The music of Robert Bartleh Cummings, better known as Rob Zombie, has become some of the most memeworthy material in the rock and metal world. That said, I’d make the case that his work with his previous band White Zombie is far easier to lampoon. In these times, particularly in the late Eighties and early Nineties, the band’s sound was more groove-oriented, riding the thrash-laden wave of bands like Pantera, Prong, and Sepultura. Rather than get political or outright aggressive, the work of White Zombie was a throwback to B-movies, schlock, and exploitation of all sorts.
They say that moaning isn’t an instrument, but three decades later, he’s still using such samples, so…
While the band’s sound originated more in noise and punk rock, it was on their third album, 1992’s La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1 where things turned more towards groove and, to a lesser extent, industrial metal. The latter wouldn’t be the modus operandi of the band until 1995’s Astro-Creep 2000, but bits and pieces of what would allow Rob Zombie to make a career singing about the Munsters’ family vehicle and the apparent copulation of all of those around him in flying saucers can be found far, far back.
The opening sounds of “Welcome to Planet Motherfucker / Psychoholic Slag” sound like a warp-speed trip to Hell before we’re left in a synth-laden abyss. The guitars kick in, the band follows, and the groove for this journey is dialed in like a set of coordinates. Rob’s vocal delivery is somewhere between rapped and sung, using as much real estate per line as he can. What follows is a heavy, pocketed vibe that is easy to dance to or bang one’s head to, something that we can still say about Zombie’s music all these years later. A brief interlude with radio commercials and dial tuning gives way to “Thunder Kiss ‘65,” one of the simplest and best riffs in the metal world. Behind “Smoke on the Water” and “Paranoid,” it’s one of those riffs one first learns when learning guitar, and why wouldn’t it be? It’s a foot-stomping, gravel-singing good time jam-packed with samples and swagger.
As if that wasn’t enough, we get spoiled with one of the best road songs there’s ever been, “Black Sunshine,” featuring narration from punk godfather Iggy Pop. I remember it from Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, some may remember it from its feature on Beavis and Butt-head, but if you don’t remember it all, do yourself a favor and play it back. It’s in this track where we get that griminess that turns things ever so slightly towards the industrial beats which Zombie’s music would later enjoy, but there’s loads of groove and gusto to be had here. “Soul-Crusher” is, by contrast, very guitar-driven and takes things back to their noise rock, Make Them Die Slowly days, before things arrive at a thrash-inspired, ride-heavy rhythm. “Cosmic Monsters Inc.” doubles down on the thrash influence, with loads of palm muted riffing and an airtight rhythm section.
While yes, every metal band ever has been touched by Black Sabbath, “Spiderbaby (Yeah-Yeah-Yeah)” does so more than just about anything, particularly in the bridge found just after the three minute mark. The drum fills, the riffing, it all feels like it was lifted from Osbourne-era Sabbath, and if you’re going to imitate anyone, go for the gold and go for the godfathers. The clean guitars which open “I Am Legend” are a departure from what we’ve heard so far, but before long, the monolithic riffing returns, as do the solos that so many in the Nineties say were killed off by grunge. Clearly White Zombie missed that memo, as we get another shred of shred from Jay Yuenger to take this track home with the classic big rock ending.
Another “Knuckle Duster” interlude gives way to “Thrust!” and the title more than advertises what the song brings. It’s full speed ahead, bouncing and banging with the classic White Zombie sound that we’ve taken the first half of the record to establish. We even get a sample from the zombie film that started it all, Night of the Living Dead, and while that seems like an odd choice for a song called “Thrust!”… fuck it, it’s about zombies, we’ll allow it. A third interlude called “One Big Crunch” gives way to the thumping drums of “Grindhouse A Go-Go,” with a stop and go main riff that begs for an air guitar accompaniment or pantomime.
“Starface” is still very much a rock and roll song, but damn if this one doesn’t have the most dance and disco influence, from the guitar playing to the drum techniques used by Ivan de Prume. This one leans more groove than metal, but it’s still plenty heavy. The near-seven-minute closer “Warp Asylum,” however, is another Sabbathian nod full of big riffs, big drums, and a doom and gloom feel, the “slag” part of the titular psychoholic slag. It’s a big, gnarly crescendo, a summation of everything that brought us this far, and everything that will take White Zombie, and in particular Rob Zombie, into the future for decades to come.
Folks will be most familiar with the singles “Thunder Kiss ‘65” and “Black Sunshine,” but let the rest of the record play and you’re in for an answer to the grunge movement. You want Sabbath? You got it. You want all of the movie references to make Ebert and Roeper blush? Come closer. You want guitar solos? Pilgrim, we will show you some guitar solos. This is an essential record, patient zero for Mr. Zombie and his decades-long reign as the king of grindhouse-inspired grooves and macabre-themed metal.