In a very direct way, Jerry Only and crew are as hampered by the "Misfits" tag as they are supported. Certainly, without the powerful iconic imagery that comes with the band, Only, the sole remaining member from the group's original form, would not have the publicity he currently enjoys, as is evidenced by the transience of Only's first post-original Misfits band, Kryst the Conqueror. But, as the group stomps through The Devil's Rain, it becomes abundantly clear that while the band has some real power, they might just be going through the motions.
Now composed with Only on vocals and bass, Dez Cadena, Black Flag's third vocalist, on guitar, and brand new drummer Eric "Chupacabra" Arce on drums, the Misfits craft some energetic, if not snappy, ghoul-themed numbers that highlight the band's skill. In recent years, Only has been criticized for using the Misfits moniker, but the Misfits were the Misfits for a reason, and still, no one seems to slam the bass quite like the massive Only. Now on vocals, Only has clearly taken time to improve his voice. Where he simply used to shout, his voice has become cleaner and more smooth, at times almost resembling '50s crooners like Dion and Del Shannon, who blended the dying doo-wop with the infant rock and roll.
Cadena, now on lead guitar, also brings his singular approach to the recording, tearing through the tunes as if he was still backing Black Flag's Greg Ginn in a combination of simple chords that sound more like dynamite explosions than strums, which occasionally jump into jazz-based freak-outs. Although it's exciting to hear Cadena take vocals on two tracks, he opts to use his deeper, space roc- influenced howl heard on his DC3 albums in lieu of his skull-cracking bark from the "Louie, Louie" single. Arce handles drums in a combination of tribal stomping and Ramones-constant cadence that moves the band, but never quire seems to get them excited.
But, while the band has technical chops, it almost seems like they are singing about the occult and undead merely because that's what the Misfits are supposed to do. When original vocalist Glenn Danzig detailed "the insemination of little girls in the middle of wet dreams," it seemed like that was something he was actually into. Even when second Misfits vocalist, Michael Graves, wailed that he was "crying on a Saturday night," it seemed he was pulling from true early 20s dejection. But, when Only sings about mummies, or Frankenstein, or even hell, it doesn't seem like that's what he feels is important, but what he is limited to in subject matter, leaving the tunes without any sense of conviction.
Notably, when the band does become most alive is when they play the style of music that excites them. When Only drops into a doo-wop style on "The Black Hole" he pulls off the forgotten style so well that not only do the silly lyrics cease to be silly, but the tune genuinely could have come out in 1961. Thankfully, unlike the legion of "horror-punk" bands that have ripped off the Misfits' m.o., the original ghouls never stop to wink at their own tongue-in-cheek lyrics, which gives the lukewarm words some bite, as opposed to just making them pure exercises.
The Devil's Rain certainly isn't a disgrace and long-running fans will find at least a few things to enjoy about the album. It's just frustrating that when the band snaps together and plays what they truly want to play, they aren't so much "the Misfits" as a band containing a hefty amount of punk talent and experience. Instead of leaving the past behind, they seem to cling to it, forever condemning themselves to comparisons of previous incarnations.