A world without Rob Zombie’s macabre “spookshow international” is not a world that any sane person should want to be part of. It’s nigh-on impossible to imagine today but, prior to the release of his first post-White Zombie solo album, Hellbilly Deluxe, there were legitimate questions about the future of one of rock’s true visionaries. The 90s were weird, man. Real weird.
In the aftermath of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ – Kurt’s riff and Dave Grohl’s flam at the start changing the course of rock music forever – all the misfits, freaks and runts booted open the asylum door and ran free atop the mountain of pop culture to create one of the most boundary-pushing and creatively satisfying periods in the history of music.
White Zombie were one of those acts. Their Technicolor brand of industrial noise, horror-movie samples and artwork that would slam between psychedelia and Tales From The Crypt-baiting evil fun was bolstered by massive, massive tunes that made them one of the most beloved acts of not only their era, but any era. Seriously, ask someone who grew up with White Zombie and watch them quiver. And while the group wouldn’t officially split until a month after the release of Hellbilly Deluxe, which forced its way into our consciousness on 25 August 1998, the man at the microphone, with the signature dreadlocks and outlandish style, was in a curious position in the eyes of the public. Everyone could see that White Zombie were on a one-way trip to Super-Charger Heaven, but that’s not the whole story.
We knew Rob was the creative driving force in White Zombie. We knew he drew the artwork and we’d seen that kick-ass acid trip in Beavis And Butt-Head Do America. We knew that he was special but, on a surface level, did the dude play any instruments? Everyone liked the vocal style and playing the drink-every-time-he-says-‘Yeah’ game in festival fields, but would he be fine out on his own without that unit driving his vision with their crunch?
What a cynical bunch of idiots we were.
There was always something about White Zombie’s music that felt better in a rock club than 99 per cent of all other bands’ efforts. When Rob turned up armed with the biggest chorus of his career, singing about cruising the streets in a literal hell ride, all questions about his future were obliterated like privileged, preppy kids on the end of Leatherface’s chainsaw.
There’s little to be said about ‘Dragula’ that hasn’t been said a million times before, but we’ll try wrapping it up in a sentence. If you’re making a mixtape of the biggest rock songs of the 90s and people aren’t moving to that grinding “Burn like an animal” hook, you deserve to have your mixtape booed out of the room. Walk on home, boy.
Hellbilly Deluxe is a tour de force. It’s a sensory overload. The opening three songs are ‘Superbeast’, ‘Dragula’ and ‘Living Dead Girl’ – a tsunami of blood-splattered imagery, fairground creepiness and pelvis-gyrating danceable metal.
If you saw Bride Of Chucky in the cinema, the electronic-throated “living dead girl” that launches that riff probably lives with you today. Seriously, it’s between that and ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ appearing at the start of Zombieland for the best use of metal in a horror movie. Disagree? Fight us in the comments section.
You know those album tours where acts perform entire records where everything after track six is rubbish? Hellbilly Deluxe could be played front to back twice and we’d still want to hear the hypnotic eastern vibes that thrill and chill as Zombie’s “Voodoo man, yes, I can” seduction raises ‘Spookshow Baby’ from the grave. Elsewhere, the bump and thrash of ‘Demonoid Phenomenon’ is unique and irresistible, and Zombie even unelashes a DIY punk track in the shape of ‘How To Make A Monster’.
We’re basically just naming songs at this point, but nobody raves about Rob channeling his inner God Of Thunder on ‘Meet The Creeper’, or the schizophrenic stabbing frenzy of ‘What Lurks On Channel X?’, so we’re doing it while we have the chance.
Post-Cobain, post-Marilyn Manson, post-Scream turning horror into Saved By The Bell with knives for a couple of years (that’ll churn your stomach more than any Dario Argento movie), as the 21st Century dawned, Rob Zombie was reaching his creating zenith. What a monster. And what a man.
Out now, the limited edition, 1,000-only signed career-spanning 15LP Rob Zombie solo box set is available exclusively through uDiscover Music US.
The box set includes the albums Hellbilly Deluxe, American Made Music To Strip By, The Sinister Urge, Educated Horses, Zombie Live, Hellbilly Deluxe 2, Mondo Sex Head, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor, Spookshow International Live, The Electric Warlord Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser and Astro-Creep: 2000 Live. Order it through uDiscover Music US.