the tradition of the director’s classic undead films. In return, the Misfits appeared in Romero’s underrated direct-to-DVD feature Bruiser, playing in a club scene. Strangely enough, they also appeared in Insane Clown Posse’s Big Money Hustlas before calling it a day.
Doyle eventually left the band as well, starting his solo projects Gorgeous Frankenstein and later on Doyle (which also features Dr. Chud), while also re-aligning himself with Glenn Danzig to play mini-sets of Misfits songs during Danzig’s various tours. The latter must have surely been quite the slap in the face for Only, who continues to soldier on under the Misfits name with current members Dez Cadena (ex-Black Flag) and Gary Arce (ex-Murphy’s Law) in what can only be viewed as a farce. Although this version of the band managed to shit out an album in 2011, the whole thing feels designed to exist for no other purpose than to move more merchandise, which Only has taken to near-KISS levels of absurdity judging from their official webstore.
Danzig has repeatedly stated that he would never reunite the classic lineup, so if you want to see the Misfits these days your best bet is to catch Danzig on tour with Doyle (I did last year and it was beyond epic) rather than the traveling Jerry Only Shitshow. In spite of my less-than-kind words about Only, I really do think it’s a shame that the Graves-era Misfits were unable to gain any momentum following American Psycho, as that album still feels like a legitimate attempt to take the Misfits name in a new direction or at the very least bring it into the here and now, as opposed to the desperate, blatant attempts at cashing in that followed.
Of course, the fucked up thing is that now there’s a whole generation of kids that heard the Graves-fronted Misfits first, or worse yet actually believe that this version of the Misfits is superior to the classic Danzig-fronted material. Satan help us. But I digress; I do honestly believe that the Graves era of the band does hold some merit, especially American Psycho. It’s catchy, it’s heavy and it’s a hell of lot of fun if you’re willing to forget all you know about the Misfits for forty minutes. The argument that the band should have stayed dead will always be a compelling one when viewed in terms of their past achievements, but if you can approach it from the mindset that they’re an entity unto themselves, you might be able to find some merit too.