White Zombie

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special introductory paragraph
Gods on Voodoo Moon EP
“Pig Heaven”/”Slaughter the Grey” 7″
Psycho-Head Blowout
Soul-Crusher
Make Them Die Slowly
God of Thunder EP
La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1
Astro Creep: 2000
Supersexy Swingin’ Sounds

When most people think of White Zombie, they think of their dictatorial, pretentious, one trick pony singer Rob Zombie, who used his band as nothing more than a vehicle to launch his disco metal solo career and his film directing career. But it wasn’t always that way!

White Zombie started in 1985 as a noise rock band that made its name in the seedy Manhattan art and music scene, playing on bills with groups like Pussy Galore, Rat At Rat R, Live Skull and the Honeymooon Killers. Then they turned into a weird metal band that sat on the fence between the art and metal scenes before signing to a major label and becoming big rock stars in the 90s.  Artist turned singer Robert “Rob Straker/Rob Zombie” Cummings was still just a one trick pony with his free associative, movie themed lyrics that say absolutely nothing but the schtick worked really well with the kind of music they were initially making.  On bass was Shawna “Sean Yseult” Reynolds, who came from Raleigh, NC to be a photography student but joined a band instead.

They also went through five guitarists and three drummers.

And yes they got their name from the 1932 horror movie starring Bela Lugosi.  In fact, here it is for your enjoyment:

Gods on Voodoo Moon EP – Silent Explosion – 1985

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If you were wondering as everyone else was, Sean Yseult IS the same Shawna Reynolds who took the photos on the back of the first C.O.C. album!

Aside from Rob “Dirt” Straker on vocals and Sean Yseult on bass, White Zombie also included Paul “Ena” Kostabi on guitar and Peter Landau on drums but don’t get used to them since they would be gone before their second release and even a single performance!  It’s hard to picture White Zombie in the same light as Flipper, the Birthday Party, Scratch Acid, Killdozer and the Butthole Surfers but, indeed, right in the middle of the 80s, they would have fit in perfectly among any of the so-called “pig fuck” (a term I both giggle at and despise) bands.

The group’s debut EP consists of four excellent yet poorly recorded, little songs.  The record sounds like a bootleg of a live show that was recorded on cassette in someone’s basement. According to Yseult, the group found the cheapest studio and recorded all of the songs live without any thought given to separation, levels or mixing so it’s a wonder the songs even sound this good.  However, this early, crude, no-fidelity approach is much more appropriate for the trashy b-movie subject matter Rob Straker/Zombie was spewing out rather than the industrial metal garbage of the group’s later recordings; you can practically envision a grainy, black and white monster movie being projected onto a tiny screen in some filthy theater on 42nd Avenue.  And man, does Straker/Zombie sound completely different! He sounds like a cross between early GG Allin and Darby Crash!  It’s hard to believe this is the same guy who, in ten short years, would bark out similar lyrics in the ugly, gravelly voice that became his raison d’etre.

First two tracks “Gentleman Junkie” and “King of Souls(W.Z.)” sound like sick, evil surf punk thingies with eerie note runs (comparable to Dead Kennedys?) while “Tales from the Scarecrow Man” sounds like Flipper with its catchy, repetitive bass line over which Kostabi plays seemingly improvised blues solos through a phased guitar effect – like the Cows on a bad acid trip?  And “Cat’s Eye Resurrection” has the same pounding and herky-jerky rhythm one would find in a Birthday Party song only with creepier riffs.

It’s also totally hilarious how the sound just drops out in the middle of “Tales from the Scarecrow Man” for a second.  There was also a cassette version with the songs “Black Friday” and “Dead or Alive” and what could be said about the first two songs can be said about these two as well.

Just don’t go on ebay trying to find this thing because it’ll cost ya!

“Pig Heaven”/”Slaughter the Grey” 7″ – Silent Explosion – 1986

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Replacing guitarist Ena Kostabi and drummer Peter Landau in their respective roles are Tim Jeffs and Ivan DePrume.  The former would be gone by the group’s very next release while the latter would stay long enough to record their major label debut.

On “Pig Heaven”/”Slaughter the Grey”, Straker/Zombie still sounds like GG Allin crossed with Darby Crash and the recording is still completely monophonic, lo-fi or just piss poor but both songs on this here little 7″ single rule catchy post-hardcorish/Butthole Surfers/Killdozer/psychedelic/blues metal ass! New guitarist Tim Jeffs has a psychedelic, wah-wah filled style similar to say Blue Cheer, Jimi Hendrix or what Paul Leary would start to do in the Butthole Surfers and with it he plays hypnotic, “do-do-loo-do-do-loo” note runs and blues solos all over creation on these two songs.

