Digging deeper is the kind of phrase that Rob Zombie would appreciate. He was born Robert Bartleh Cummings in Massachusetts in 1965 and soon developed a passion for Stan Lee’s comic art and Alice Cooper’s performance rock art. Handily enough he was raised by carnival touring parents. With girlfriend Sean Yseult, he concocted White Zombie, a lethal cocktail of industrial noise, attaining a riding spiral of success that culminated in the remix disc Supersexy Swingin’ Sounds, a liquor and poker set of stupendous girth.
Zombie’s move into the solo arena ran parallel with White Zombie for a while. Hellbilly Deluxe (a play on Dwight Yoakam’s Hillbilly Deluxe) is subtitled 13 Tales of Cadaverous Cavorting Inside the Spookshow International and it does exactly what it says on the sleeve. It raises merry hell. Hardcore industrial noise and grimy metal abound here but as astute critics noted, despite the wall of metallic sound the arrangements are as fastidious and considered as on any soul or polished pop record. Zombie never throws it against the wall just to see what sticks: there is always a method to his madness. The year after its release Zombie put out the remix version, American Made Music to Strip By, thus inventing roxploitation (with a saucy smile and a cheerfully candid photo of his wife Sheri on the front) and sating his fans appetite for reconstruction before he followed up with The Sinister Urge (2001), named after Ed Wood’s cult crime flick. Featuring more orientated material than its predecessor where “Superbeast” and “Living Dead Girl” carved out a hard thrash of guitar, drums and electronics, the Urge… album utillises producer Scott Humphrey’s talents as a programmer to fuller effect. Guests include Tommy Lee on drums, Jerry Hey’s old school horns, and Ozzy Osbourne’s vocal on “Iron Head”, one of the schlockiest cuts – though “Demon Speeding” and “Dead Girl Superstar” tickled the fans nerve endings first and foremost.
Guitarist Mike Riggs and drummer John Tempesta left for the third album, Educated Horses and this is also Ron Blasko’s final stint on bass. But you don’t notice any cracks appearing, apart from in your walls. “American Witch”, “Foxy”, “Let It All Bleed Out” and “The Lords of Salem” generated terrific sales and huge amounts of airplay and with Nine Inch Nails skin smacker Josh Freese boosting the backbeat this is considered to be Zombie’s most brutal and experimental disc to date.
Taking part of the template from British glam rockers like T. Rex, Slade and Sweet, Educated Horses made number one on the Top Rock chart and really might have won the Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance. After slipping out the sequel Hellbilly Deluxe 2, our hero wrote, produced and directed the feature film The Lords of Salem and then chased it down with the magnificently named Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor, complete with garish psychedelic cover and a new producer, one Bob Marlette.
Here Zombie covers Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band” in POV glory and satisfies the fanboys and fangirls with ever more lurid material in the guise of “Trade in Your Guns for a Coffin”, “White Trash Freaks” and the none too shy about controversy “Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown” which lambasts the state of mainstream rock radio – a perennial gripe over the years with everyone from Lou Reed to Tom Petty.
Still there’s plenty going down here, rock and roll, style. Ron, guitarist John 5 (ex-David Lee Roth and Marilyn Manson), Piggy D’s bass and another Manson graduate, drummer Ginger Fish, now form the nucleus of a dynamic quartet. Whatever, they deliver exactly the required hall of mirrors mania that Zombie’s audience demands. Total trash entertainment with a megaton of fun that should satisfy the die-hard fans and titillate the casual newcomer. We’d certainly recommend you discover all the above and in any order you choose.
Of course Rob always leaves his people wanting more and we have more here. Zombie Live (2007) is well over an hour of the good stuff that dates to the Educated Horses tour and includes a lavish booklet and accompanying DVD. Mondo Sex Head is the remix album that had to have its cover pulled since it featured a ‘glamorous’ photo of Sheri Moon (Mrs.) Zombie. A pussycat replaced her image. The results are sensational. Everything old sounds new again and Photek’s take on "Living Dead Girl” adds a trippy, spooky backdrop that is truly hypnotic. Totally recommended.
