Punk rock has been around long enough to hold within its musical boundaries a slew of albums considered both classic and essential. We here at Dying Scene love and appreciate these classic albums, but every once and a while we have the urge to challenge what the community has deemed sacred. Every Saturday, two Dying Scene writers will square off head-to-head and either attack or defend one of these so-called classics. Up for slaughter today is The Misfits‘ “Walk Among Us.” Does the 1982 classic hold up today? You be the judge. Doug Ahlgren will be defending and Jason Stone will be attacking.
Walk Among Us is a bonafide punk classic.
It features arguably one of the most talented vocalists and songwriters in punk rock history: Glenn Danzig. This dude truly was Elvis disguised as a demon– except Elvis could only sing, he didn’t write his own tunes like Glenn did. As many of us know, Glenn practically carried The Misfits on his shoulders, singing and writing all the music and lyrics. Walk Among Us is one of the best albums from their early days because of its catchy hooks, classic melodies, and incredible vocals– still sounding as tough and angry as anything else that claimed to be punk back in those days.
Walk Among Us has a depth and songwriting quality that none of their peers (including Black Flag, Circle Jerks, etc.) could come close to. It’s proof in the pudding, that more than 30 years later, Glenn Danzig is a hugely successful international artist. His body of work speaks for itself and Walk Among Us is but one of many works he can be proud of. Where’s Keith Morris? Where’s Greg Ginn? Hell, if I know. But they supposedly defined early 80’s American punk with Black Flag. Well, if they did, they didn’t do it on songwriting talent, they just did it with angst. Glenn Danzig combined his talent with his rage, and Walk Among Us is the result.
Granted, his bandmates could barely play their instruments and the production is not top-notch (much like every other punk album from that era) I mean, Walk Among Us is timeless. I can listen to it now just like I did when I was 15 years old and it still sounds just as good. Albeit simple, the songs are well crafted. The norm for punk rock back in those days was short, fast bursts of angry noise. Yeah, that’s cool for a minute but it doesn’t stand the test time as a piece of art. The other thing about Walk Among Us is its fun, campy, hilarious, yes surprisingly gritty style. . How many classic punk albums can claim to be that? Imagine a deranged Elvis singing these lyrics, backed by distorted guitars playing a 50’s rock melody:
“With just a touch of my burning hand
I send my astro zombies to rape the land
Prime directive, exterminate
The whole human race
And your face drops in a pile of flesh
And then your heart, heart pounds
Till it pumps in death
Prime directive, exterminate
Whatever stands left”
That’s the Misfits. Walk Among Usstands as beautiful listen, but also a look at the early days of a future rock icon.
It may in fact be a bit of a misnomer to label what follows an “attack.” Perhaps a better name for this portion of our Sacred Cow Saturday column this week would be “The Misunderstanding.” You see, dear reader, it has been an interesting experience revisiting the classic Misfits album Walk Among Us this week. Since its 1982 debut as the band’s first full-length, Walk Among Us has on the short list of watershed moments in the annals of punk history. The album helped the Misfits turn the punk world on its ear, giving birth to the so-called “horror-punk” genre. And if there is one genre that has confused me more than any other over the years, it’s horror punk. Allow me to explain.
Like most people, I started to get into punk music around the age of thirteen. As luck would have it, I turned 13 in 1992, meaning that I was finding punk music at a great time (the best time?) to find punk music. As the scene blew up over the few years that followed, there were hundreds of new bands and new sounds to discover in short order. This meant not delving into the punk “classics” until years later. The attraction to many of the old stalwarts (The Clash, Ramones, the Buzzcocks) was immediate; some took a little warming up to (Minor Threat, Husker Du), while some (like the Sex Pistols) left me unable to determine what, exactly, the fuss was all about. The Misfits are undoubtedly residents of this latter group.
It’s not that the music is bad; far from it, in fact. From that standpoint, Walk Among Us is pretty solid. While the album lacks any real flow in sound (or in production quality), most of the tracks are individually pretty well-crafted, uptempo songs that feature a lot of what has become the street punk sound in the years since: catchy, repetitive choruses, gang vocals, buzzsaw, thrash-metal inspired guitars. It is quite easy to see why bands from Metallica to the Dropkick Murphys to Sick Of It All (not to mention the more obvious debt of gratitude owed the Misfits by the likes of Alkaline Trio, early AFI and Hatebreed) have covered Misfits tunes at one time or another.
Where I get lost is the horror influence. Perhaps I’m an old soul, but lyrics, and the ability to relate to lyrics, has always been important to me. Good punk music (good ANY music, really) has got to come across as genuine, authentic. Music about rebellion has got to pitch a valid message about why we, the listener, should choose to ‘fuck authority.’ Not that all punk is about rebellion; some of it is just about having a good time, or having a sense of humor. Thus the reason that, for me, it works when a band like Alkaline Trio treads the horror-punk line. Skiba and Andriano don’t take themselves too seriously, so there is a level of honesty and a greater story being told, along with the tongue-in-cheek macabre references. I never got, and still don’t get, that from the Misfits. While I’ve found the insanely-catchy chorus of “Hatebreeders” stuck in my head more often than not lately, that’s due to the fact that it’s a well written melody, not a poignant quasi-political statement or because my next thought is murderlation which, to be honest, is just dumb, not unlike the entire sentiment of “Mommy, Can I Go Out And Kill Tonight?”. Movies (and comic books) can pull off horror because A) they have the ability to shock the senses and B )they contain elements of plausibility that seek to terrify the viewer in a very real way. With music, it just makes you sound like a sociopath and puts you on a gun-buying watch list. (It may be worth noting here that my real introduction to Glenn Danzig was through “Mother,” and him subsequently giving MTV a tour of his house. Scary.)
The real problem is not that I think that the Misfits were serious in their desire to send murder-grams to all the monster kids (“All Hell Breaks Loose”) or that Glenn Danzig was sincere in his desire to hack of girls’ heads and adorn his walls with the remnants (“Skulls”). (Though, I could be wrong about the last point.) As I said previously, there’s a way to do gory ‘horror punk’ lyrics in a way that makes sense and is laced with wit and double meaning (see: Alkaline Trio – nobody really thinks Skiba wants his muse to slit his throat and play in his blood, right?). And there’s a way to do the costumes and the theatrics in a way that is fun and contains some level of self-awareness (see: Gwar).
The Misfits, however, seemed to take themselves way too seriously (unless, of course, I wasn’t in on the joke, which is entirely possible) and seemed to lack any real self-awareness (certainly now more than ever), wanting the listener to THINK they were serious. In the end, it comes across as gimmicky (*cough* Devilock *cough*), like a punk rock KISS. If somebody, anybody, can use the comments section to explain the appeal and why Walk Among Us is more than just solid music with a great marketing campaign (a pretty cool font and skull logo, I’ll admit) I’m all ears.