“Pig Heaven” plods along like a later period Black Flag tune from Loose Nut or In My Head but with riffs that seem capable of making you dizzy and with lyrics about the Manson cult while “Slaughter the Grey” has more of that Birthday Party, “thubba-thubba” style pounding and makes references to the Clint Eastwood vehicle Hang ’em High particularly in the part of the song where Rob Straker says “hang ’em high” over and over again.

Around this time White Zombie recorded the songs “Rain Insane”, “Paradise Fireball”, “Follow Wild” and “Red River Flow” but I have no idea why they didn’t make it onto any official recordings.

Psycho-Head Blowout – Silent Explosion – 1987

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Just look at them on the cover of this album.  Do they look like the same band  that would grace MTV’s alternative buzz bin or, for that matter, their own album covers in a few short years?  Rob Zombie is wearing a button up, sweater vest for Christ’s sake!

I guess Psycho-Head Blowout is considered an EP rather than a full length album on account of its only having seven songs and clocking in at under 30 minutes but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a 33 RPM, 12″ record and therefore, an album.  Although the group only printed 1000 copies of it, three landed in the hands of Iggy Pop, Thurston Moore and Kurt Cobain all of whom loved it.

On Psycho-Head Blowout White Zombie broke in their third guitarist, Tom Guay.  And now they really sound like the Birthday Party right down to that “live in your garage” production, scraping metal guitar tone and those stop/start herky jerk rhythms!  Only replace Nick Cave’s brooding baritone with Rob Straker’s painfully nasal, high pitched and incomprehensible singing and make the riffs more bluesy rather than jazzy or swingy.  Other than that Psycho-Head Blowout sounds like the retarded cousin of Junkyard and that’s a good thing!  Guay loves playing those high pitch “dee-dee-dee-dee” guitar sounds like Rowland S. Howard and the groove to a song like “True Crime” is totally like “Big Jesus Trash Can” or something along those lines.

I find this album quite enjoyable but if you sit through it in one listen, the songs all seem to blend together.  Some may have a string bend here and an ugly riff there, some neat drum fills, odd time signatures and lots and lots of Straker/Zombie’s caterwauling but, if you’re looking for individual songs to stand out, you’re gonna have to listen very, very closely!  Also Straker/Zombie’s voice is buried in the mix this time around and everything he sings sounds like”yeaahrrroowarrghrglbarglearrghh.”

If you’re dying to know, the other songs on the album are “Eighty Eight”, “Fast Jungle”, “Gun Crazy”, “Magdaline” and “True Crime.”  Gun Crazy is also a 1950 film noir; do you think that’s a coincidence…?  Hahahhahahhahaha!!!  I read that Rob Zombie wanted to be a film maker before joining a band and to riff on an old Vincent Price quote, “well, Rob Zombie, you sure aren’t a musician!”

Soul-Crusher – Silent Explosion – 1987

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Woa!  What happened?  Did a White Zombie fan complain that Psycho-Head Blowout sounded too good?  And did they replace their singer with Steve Albini and get him really drunk five minutes before pushing him behind the microphone?  Soul-Crusher sounds as if the band on the previous album felt as if the production was WAY too clean, that the instruments don’t bleed into each other enough and that they sounded too sober.  I might still consider Soul-Crusher to be the best White Zombie album but part of the joy might come from listening to something so patently unlistenable.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still enjoy this type of noise rock sludge but I don’t remember it being so incomprehensible and muddy sounding.  The one big difference stylistically between Psycho-Head Blowout and Soul-Crusher is that Tom Guay is playing way more straight-forward rock and metal riffs between his noisy, bluesy squealing.  The herky-jerky, stop/start Birthday Party element is there but, on songs like “Die Zombie!! Die!!” and “Skin”, Guay plays heavier, sludgier riffs in a manner similar to say Killdozer or the Melvins while “Scum Kill”, if not for that off-kilter rhythm, could almost pass for a real metal song with those blazing leads.  Also album closer “Diamond Ass” is right up there with the Cows in creating a vomit inducing, drunken, sea-sick vibe.  And that’s how everyone wants to feel!

Strangely Guay’s guitar sound manages to find a middle ground between the bluesy Butthole Surfers and the scrapy metallic Birthday Party tone.  Sean Ysuelt’s bass is also turned way the hell up, making the music sound that much denser, heavier and hypnotic; check out the awesome “Scum Kill”, where she plays an evil, ugly thing that goes, “bum-bum-bum, bum-bum-bum, bum-bum-bah-bah-bah-bah-bum.”  Rob Straker’s voice also is turned up louder but sounds just as incomprehensible as always.  And of course Ivan DePrume pounds his drums all tribal-like.  There are also some samples and little noisy bits scattered all over the record as well.