Not just for completists we’d like to mention the compilation Past, Present & Future (2003) where White Zombie and solo tracks coexist happily. Just to hear him tackle KC & The Sunshine Band’s “I’m Your Boogieman” (an inspired cover on every level) which he has featured on the soundtrack of The Crow: City of Angels makes this disc an essential listen. For good measure he also includes the Commodores cover “Brick House 2003” and The Ramones “Blitzkrieg Bop” – evidence that here is a man of fine taste who knows as much about punk as he does the Philly Sound.
More power to Rob Zombie’s elbow. This is the metal you really can’t take home to meet your parents.
Words: Max Bell
Just as White Zombie was on the verge of becoming the most popular metal band in the land, Rob Zombie decided he was an auteur. Stopping short of breaking up the band, Zombie set out to make sure everyone know that he was the main force in the band, as if there were any doubt in the first place. He did extracurricular animation, managed a band, started a record label, drew a sequence in Beavis & Butt-Head Do America, appeared in films, wrote the script for The Crow 3 (which he planned to direct), and most tellingly of all, he recorded a solo album, Hellbilly Deluxe. Since White Zombie was always his baby, it seems a little strange that he had the need to break away from the group, especially since the album sounds exactly like a White Zombie record, complete with thunderous industrial rhythms, drilling metal guitars, and B-movie obsessions. For most listeners, it doesn't matter if Hellbilly Deluxe is technically a White Zombie or Rob Zombie album, since it delivers the goods, arguably even better than Astro-Creep: 2000. To outsiders, the entire schlock enterprise may seem ridiculous or sound monotonous, but even the weak cuts here hit hard and give fans exactly what they want.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Rob Zombie's American Made Music to Strip By features remixes of songs from Hellbilly Deluxe by like-minded producers and artists such as former Nine Inch Nails members Charlie Clouser and Chris Vrenna, Rammstein, God Lives Underwater, and Philip Steir, formerly of Consolidated. The sexy, sleazy, horror-movie vibe of Hellbilly Deluxe is amplified on a remix of "What Lurks on Channel X?" by the Spacetruckers, Rammstein's reworking of "Spookshow Baby," and the "Poly 915" remix of "Demonoid Phenomenon." Clouser turns in revamped versions of "Superbeast," "Dragula," and "Living Dead Girl" that expand on the songs' creepy yet hard-hitting feel. American Made Music to Strip By also includes a 28-page booklet of artwork and photos from the Hellbilly Deluxe tour.
Words: Heather Phares
When he's not directing feature films like House of 1000 Corpses and Devil's Rejects, Rob Zombie likes to make music. Educated Horses, the prolific director, writer/animator/horror aficionado's return to the world of hedonistic, sexed-up monster rock doesn't stray too far from the formula that garnered him such a rabid fan base, but there's less theater and more backwoods creepiness at hand this time around. Horses crawls on all fours for the first three tracks, relying on too many tried-and-true White Zombie dance beats and turgid guitar riffs to hint at anything outside of sheer puppetry, but when the mid-tempo crunch of "17 Year Locust" begins to echo Sabotage-era Black Sabbath, it's clear that Zombie himself is having the time of his life pulling the strings. "Scorpion Sleeps," with its boot-stomping intro plays like Gary Glitter's "Rock & Roll, Pt.1" blaring from angel's trumpets at the apocalypse, "Ride," with its Tubular Bells-inspired piano riff, evolves into a storm of sonic debauchery, and the purely psychedelic singalong "Death of It All" sounds like the end credits to the last film ever. Schlock it may be, but it's infinitely more listenable -- and enjoyable -- than most schlock thinks it is.
