Teenagers are such unhistorical animals. When I was in high school and most of my friends were into punk, I used to get the Misfits confused with Minor Threat, which isn’t an insignificant gaffe in the etiquette of hardcore. The fact is I found Ian MacKaye’s blistering hardcore as hard to listen to as Danzig’s high-camp horror punk—even as I was developing a pretty serious obsession with Fugazi. Even then I felt that I could at least respect Minor Threat, who embody a certain adolescent male ideal of conviction, whereas the Misifts, whose songs bear B-movie titles like “Astro Zombies” and “Devil’s Whorehouse,” I found not so much offensive as inexplicable. Did they even want to be taken seriously?
It turns out that, much like Iron Maiden or Marilyn Manson, the Misifts command a cult following that splits on just that question: to some, this stuff is Hitchcock, or at least Wes Craven; to others, it might as well be The Munsters. But Halloween, not so disastrously as Christmas, effectively suspends society’s already tenuous aesthetic barometers so that seasonally appropriate transgressions of good taste are not only permitted, but welcomed. If I sound like a grinch, you should know that I work out to Rob Zombie during the month of October and I allow “All I Want for Christmas Is You” to play in its entirety three times each year before I start changing the station. It’s October, and supposing you have your own set of teenage memories wherein Halloween hell-raising is soundtracked by the Misfits’ Walk Among Us, you could be forgiven for picking up the band’s first album in 10 years, The Devil’s Rain, just out of nostalgia.
Bear in mind when I say this that I wasn’t exactly happy to listen to the classic Misfits lineup, but the trio responsible for The Devil’s Rain is bad in an entirely different and infinitely less charming way. As was the case when Jerry Only resurrected the band in the 1990s, the Misfits have incorporated a dose of not-especially-heavy metal into their sound; on a scale of Winger to Slayer, this rocks at about Scorpions. Fortunately for this newest incarnation of the Misfits, the civilizational conflict between punks and heshers is no longer of an issue: Throughout the aughts, record labels like Victory concocted a commercially viable, if virtually unlistenable, style of metalcore that’s still one of the more sizable presences on rock radio. The Devil’s Rain would suit the guyliner-and-guitar-solo crowd just fine, if not for the fact that it’s played by middle-aged dudes sporting face paint and mohawks. The lyrics are as absurd as ever: Think of something that scared the crap out of you when you were seven, and it’s probably mentioned in “Ghost of Frankenstein,” “Curse of the Mummy’s Hand,” or “Cold in Hell.” What it reminds me of most is Alkaline Trio at their most flamboyantly gothic, a comparison which suggests that the novelty-act ghetto begins exactly where the resolve to spend more than two minutes writing a song ends. By 2005’s Crimson, Alkaline Trio had solidified as something like pop-punk’s answer to Depeche Mode, whereas The Devil’s Rain is the work of a band that aspires to give the genre little more than its answer to “The Monster Mash.”