If you’re willing to put in the time and listen, you’ll find that the songs on Soul-Crusher are just as enjoyable (albeit in a twisted way) as those on Psycho-Head Blowout.  As mentioned the album is a bit sludgier and muddier than the previous album but, if you’re looking for a sound as ugly as Killdozer (not to mention what might be the roots of stuff like EyeHateGod) crossed with oddball rhythms and can put up with incomprehensible caterwauling, then let Soul-Crusher crush your soul (or ear drums).

Make Them Die Slowly – Caroline – 1989

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Make Them Die Slowly is the American name for the 1981 cannibal film Cannibal Ferox from Italian director Umberto Lenzi.  This is the trailer.  It’s gross!

Make Them Die Slowly is also White Zombie’s first attempt to “go metal” and, as far as I’m concerned, their closest to a “true” metal record.  I know what you’re thinking; how is Make Them Die Slowly their only ‘true’ metal record? And what the hell is ‘true’ metal, anyway?”  Well, I didn’t say it was a ‘true’ metal record.  I said it’s their closest attempt at it.  Allow me to exlain.

Apparently White Zombie embarked on a more metallic path partly due to the group’s performance at New York metal club L’Amour being so positively received and because Ivan DePrume hipped Rob Zombie and Sean Yseult to bands like Metallica and Slayer, who convinced the two of them that metal could be serious music.  Guitarist Tom Guay wasn’t so hot on the idea so they replaced him with John Ricci and made a metal record.  Sort of.

Rather than getting an actual metal producer, they used well known dub producer Bill Laswell and, guess what, the album sounds like the Birthday Party with a metal guitar player!  The thing sounds like it was recorded in a cave and the drums sound like garbage cans!  And I know this makes for an interesting listen and I personally enjoy the shit out of this record but I doubt it did much to attract real metal heads.  I could be mistaken but let’s pretend I’m right on that front.

With that all said, John Ricci is an actual metal guitarist; not a 70s blues metal/Hendixy/Blue Cheer/Black Sabbath/Melvins/Killdozer/Butthole Surfers guy.  His riffs are all straight from the Slayer/Metallica “chugga-chugga” book crossed with some NWOBHM and lotsa leads even though the production failed to capture the true “heaviness” of his guitar playing.  However everything is mid-tempo, the arrangements have the songs just go from one part to the other with no natural flow and Ivan DePrume’s drumming is still tribal as all hell, so don’t expect “normal metal.”  I don’t know if the crudeness of the arrangements was deliberate, being a remnant of their earlier herky-jerky sound or if it’s a product of novice songwriting.  More importantly I don’t care!

Oh and Rob Zombie’s voice is lower than on previous albums but still nasal as all hell and, though a bit more comprehensible, still sounds like nonsensical caterwauling.  Also there’s no bass.  You hear a bass on Make Them Die Slowly?  I sure don’t!  Where was Sean Yseult during the making of Make Them Die Slowly?  Because, by the sound of it, it sure wasn’t in the studio recording her bass parts!

Make Them Die Slowly is the final, quintessentially good White Zombie album.

God of Thunder EP – Caroline – 1990

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Final quintessentially good album because God of Thunder isn’t an album at all!  It’s a three track EP!  Shame too because, as far as I can tell by the circumstantial evidence, White Zombie could have been an awesome, ass heavy, Melvins/Helmet/Bleach-era Nirvana meets wicked, scary riff type band.  But really, what wisdom can you glean from a three track EP especially when one of those songs is a cover version?

Forced to quit due to carpal tunnel, John Ricci was replaced by Jay, the guitarist who would help transform White Zombie into the pile-driving, groove oriented, funky, industrial metal band that would be MTV darlings in the 90s.

In 1990, however, they were just another fledgling underground band touring in a bus and playing to a handful of people in cities across the U.S. (and the world apparently).  But daaamn have they gotten HEAVY!  God of Thunder might just be the heaviest thing White Zombie have ever done.  I don’t mean the Andy Wallace produced, clean as a whistle, major label sound of La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1 nor the Terry Date produced, drop D, industrial metal of Astro-Creep 2000.  I’m talking dirty and dense as fuck Helmet-style, underground guitar tone.

Unfortunately Jay doesn’t really have much to make his mark with.  “God of Thunder” is awesome but it is, after all, just a cover complete with the original sample of the little kids.  Rob Zombie sounds awesome with his new, signature, angry as hell, gravelly shouting voice which perfectly compliments the riffs and with which he says, “Yeah! Wow!” a lot.