Words: James Christopher Monger
Hard rock's brightest shock rocker avoids the sophomore slump on the fun and energetic The Sinister Urge. Zombie's trademark growl is still in fine form, roaring over the 11 tracks with his unique blend of acid-throated venom. But most interesting are the directions he tries to bring to his familiar sound, which he has been cultivating since the hardcore punk days of White Zombie. "Never Gonna Stop (The Red, Red Kroovy)" is the most apparent example of this, a song that borders on pop with its groovy handclaps and acoustic guitars. But not to be worried, the chorus kicks back into classic Zombie, complete with sampled crowd chants and his trademark "yeah." "Going to California" has a similar vibe, albeit darker and with a Welcome to My Nightmare-era Alice Cooper showbiz quality to it. But when it comes time to rock out, Zombie is more than ready. "Dead Girl Superstar" is probably the best of the bunch, raging along at lightning speed and featuring an awesome guest appearance by Slayer guitarist Kerry King. "Iron Head" is also quite good, matching Zombie's bark with guest singer Ozzy Osbourne's trademark banshee wail over a swaggering beat and chugging riff. And finally there is "House of 1000 Corpses," the theme from the film Zombie directed that apparently offended Universal Studios so much that they refused to release it. The song is a nice departure for him, like a Leonard Cohen song filtered through Violator-era Depeche Mode. It is the slow burn of this last track that shows the most promise; after years of making good heavy metal, he finally expands the boundaries of his own sound. Few metal musicians kept their sound fresh for as long as Zombie, and this album is no exception. This may not win any new fans, but anyone who enjoyed his old material will probably find this to be a welcome addition to their collection. Listen for the bonus track, "Unholy Three," about a minute after the last track ends.
Words: Bradley Torreano
It's kind of hard to say what Rob Zombie is at this juncture. He's a filmmaker, he's a musician but, more than anything, he's a brand selling...well, some kind of blend of cheap rock & roll and B-movie exploitation. Cinema proved to be slightly more favorable to his obsessions than music, but he started as a rocker, so he can't leave three chords behind, and so he wound up recording another album called Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor in 2013, about three years after he last attempted a pop album. There seems to be a concept album tying together Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor but it'd require patience to piece together, patience that only fanboys could afford. Zombie panders to these true believers but he's clever, clever enough to give Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor some distinctive wrinkles, whether it's the heavy dose of Deep Purple organ, relentlessly sequenced rhythms, or the monster movie lyrics he loves so. Why he decided to cover Grand Funk Railroad is anybody's guess -- maybe somebody at the label thought it'd help get him on the radio, but at this point nobody should be under any illusion that Rob Zombie could expand his audience. He lives in a world of wax figurines, plaster replicas, VHS dubs, and scratched vinyl, sending them all through digital fuzzboxes and turning them up to 11. If you like what he likes, you'll have fun with him. If not, this is a world of hurt.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Why now, Rob Zombie? Why a live album in 2007, just when it seemed like you were gracefully transitioning from music to movies, with your remake of Halloween turning into a hit despite decidedly mixed reviews? Clearly, the answer is that Rob Zombie never intended to leave music behind; he's a cross-platform juggernaut who delivers variations of trashy yet clever schlock-horror to all manners of media, from film to record...to the stage, as captured on Live, his first live album ever. Recorded on various stops on his Educated Horses tour in 2006, Zombie Live does lack some might when stripped of its visuals, but the interesting thing about this set is that it feels live. Which doesn't necessarily mean that it sounds raw: Zombie does a giant production designed for arenas, and the music does sound appropriately big, polished, and punchy. But for as professional as this group is -- it includes Johnny 5 on guitar, drummer Tommy Clufetos and bassist Piggy D -- they still play with vigor, and Zombie's vocals sound live, sometimes swallowed by the mix but never playing like mere replicas of the record. This element of performance energy gives Live its kick -- there are no reimagined songs here, only enthusiastic readings, which should be enough for fans.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine