Rob Zombie entered my world right as my love of heavy metal was blooming at the end of the 90’s. After hearing “Super Charger Heaven” on the soundtrack for that terrible Judge Dredd movie starring Sylvester Stallone I knew I wanted to hear more. White Zombie’s best album Astro-Creep: 2000 – Songs of Love, Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head was only the third or fourth CD I ever bought and nearly twenty years later I still revisit it. Astro Creep 2000 had everything I was looking for as a movie loving geek slash metalhead. Woven in-between the awesome guitar riffs and Rob Zombie’s unique vocals were clips from movies, his lyrics themselves taking on the forms of insane short stories full of horror themes. It was clear White Zombie was built as much on a love of genre film as it was making down and dirty heavy metal. It’s one of my favorite albums of all time.
Rob Zombie looked ten feet tall as the charismatic weirdo frontman of the band, from his booming voice to the way he dressed. It might have slipped by many however that that he had an amazing band backing him up. They all had more normal-sounding names like Sean and Jay, not to mention none of them looked like the unholy bastard offspring of Ted Nugent and Coffin Joe. Rob Zombie was of course not the first frontman to overshadow his bandmates and absolutely wasn’t the last but when White Zombie split up it left a bad taste in my mouth even then. Though I loved their albums and enjoyed their excellent music videos, directed by Rob himself, I feared what would happen once Rob struck out by himself. And what would become of his old bandmates?
Indeed I wasn’t the only one with concerns, former White Zombie bassist Sean Yseult did an interview in 2016 where she talked about how the release of Rob Zombie’s first solo album affected her. You see, she and Jay Yuenger (guitarist) were strung along for a year by Rob Zombie while he was recording his first solo album with WZ drummer John Tempesta was in his backing band. What a slap in the face. Had I known this at the time I might have been far more leery about buying Hellbilly Deluxe: Very Long Subtitle but the Internet wasn’t really a thing at this point so information of this nature just wasn’t as readily available. All I knew is I’d heard “Superbeast” a bunch of times thanks to it being on a couple of free CDs on the covers of magazines (remember those? Magazines? And CDs? I feel so old.) and it sounded great. I let myself believe that Rob Zombie would come roaring into his solo career with a blistering new metal album. An album that would continue the legacy of White Zombie and not, in fact try to annihilate it as has appeared to be the case.
I really should have known better. I even went to a listening station in a music store (remember those etc) and listened to the whole album in barely over 30 minutes. Huh. But I still bought it and in August of 1997 and yes, “Superbeast” was a pretty cool track. And Dragula was alright until I then heard it in every videogame and movie and five times an hour on TV for the next 18 months. It also dawned on me that half the songs sounded pretty similar to each other and that for an album that was only 38 minutes long there was a shocking amount of filler. There’s an “atmospheric intro track” which had become a big bit of a trend in metal at the time. Then there were other weird, distorted musical intermissions like “Perversion 99” and the pointless repetitive dirge of the outtro track “The Beginning of the End.” Then “How to Make a Monster” was literally a regular song that was buried so deep in fuzzy distortion that it’s barely listenable. Why not just make it a regular song? The remix of it is better than most of the actual album.
With the benefit of hindsight it’s a boring, samey album and a pretty huge step backwards for Rob musically. The production had neither the crunchy weight of Astro Creep 2000 nor did the music itself have the heaviness and memorable riffs. The industrial overtones helped lead to the rise of industrial-lite bands that showed up in the wake of Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar. The plot thickens as those who have access to the Internet or liner notes will know that Rob Zombie made no contributions to the musical compositions and just writing the lyrics. I do admire his dedication to fitting “mutherfucker” and “whore” into every song on the album, but it certainly says a lot about his solo work that did not have any input into the musical side. Does this explain where the variety, the great riffs, why Astro Creep 2000 is a vastly superior album? Even on previous White Zombie album La Sexorcisto all of the songwriting credits go to the entire band, so unless I ask the band themselves I can’t really know how much of the composing involved Mr. Zombie. Looking back I do wonder if Rob was yet another guy who bowed to big money pressure to ditch his band and go solo and really was not ready for that transition. It would not be the first time he wasn’t ready to transition to something new.
As Rob Zombie’s profile grew and the fanbase swelled around this inferior music, I only got more disillusioned and disappointed. The song “Dragula” was literally everywhere in so many different remixed forms that to this day my eye twitches if I ever hear that awful song start to play. By the time The Sinister Urge came out in 2001 I was done, his music was safe and boring as he became the Tim Burton of Metal. BUT, his music videos. They were really, really good. He had a hell of an eye for surreal imagery, interesting color palettes and lots of horror movie influence. “Electric Head Pt.2” shows the band with a sinister old-timey carnival seemingly captured on ancient film stock. The video for his cover of “I’m Your Boogieman” is peak Rob Zombie and a hell of a lot of fun. Heck, the best thing about Hellbilly Deluxe was easily the videos Zombie made to go along with it. He also made an awesomely weird video for one of my favorite bands Prong and their song “Rude Awakening.”
So why am I rambling about my petty grievances with a guy who broke up a band I loved and whose solo work didn’t live up to expectations? I was actually legitimately interested when I read that Rob Zombie was going to make an actual horror movie. All of the film references in his songs and videos were going to make their way into an actual feature film. When it was announced that House of 1000 Corpses was going into production at Universal Pictures of all places a lot of people were excited to see what he could do with an actual feature. He had apparently curried favor with the folk at Universal when he helped restore the popularity of their Halloween Horror Nights by designing a very successful haunted maze for the Universal Studios event. Initially given somewhere in the region of $3-4 million to make his directorial debut he apparently finagled more out of the studio when he “knew the ending sucked, and let it suck.” As far as the content of the film went Zombie maintains that he let Universal know that what he planned for the film was not a typical “mainstream” horror film and was going to be very dark and disturbing in tone. Production finished by the end of 2000 and a trailer was put together to show visitors to the second haunted maze that Zombie designed for Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights. Then things started going wrong in ways that would dog Zombie for the rest of his career as a director. Much of it being his own doing, but we’ll get to all of that in PART TWO MUTHAFUCKA YEAH