The other two songs are “Love Razor” and “Disaster Blaster 2.”  I don’t know why it’s called “Disaster Blaster 2” since it’s just “Disaster Blaster” from the previous record but it’s still a great song.  That leaves us with “Love Razor”, the only original song on the record.  And it’s awesome.  Anyone familiar with La Sexorcisto will recognize its similarity to “Black Sunshine”, one of the only good songs on the album.  It begins with a sample from a porn flick, followed by a crushing “da-da-da” intro, a tough biker metal riff, some ugly, mid-tempo Slayer style riffing and then some more brutal, heavy pounding parts that all sound pretty awesome with their basic but catchy chord progressions.

Then they signed with Geffen and it was all over.

La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1 – Geffen – 1992

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At first I was determined to trash La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1 but, upon listening to their major label debut, I couldn’t ignore that fifth guitarist J. really can churn out catchy, whirly, psychotic sounding metal riffs to back up Rob Zombie’s gravel throated mix of scat rapping and straight forward shouting.

Released in early 1992, La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1 became something of a sleeper hit, steadily acquiring fans and turning the once lowly, club dwelling, New York artists into big time rock stars.

At the time of its release, it really was pretty unusual – from the band’s freaky appearance on the cover to Rob Zombie’s Ed Roth/R. Crumb inspired artwork to those nonsensical lyrics that seem to reference a different b-movie in every line and those bizarre song titles…

But what of the actual music? La Sexorcisto has big, Andy Wallace, major-label production so the guitar may be heavy but it’s super polished and Rob Zombie’s voice is pumped up way too loud in the mix. But that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that, at 58 minutes La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1 is too samey and long. There just aren’t enough different ideas to keep the CD afloat, which is why it seems like it’s losing steam halfway through and I feel like I don’t like the album as much as I thought I did when first I put it on.

The 11 songs (the back lists 14 tracks but “Knuckle Duster Radio 1-A”, “Knuckle Duster Radio 2-B” and “One Big Crunch” are just minute long collages of movie samples) on the album are all just groove oriented, slow to mid-tempo metal with the occasional funky back beat. J. throws in some weird, little parts in every song like the Slayer-esque intro to “Soul-Crusher” or the scary little melody in “Spiderbaby (Yeah-Yeah-Yeah)” and every one of them is loaded up on movie samples from films like Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! but most of the songs have lots of nothing riffs, so much so that the only one that’s good from start-to-finish is “Black Sunshine.”

I know I’m supposed to mention that Iggy Pop is on “Black Sunshine” and that it has a wicked bass intro. I also didn’t say a word about the album’s hit single “Thunderkiss ’65” but I see no point as it doesn’t differ at all from the other songs other than it’s shorter. And, what’s with the light, Metallica style intro to “I Am Legend”?

Also, on the back of the CD, there are two cartoon girls with HUGE tits.

Astro-Creep: 2000 – Geffen – 1995

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Note: Upon re-listening to Astro-Creep 2000 fairly recently, I found I’ve actually enjoyed a couple of these tunes a bit more; specifically “Creature of the Wheel” and “Grease Paint and Monkey Brains”, which, in spite the synthetic, deliberate over-compression of the entire album, are pretty darn cool sounding sludge metal tunes and have some weird sound scapes between and around the riffs.  Here is my original review:

In the three years since the release of La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1, all of White Zombie’s hard work paid off and the group found itself headlining big venues and all over radio and MTV. Long time drummer Ivan DePrume left somewhere between then and, after a couple fill ins, was replaced by former Exodus and Testament drummer John Tempesta.

Things for the group couldn’t be better except for the fact that Rob Zombie and Sean Yseult had ended their long-term relationship and Rob Zombie refused to speak directly to her, opting to speak through J. like a mature adult would. It also didn’t help that, by this point, Rob Zombie viewed the rest of the band as nothing more than trained monkeys to further his career. According to J., creating the Astro-Creep 2000 album wasn’t easy and that through sheer determination, he sat in the studio pounding out riffs until something stuck. Also, according to him, no two members were in the studio at any particular time during the recording sessions.

