Pioneering U.S. horror punks Misfits’ lengthy career hasn’t yielded chart placings and industry awards, but their influence has spread like a virus. The band’s colorful backstory includes splits, squabbles, and enough hair-raising antics to service a series of biopics, but they’ve been championed by Metallica, blink-182, and Green Day, and their early albums, including 1983’s furious, hardcore-inclined Earth AD, have long since enshrined their legend.
“There was some really crazy s__t going on”
Misfits were formed in 1977, in Lodi, New Jersey, by aspiring singer-songwriter Glenn Danzig, who reputedly named his new outfit after Marilyn Monroe’s final film, The Misfits. Line-up changes dogged the band’s early days, though their core personnel – Danzig and bassist Jerry Only (aka Jerry Caiafa) – remained constants as they cut their teeth playing local gigs.
As the group was within hailing distance of New York, these early shows included gigs at punk mecca CBGB. As suburban kids, however, Misfits soon realized they had little in common with the famous scene’s future stars – or even their lifestyle.
“Culturally, I wasn’t in tune to the scene or what was going on,” Jerry Only recalled in an interview with 100% Rock, in 2015. “Me and Glenn went to New York right after my senior year and our first gig was as CBGB, and I was still in high school. There was some really crazy s__t that was going on out of New York at the time, but I took a look and decided I didn’t want to be one of those guys. I mean, they were talented, but they didn’t care what they were doing. [For me] the objective was to live a long life, not to die young.”
An anarchic reputation
The New York punk scene did, however, help toughen up Misfits’ sound. After self-releasing their debut single, “Cough/Cool,” via their own Blank Records imprint, the band drafted in several different guitarists, eventually settling on Only’s brother Doyle (aka Paul Caiafa). Danzig also junked the electric piano he’d previously played and concentrated solely on being the group’s frontman.
The new songs Danzig wrote during this period were inspired by B-movie horror and science-fiction films, while Misfits’ image also changed radically. Danzig painted skeletal patterns on his stage clothes, and Only began applying dark make-up around his eyes and patented the long, pointed “devilock” hairstyle that Danzig and Doyle also later adopted.
Misfits built up an anarchic reputation over the next couple of years. During this time, they self-released several further singles, supported The Damned in New York, and even spent time living with Sid Vicious’ mum, Anne Beverley, in London. Back in the US, they caught onto the era’s burgeoning hardcore punk scene, befriending Henry Rollins and playing live with Rollins’ band, Black Flag, in New Jersey.
A thrashier, metal-infused punk
Recorded during 1981 and released in March 1982 through Slash/Ruby Records, Misfits’ acclaimed debut album, Walk Among Us, captured the band’s original, NYC-influenced sound, with Danzig coming on like a scuzzier Joey Ramone and his group careering through roistering anthems including “I Turned Into A Martian,” “Vampira” and “Night Of The Living Dead.”
Misfits followed the album’s release with a national tour, during which their gigs became more intense and violent. Danzig eventually fired drummer Arthur Googy (aka Arthur McGuckin) after the pair repeatedly clashed and – following an endorsement from Henry Rollins – Misfits recruited ex-Black Flag drummer Robo (aka Roberto Valencia) to take his place.
Robo’s powerful presence had graced Black Flag’s legendary SST debut album, Damaged, in 1981, and he was the ideal sticksman to power Misfits’ second album, Earth AD: nine salvoes of raw, visceral punk, delivered in barely 15 minutes. The subject matter (“Green Hell,” “Wolfs Blood,” “We Bite”) still reflected Danzig’s love of horror and sci-fi, but the relentless assault of Misfits’ new music was a significant departure, with the songs’ furious BPMs pioneering a thrashier style of metal-infused punk that would soon be widely referred to as “hardcore.”
“The archetypal horror-punk band”
Short, sharp, and wilfully abrasive, Earth AD was originally released in December 1983, but later extended to full album length and rechristened Earth A.D/Wolfs Blood, with the addition of the three tracks from the band’s 1984 non-album single, “Die, Die My Darling.” The record, first issued through Danzig’s Plan 9 label (it was later reissued through Caroline), led Rolling Stone to declare Misfits “the archetypal horror-punk band of the early 80s,” but the band couldn’t enjoy the fruit of their labors.
Robo left before Earth AD was even released, and Danzig, too, became disenchanted with the band. After an anarchic final show, staged, fittingly, on October 31, 1983, he quit to pioneer more extreme brands of metal with future groups Samhain and Danzig, though he eventually reunited with Jerry Only for a handful of Misfits shows in 2016.
“After Earth AD, there was nowhere to go”
Earth AD, however, has since been cited as a landmark hardcore punk release. Green Day, blink-182, and Alkaline Trio have sung its praises, while Metallica has recorded covers of several tracks from the album. They laid down a frenzied medley of “Last Caress” and “Green Hell” for their 1987 release, The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited, and they later introduced Misfits to a younger generation by taking on “Die, Die, My Darling” for their 1998 covers album, Garage Inc.
“We didn’t have an agenda, and then we took the horror image and… came up with a monster with no feelings that was pumped up and ready to go,” Jerry Only said in 2015, reflecting on his band’s groundbreaking sound.
After Earth AD, “there was no place to go,” Only continued. “We had taken it to the limit. We tapped out. That was it. What Earth AD did was launch the hardcore scene, the death metal scene, the thrash scene. All those other bands, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica, all those bands that came after us used that as their guiding light.”