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Monday, December 08 2008 00:00

WHITE ZOMBIE: LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE (Box Set Review)

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wzboxsetI was first exposed to the music of WHITE ZOMBIE through a blind buy of their 1989 Caroline Records release MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY (the spine of the CD oddly says “Let Them Die Slowly”). At the time, I didn’t really enjoy it, and I later went on to trade in the disc at a local record store in favor of something a little more “metal.”

At the time, I was in high school, and riding on the cusp of that “am I a punk kid, a metalhead, or a part of the grunge movement?” identity crisis that many of my peers also faced in the early 1990's. I’d later come to realize that labels of genre were not important, and that good music was all that ever really mattered.

When WHITE ZOMBIE re-emerged with their 1992 release LA SEXORCISTO: DEVIL MUSIC, VOL. 1, I nearly passed on it having still recalled how little I enjoyed their previous release. In a move also reminicent of my not-so-frugal-with-money youth, I bought the album anyway. Little did anyone know that over the forthcoming few years, avoiding the music of WHITE ZOMBIE would be damn near impossible. The album was infectious, horror-themed metal with a danceable groove. I’d heard nothing like it, and was shocked that this could possibly be the same band I’d found disappointment with just a year or two prior.

What I was in the process of discovering at the time is a fact that is now crystal clear with the long-awaited release of LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE, the WHITE ZOMBIE box set (4 CD/1 DVD): there were essentially two versions of the band known as WHITE ZOMBIE.

In the beginning there was a band with a raw, punk-rock “noise” sound, and included here on Disc 1 and the first half of Disc 2 are tracks from that band’s 1985 GODS ON VOODOO MOON EP, 1986 single PIG HEAVEN, 1987 PSYCHO HEAD BLOWOUT EP, and the 1987 self-released album SOUL-CRUSHER, The Early DaysSILENT EXPLOSION. Throughout the set from the “mach 1" version of WZ, you can hear the influence of bands like SONIC YOUTH on tracks like “Gun Crazy” and “Slaughter the Grey”, and THE MISFITS on “Tales from the Scarecrowman.” By the time the first seconds of “Ratmouth” begin playing, the first signs of things to come are dropped with a sample pulled straight from George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Rob Zombie’s voice also begins to deepen, but only on occasion, flipping seamlessly from the high-pitched style of his early vocals to the angry growl that listeners would come to identify with the latter version of the band.

The earliest works are enjoyable on their own, on-par with the evolution of fellow NYC band PRONG, which also started in the noise realm prior to becoming a streamlined industrial machine.

Track 11 on Disc 2 brings us back to where it began for this reviewer, with the inclusion of MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY. The sound of WZ is distinctively different than the earlier works, but also what was yet to come. Guitarist John Ricci joined the core band (Rob Zombie, vocals; Sean Yseult, bass; Ivan de Prume, drums) for this album. Gone was the punk/noise and in it’s place was a rock/metal guitar sound, marred by tin-can recording quality and an overall lack of heart or soul. Nearly 20 years later, and I still don’t like MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY. The band may have felt the same way. Enter guitarist J. Yuenger.

Known simply as “J.”, Yuenger joined the band for the recording of the GOD OF THUNDER 12" single. The three song set kicked off with a cover of the KISS title track, followed by two WZ originals - one of which was “Disaster Blaster 2", a re-worked version of a track off of MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY. Listening to both versions back-to-back thanks to this box set, the difference is astounding. Yuenger infused a soulful playing style into the band that in essence became the WZ “groove" and ushered in the "mach 2" version of WZ.

LA SEXORCISTO was a slow-burn album that took awhile to hit the mainstream eye, but finally did largely due to “Thunderkiss ‘65" being shown on MTV’s BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD. By the time most people caught on, we were already in an era of WHITE ZOMBIE that would seem a lot longer than it really was.