Astro-Creep 2000 is way heavier than La Sexorcisto with the guitars pumped up REALLY loud and tuned in C# the entire time. The songs are also way simpler than on the previous album – just basic verse/chorus/verse/chorus/guitar solo/verse/chorus constructions – and the group has now thrown industrial music into the mix, with a few programmed beats, clanky noises, weird textures and keyboards. And, as expected, there are a lot of sound clips – expanding beyond the standard horror and exploitation to a porn movie at the beginning of “More Human than Human” and a spoken clip from an interview with a Manson-family member in “Real Solution #9.” Rob Zombie is also using a wider range of singing styles in addition to his standard growling and faux-rapping – such as singing through a walky-talky on “Real Solution #9” or doing sort of a speak/sing thing on “Creature of the Wheel” and “Blood, Milk and Sky.” Unfortunately he’s also adopted this really annoying, nasally style where a word like “psychoholic” becomes “psychoHAWLIC”, turning a passable song like “More Human than Human” into something nearly unlistenable.

White Zombie’s major label albums don’t flat out suck like I wanted to believe until I sat down and listened to them for the first time in years. It’s just that they’re inconsistent; good intros – such as the ones for “More Human than Human” and “Electric Head Pt. 2 (The Ecstasy)” – will be followed by boring collections of two or three chord, detuned riffs that anyone could have written or a lot of space will be filled with “jugga-jugga” nothingness. And that’s a shame because J. can write some heavy, sludgy ass riffs and the album’s got a few solid ones, just not enough. Every song has a neat part or two but no song is good in its entirety. Or, in the case of “Super Charger Heaven”, an otherwise ripping, punk metal tune with a neat surfy bit, the song is ruined by Zombie’s extremely annoying vocals. Some of these songs like “Electric Head Pt. 1 (The Agony)”, “I, Zombie” and “Blood, Milk and Sky” could not have taken more than a few minutes to write. Almost nothing happens in them!

But, what do I know? The album was a massive success, the music videos were on MTV, the songs were on the radio and the band was playing enormous venues and appearing on soundtracks. But I guess, even at the peak of their success, they knew the end was near.

Supersexy Swingin’ Sounds – Geffen – 1996

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I remember when Supersexy Swingin’ Sounds came out because we were all like, “White Zombie already released a new album?” Turns out it’s just a collection of remixes; eleven to be exact – ten from Astro-Creep: 2000 (excluding “Creature of the Wheel”) along with their cover of “I’m Your Boogieman” from the Crow: City of Angels soundtrack.

Around the time of the album’s release, Rob Zombie had expressed that he was growing tired of music made by guitars, bass and drums and was getting more into music made by computers. As a result of his new interests, he rounded up Charlie Clouser (Nine Inch Nails live band), John Fryer (This Mortal Coil), the Dust Brothers, Mike “Hitman” Wilson (?), P.M Dawn and Praga Kahn to help him shit all over the work of J., Sean Yseult and John Tempesta.

I say this with such a negative tone only because I feel the work on this CD is rather lazy. Instead of making new songs with his band and utilizing the help of these remixers and producers, he just took old songs and fucked with them – rearranging parts, replacing human percussion with programmed beats and replacing and or covering instruments with new textures and sounds. And I know the other members probably agreed to it but, come on…

With that all said, some of these touches aren’t so bad, interesting to say the least. For instance there is the ambient, electro noises added to “Electric Head Pt. 2 (Sexational After Dark Mix)” and you got “Grease Paint and Monkey Brains (Sin Centers of Suburbia Mix)”, which has the entire guitar track removed, turning the song into wacky organ grinder music with voodoo percussion – pretty cool actually! Meanwhile “I, Zombie (Europe in the Raw Mix)” is nearly identical to the original save for the programmed dance beat.

But man, some of these are absolutely awful! “Blur the Technicolor (Poker from Stud to Strip Mix)” is a particular offender with its hip-hop beat, Rob Zombie’s rapping vocal track sped up and a sample of some lady saying “turn me on” over and over. REALLY corny! Or the dated as fuck techno beat in “Super-Charger Heaven (Adults Only Mix)”, a song I already wasn’t into because of the singing and in some parts it’s just the vocals and techno beat! And what is up with the slow, “sexy”, hip hop groove of “Blood, Milk and Sky (Miss September Mix)”? Not to mention the “ultra-hyper”, gay S&M club, Mortal Kombat retardation “Electric Head Pt. 1 (Satan in High Heels Mix).” Also “El Phantasmo and the Chicken-Run Blast-O-Rama” wasn’t a very good song to begin with so messing with the structure and vocal track and adding some noise to it didn’t improve it.

Like most remix CDs and remixes in general, I find them pretty useless. They might be worth a listen but ultimately they make me just to want to hear the original versions and yell at the band for not making more new songs. This particular remix CD has its moments of goodness but, judging by the previous paragraph, there aren’t many of them.

After this album, the band toured one more time and Rob Zombie said, “fuck it, I’ma do it on my own!” and gave his band the big ol’ middle finger. Then he released some lousy dance metal albums and made some okay (and some not so okay) movies.

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