2008: White Zombie - Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

At least for me, Geffen Records' release of a White Zombie boxed set was the most shocking yet eagerly-anticipated musical event of 2008. After decades of longing for the seminal heavy metal group's self-released ’80s material to receive a CD reissue, most of us had grown resigned to its unlikelihood. Horror film icon and rock ‘n’ roll "boogieman" Rob Zombie has done little to disguise his dislike for his band's early work, including their major-label debut La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol 1. And yet, against all odds, here it is: a compilation of the band's entire (well, almost-entire, but more on that later) output in a neat, handsomely-packaged set of five discs.

Each CD functions as a snapshot of the band's evolution, beginning with their earliest, hardcore-influenced EPs. Zombie's voice is recognizable but still far from the hell-hound growl that would become his trademark. The way he skates over the full-speed-ahead guitar shredding recalls the lo-fi brilliance of T.S.O.L. or Earth A.D.-era Misfits. Queasy, lurching numbers like the Birthday Party-esque “True Crime” or the crashing, frenetic “Cats Eye Resurrection” got the band lumped in with the New York no-wave scene, yet one need only turn to tracks like “Pig Heaven” or “Eighty-Eight” to know that, even then, White Zombie had more in common with Slayer than Swans.

The second disc captures both the best and worst of White Zombie's pre-Geffen output. In 1987, Soul Crusher was considered a minor masterpiece, being embraced by such rock luminaries as Thurston Moore and Kurt Cobain. The debut album's 10 songs are consciously dissonant, replete with disquieting tempo-shifts, staccato drum-fills, and layers of squealing multi-tracked vocals. It marks Zombie's first use of B-movie sound-clips, an embellishment that would eventually become their hallmark.

Next to the roiling madness of Soul Crusher, Make Them Die Slowly is a bit of a yawner -- understandable considering Caroline Records gave the band just a few days to write and record an entire LP. The result is a hodge-podge of poorly-produced, overlong, and often indistinct songs. While a few tracks rise above the din -- the plodding “Murderworld” does a groovy about-face at the midway point before dissolving into thrash-metal bar mitzvah theme -- the most compelling reason to listen is to hear Rob Zombie's voice finally mature.

The set's biggest stylistic leap occurs between the second and third disc. The addition of Chicago's Jay Yuenger solidified White Zombie around a far more groove-oriented sound. Within the space of a single EP, God of Thunder, the whiplash-inducing approach to songwriting was abandoned in favor of a funkier, more technically polished style. The title-track, a superb cover of the Kiss song, is the work of fully confident, self-assured group of musicians. Along with “Love Razor” and a reprise of “Disaster Blaster,” these could have been lost tracks from their Geffen years.

La Sexorcisto and Astrocreep: 2000 are both very well-known albums and need no further praise from me. I'll only add that it's nice to have all of White Zombie's compilation and soundtrack cuts (of which there are surprisingly many) finally collected in one place. These constitute some of the band's best work, including the punishing “I Am Hell,” “Feed the Gods,” and “The One,” which displayed Rob Zombie's growing infatuation with electronics that would come to full fruition in 1998's Hellbilly Deluxe.

The set's videos and live footage are a mixed bag. Compared to the Nirvana boxed set, With the Lights Out, which featured home-movies of the band playing in their parents' basement and other memorable gems, the offerings here are a bit of a letdown. The videos range from outstanding (“I'm Your Boogieman,” “More Human than Human,” “Thunderkiss '65”) to forgettable (“The One” -- god, could they look a little more bored?). It's always cool to watch old concert footage and be reminded of what your favorite artists looked like way back when, but there aren't any recordings of the band prior to La Sexorcisto, and hey, how do they not have a single performance of “More Human than Human?"

The hardest of hardliners will point out the conspicuous absence of Super Sexy Swingin' Sounds and the KMFDM remixes of “Thunderkiss '65,” but both releases are readily available at any decent record store. I, for one, applaud the omission, but am a little irked they didn't include any of the unreleased demos that have been floating around the bootleg market for 20-some-odd years.

As for the packaging, it's everything you've come to expect from a Rob Zombie release: his lavish, Big Daddy Roth-inspired B-movie artwork with plenty of photography of the band through its various incarnations. Some kind of retrospective essay could have given context to the chaotic sounds of White Zombie's tumultuous beginnings, but it's a minor complaint.

When all is said and done, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie might not be the exact collection Zombie fans were been hoping for, but it's more than most of us ever expected. All those who followed Rob Zombie's career through the ’90s will find plenty here to sink their fangs into, and taken on their own merits, these recordings hold up well compared to other hardcore/noise rock/heavy metal contemporaries. I'm glad that Geffen saw fit to disturb this corpse's slumber.

CD 1:

1. Gentleman Junkie
2. King Of Souls
3. Tales From The Scarecrowman
4. Cat's Eye Resurrection
5. Pig Heaven
6. Slaughter The Grey
7. Eighty-Eight
8. Fast Jungle
9. Gun Crazy
10. Kick
11. Memphis
12. Magdalene
13. True Crime

CD 2:

1. Ratmouth
2. Shack Of Hate
3. Drowning The Colossus
4. Crow III
5. Die, Zombie, Die
6. Skin
7. Truck On Fire
8. Future-Shock
9. Scumkill
10. Diamond Ass
11. Demonspeed
12. Disaster Blaster
13. Murderworld
14. Revenge
15. Acid Flesh
16. Power Hungry
17. Godslayer

CD 3:

1. God Of Thunder
2. Love Razor
3. Disaster Blaster 2
4. Welcome To Planet Motherfucker/Psychoholic Slag
5. Knuckle Duster (Radio 1-A)
6. Thunder Kiss '65
7. Black Sunshine
8. Soul-Crusher
9. Cosmic Monsters Inc.
10. Spiderbaby (Yeah-Yeah-Yeah)
11. I Am Legend
12. Knuckle Duster (Radio 2-B)
13. Thrust!
14. One Big Crunch
15. Grindhouse (A Go-Go)
16. Starface
17. Warp Asylum
18. I Am Hell

CD 4:

1. Children Of The Grave
2. Feed The Gods
3. Electric Head Pt. 1 (The Agony)
4. Super-Charger Heaven
5. Real Solution #9
6. Creature Of The Wheel
7. Electric Head Pt. 2 (The Ecstasy)
8. Grease Paint And Monkey Brains
9. I, Zombie
10. More Human Than Human
11. El Phantasmo And The Chicken-Run Blast-O-Rama
12. Blur The Technicolor
13. Blood, Milk And The Sky
14. The One
15. I'm Your Boogieman
16. Ratfinks, Suicide Tanks And Cannibal Girls

DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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