Saturday, October 31, 2009

October 31: The Misfits, "Walk Among Us"

Artist: The Misfits
Album: Walk Among Us
Year: 1982
Label: Ruby

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the punk explosion of the late 1970's was the fact that so many different bands took the ethos in so many diverse directions. From the gloomy sounds of Joy Division to the destructive rage of Black Flag, countless bands presented their own approach to the stripped down, non-traditional sound. Among this host of innovators was a quartet from Lodi, NJ that, along with their original musical approach, created worlds of myth around their music and personalities. A band that, for many years, only played on Halloween, there are few more amazing groups than the fathers of "horror-punk" themselves, The Misfits. Responsible for one of the most enduring, iconic images of all-time (the skull), as well as some of the greatest songs from anywhere in the punk genre, The Misfits took the dark, evil mood of Alice Cooper and injected it with the power and speed of The Ramones, creating a new sound and vibe that would influence countless bands, from The Melvins to Sleep to Metallica. With their absolutely brilliant songs and the stunning voice of Glenn Danzig, The Misfits were by far one of the most skilled groups to come out of the punk explosion, and their songs endure as true classics to this day. Though there is truly not a "bad" song or album anywhere within the discography of the Danzig-led Misfits lineup, their first "official" studio release, 1982's Walk Among Us is nothing short of a classic and remains one of the most amazing recordings ever made.

In many ways, Walk Among Us is actually The Misfits eighth album, as they had released seven EP's over the preceding years. Also, though it is technically their first "official" full length studio album, there are a pair of sessions that were before these that can be found on the somewhat rare Static Age and 12 Hits From Hell bootlegs. Truth be told, in January of 1982, Glenn Danzig took these recordings and re-mixed them, adding additional musical overdubs, as well as adding brand new vocals to a few songs. Also mixed was the live version of "Mommy Can I Go Out & Kill Tonight" which was taken from one of the two shows found on the bands' Evillive release. Furthermore, there are in fact, two different versions of the albums' infamous cover. The cover, which is largely taken from the movie The Angry Red Planet, was originally pressed with a pink background and the bands' name in also in pink (pictured above). However, the next few pressings featured a purple background with the bands' name in the original pink lettering. Finally, in 1988, the album cover took on it's final form, with the purple background, and the bands' name in green. Also, upon the CD release of Walk Among Us, the liner notes were incorrect, as they named Bobby Steele and Joey Image as members of the band on the record, instead of the actual musicians, Arthur Googy and Doyle.

The lineup of The Misfits has changed so many times since 1977 that it is nearly impossible to keep track of who is on what album. By the time Walk Among Us was released, the band had already gone through more than half a dozen lineup changes, and less than two years after its release, band founder and frontman, Glenn Danzig would leave the band, ending the band in the eyes of many people. On Walk Among Us, the most powerful and cohesive lineup of the bands' history is featured, and it is perhaps the key reason why the record is the bands' finest work. Doyle, AKA Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein (real name: Paul Caiafa) is by far one of the most talented guitarists to emerge from the punk scene. Whether it is the punishing chords, or the squealing note progressions such as that found on "Vampira," there are few punk-based guitarists who showed as much creativity and skill as Doyle. On Walk Among Us, most of the guitar overdubs were in fact played by Danzig, which brilliantly compliment all of Doyle's core playing. Bassist Jerry Only is the oldest and longest running member of the band. Though he was in fact the bands' second bassist, he has been a part of "The Misfits" since early 1977. (NOTE: Only currently leads a trio called "The Misfits" who play Misfits songs, but many feel that the group ceased to exist when Danzig left the group in 1983.) Only's bass work is absolutely fantastic, and it is his playing that often gives the songs their dark, menacing feel. Rounding out the musicians strong is one of the most talented drummers in rock history, Arthur Googy. Googy (real name: Joseph McGuckin) is nothing short of phenomenal throughout the album, as he keeps the breakneck pace going, and perfectly combines speed and power on every song. As the band creates dark musical mayhem on every track found on Walk Among Us, there is little doubt that the final member of The Misfits is, by far, the most important to the bands' sound and style.

When one looks over the entire history of hard rock/punk/heavy metal, it is nearly impossible to find another singer with the vocal skill and pure power of Glenn Danzig. Far more than just yelling and screaming, Danzig has one of the most fantastic voices of his generation, and he is able to operate nearly anywhere in the vocal range. In many ways, one of the most unique aspects of the music of The Misfits is the way in which the band blends vocal harmonies reminiscent of those from the early 1960's into their unquestionably dark and spare music. Listening to nearly any track from Walk Among Us, there are many of these harmonic moments, and they are one of the clearest indications that The Misfits were a band that chose to make their own style of music, regardless of the norms or constraints of any genre into which they were placed. Furthermore, this stands as proof of the great musical pioneers that The Misfits were, as well as a testament to the extraordinary writing and singing ability of Danzig. Containing songs that were surely crowd sing-alongs at the time, tracks like "Skulls," "Violent World," and the immortal "Astro Zombies" have become nothing short of punk "classics," and have been covered countless times over the years. Though many bands have covered songs found on Walk Among Us, none come even remotely close in terms of impact, as without the truly sensational voice of Glenn Danzig, the songs are simply "not right."

Though they are often grouped in with the transitional period of heavy metal, the truth of the matter is, if one was forced to categorize the music of The Misfits, they lean far more to the "punk" side of things then the "metal" side. However, it is largely this inability to firmly categorize The Misfits that makes their music so unique and amazing, as well as what gave birth to the term "horror punk." Brilliantly crafting a sound and image that were like nothing else at the time, one can make the case that The Misfits took the theatrical influence of KISS and re-formed it to fit the punk ethos, as well as their own, far darker musical efforts. Combining the brilliant musicianship of Doyle, Only, and Googy with the truly unmatched vocal performance of Danzig, it is little surprise that Walk Among Us is fantastic as it is, and why the band remains one of the most respected and revered bands in music history. There is not a sub-par moment anywhere on the record, and the musical perfection therein has rarely been matched anywhere else in any genre or time period. The Misfits full length debut, 1982's Walk Among Us remains one of the most stunning musical releases ever made, and it serves as proof of the phenomenal talent within the band and remains a true classic record that everyone must experience at least once in their lifetime.

Standout tracks: "Vampira," "Skulls," and "Astro Zombies."

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