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Music Review: White Zombie – Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

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The small town of Haverhill, Massachusetts has seen its share of American history yet will be remembered by popular culture primarily as the hometown of one Robert Cummings, or as he's now known, Rob Zombie.  After a move to New York in the early 1980s Cummings took some ideas for a band, assembled musicians and eventually, White Zombie was born. 

Ten years and four LPs later they had become one of the most popular heavy rock bands in America and would continue to be so until Zombie went solo in 1998. Released in 2008 the five-disc Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is the first collection to document not only the band’s hits from 1992-onwards but their entire catalogue of commercial releases from 1985-1996.  It’s an attractive package, five discs carefully set in a folding box inside a plastic slip cover with newly designed cover art, but its breadth and price tag may be too much for the casual buyer.   

Disc one covers the band’s output from their formation in 1985 up until 1987: EPs Gods on Voodoo Moon (1985), Pig Heaven (1986) & Psycho-head Blowout (1986).  These records are maligned by some fans because they sound nothing like the White Zombie that struck into the mainstream with catchy, stomping tracks like “Thunderkiss ‘65” and “More Human Than Human”.  Instead, these albums are rough and under-produced, more like early punk than the industrial grind Zombie and his shifting line-up of bandmates would become known for. 

Gods on Voodoo Moon has Zombie, then known as Rob Straker, on vocal, his then-girlfriend Sean Yseult on bass, Paul “ENA” Kostabi on guitar, and Peter Landau on drums; Pig Heaven saw Ivan de Prume replace Landau and Tim Jeffs, then Tom Guay replace Kostabi on guitar.  All three EPs are remastered and sound as clean as 1980s noise rock can although Zombie’s early shrieking, high-register vocals, and the piercing guitar occasionally make for a challenging listen, particularly on “Cat’s Eye Resurrection”.  

Recording quality and musicianship improved over time and Psycho-head Blowout borders on the listenable but overall this disc really only works as a museum piece for White Zombie and early noise punk.  Some of the better tracks are:  “Gentleman Junkie”, “Tales From the Scarecrowman”, and “Pig Heaven”.

Disc two is made up of White Zombie’s first two full-length albums Soul-Crusher (1987) and Make Them Die Slowly (1989).  In addition to being the band’s first LP, Soul-Crusher marks their first use of b-movie sound bites, something that came to be strongly identified with both their work and Zombie’s solo output. Soul-Crusher has the same band line-up as Psycho-Head Blowout with the exception of Tom Five taking over guitar duties from Tom Guay.  

He would then leave before Make Them Die Slowly which featured guitarist John Ricci. ForSoul-Crusher the band brought on producer Wharton Tiers to give them some direction in the studio and while it seems to have worked so far as giving them a cleaner, more cohesive sound, the entire thing is an assault on the ears.  Songs like “Drowning the Colossus” and “Die, Zombie, Die” seem to drone on endlessly and after almost forty minutes I was starting to rethink my commitment to listening to the rest of the disc.  

Thankfully Make Them Die Slowly was a change of direction for the band; Rob Straker was now Rob Zombie and gone with the name were the piercing vocals.  The sound of this album, produced by Bill Laswell, is much more metal than noise rock although after a while the word droning started to again creep up in my mind.  This disc, like the first, is only for White Zombie completists. Some of the listenable tracks are:  “Ratmouth”, “Shack of Hate”, and “Acid Flesh”.

Disc three opens with one of my favourite White Zombie songs, KISS-cover “God of Thunder” from the EP of the same name (1989).  It’s a departure from the heavy metal of Die Slowly into a looser hard rock sound that would typify the band’s breakthrough La Sexorcisto.  This is partially due to the fact that the band had finally found a line-up that stuck, if only briefly; Die Slowly guitarist John Ricci was replaced by Jay Yuenger, who would stay with the group until their disbandment.  

La Sexorcisto:  Devil Music Vol. 1 (1992) was the band’s first major label release and was a commercial and critical success.  Fans will know hits like “Welcome to Planet Motherfucker”, “Black Sunshine” and, the monster “Thunderkiss ‘65” by heart so it’s not a hard sell.  The disc is rounded out with “I Am Hell” from the 1993 compilation The Beavis & Butthead Experience. All the tracks are listenable but among the best are “God of Thunder”, “I Am Legend” & “Thunderkiss ‘65”.

Disc four covers the band’s final, most developed period, from 1994-1996.  It opens with a great cover of “Children of the Grave”, from 1994’s compilation Nativity in Black: A Tribute to Black Sabbath.  Next is the forgettable “Feed the Gods”, from the soundtrack to the equally forgettable 1994 film Airheads.  It’s so forgettable in fact that no one seemed to catch Zombie re-using this song’s “Hey yeah!” sound bite in Hellbilly Deluxe’s “Superbeast”.  

Next is the entirety of White Zombie’s final, and in my opinion, best, LP, 1995’s Astro Creep: 2000 – Songs of Love, Destruction & Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head. On hard-driving songs like “Electric Head Part I:  The Agony” and “Supercharger Heaven” the band seems to channel the better parts of Ministry with lyrics that are darker and seem better fitted to the music than on previous albums.  “More Human Than Human” was the album’s biggest hit and is arguably their most recognizable song.  The band line-up featured on this album, Zombie, Sean Yseult, Jay Yuenger & John Tempesta would remain together until the group’s dissolution in 1998.  

Following the album there are three soundtrack singles, all from 1996:  “The One” from John Carpenter’sEscape From L.A., a grating cover of “I’m Your Boogieman” from Tim Pope’sThe Crow:  City of Angels Beavis & Butthead Do America’s “Ratfinks, Suicide Tanks & Cannibal Girls”.  It’s difficult to single out any tracks as being better than the ones around them but “Children of the Grave”, “Electric Head Part I”, “More Human Than Human”, “Blood, Milk & Sky” & “The One” are the ones I listen to more often than any others.

The album’s fifth disc is a DVD containing all nine of the band’s music videos along with ten live performances.  All in all Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is an exhausting tribute to White Zombie.  Completists may balk at the absence of a dozen or so late 80s b-sides like “Follow Wild” and “Paradise Fireball” which are still floating around the net in bootleg form, not to mention the total omission of Supersexy Swingin’ Sounds but it’s their most comprehensive collection to date and the only see one we’re likely to see released commercially.  

For all that it's hard to see who this collection is pitched towards; if you already own La Sexorcisto & Astro Creep: 2000 then there’s little reason to own this aside from the bonus DVD, artwork and having a hard copy of White Zombie’s elusive back catalogue.  If you don’t own those two discs then a $50 price tag seems steep for  a primer, even for one of the best heavy rock bands of the nineties.  Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is a great package, but I'm left asking myself:  For who?

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