In January of 1994, I’d personally crossed paths with the band. As the then-teenage host of a cable show (my teen years were weird, kinda like ALMOST FAMOUS, but in the 90's) based out of the Quad Cities, I’d arranged a 30-minute WZ “special”. Meeting with the band in-person, I witnessed some of the behind-the-curtain fragmentation that was beginning to take place. By that time, they’d been touring on LA SEXORCISTO for just shy of two years, and the strain of the road was obvious. J. and Sean were by far the most personable of the band. They hung out, did the show, and were just great to be around. Rob was a bit of a recluse at the gig, appearing as they went on stage, and disappearing shortly thereafter. Drummer Phil Buerstatte (who replaced de Prume shortly after the album release) walked around looking mad at the world. In an interesting and memorable twist, the show was held at The Adler Theatre in Davenport, Iowa. A seated venue from the vaudeville era, the theatre was not the right place for a bill that included WZ, PRONG, and THE OBSESSED. Better suited for a general admission type of open-air venue, The Adler suffered major damage that night. Hundreds of 50+ year old seats were ripped from the floor, replaced by shards of broken wood and metal as a massive mosh pit ensued. Paramedics and police were called as pieces of seats began raining down from the balcony above as well. Blood was spilled, and the damage had to be seen to be believed.

It’s almost hard to believe that WZ would not release another album for over another year, almost 3 ½ years post LA SEXORCISTO. Buerstatte found himself without a job as TESTAMENT drummer John Tempesta was brought in to record ASTRO-CREEP 2000: SONGS OF LOVE, DESTRUCTION, AND OTHER SYNTHETIC DELUSIONS OF THE ELECTRIC HEAD. On April 11th, 1995, the album (included here in it’s entirety) hit stores. Much more polished than anything preceeding it, AC2K was a tightly-wrapped package of industrial-tinged horror metal in a remarkably produced form. Listening to it again this weekend brought back vivid memories of when it was first released. The album was thunderous. After the initial drum rolls that kick off “Electric Head - Pt. 1 (The Agony)” you can easily envision thousands of fans bouncing in time to the pounding groove. While “More Human Than Human” may have been the hit that propelled the album to double-platinum status, I’ve always felt “I, Zombie” is the album’s stand-out track by far.

LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE includes several compilation and soundtrack cuts, including a cover of BLACK SABBATH’s “Children of the Grave” (from ‘94's NATIVITY IN BLACK tribute); “I Am Hell” (from ‘94's THE BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD EXPERIENCE); “Feed the Gods” (from ‘94's AIRHEADS soundtrack); “The One” (from the 1996 ESCAPE FROM L.A. soundtrack); “I’m Your Boogieman” (a KC & The Sunshine Band cover from the THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS); and “Ratfinks, Suicide Tanks and Cannibal Girls” (from the 1996 soundtrack BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD DO AMERICA). Regardless of the inclusions, there are quite a few omissions that make this set feel far from complete.

On September 9th, 2008, Rob Zombie posted a MySpace blog stating “Everything is included on this set. Over 4 and 1/2 hours of music plus tons of never before seen videos. 5 discs in all.”

Word thus far is that there’s at least one more punk-era demo floating around, along with a few MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY b-sides that were omitted. In addition, none of the tracks from the 1996 Remix album SUPERSEXY SWINGIN’ SOUNDS are included, nor are any of the countless remixes that appeared on singles and EP’s between the LA SEXORCISTO and ASTRO-CREEP eras.

If you were to focus solely on the recordings done by the band itself, the box set is ALMOST complete. If you figure in the above mentioned remixes, it’s far from.

Regardless, the 4-CD portion of the set is pretty kick-ass. It’s something for the completists out there to have in their collections, and a great overview for future generations or those just discovering the band.

But wait, there’s more!

So what about Disc 5, the DVD? The disc has a cool comic book-style menu system, and does include all the WZ music videos in 5.1 Audio for the first time. They look and sound great. As for the promised “hidden gems”, I’ve only found one, and thus far it’s only accesible by playing the disc on a computer. Here’s how to find it:

1. Go to the SET UP menu
2. On the audio options screen, wait for blood to drip onto the WZ logo.
3. The sound will change.
4. The eyes in the logo will light up. Click it.
5. Behold the 1932 Bela Lugosi classic WHITE ZOMBIE in it’s entirety, and looking pretty damn good!

Now the downside.

The included live footage left a lot to be desired. With the exception of about 3 tracks, the footage is “bootleg quality”. We’re talking VHS camcorder shot, without professional audio. While the clips are amusing to see and bring back some memories, there’s better footage available on the trading circuit or on YouTube. I find it hard to believe that there’s not a single pro-shot concert floating around out there just waiting for a proper DVD treatment.

If Rob or any of the powers-that-be over at Geffen happen to read this, please do the fans right on this one and deliver a proper “live” WZ DVD.

Overall, LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE is a solid set. Not much of a “box” in that it comes in a massive flipper-gatefold package (I’m assuming to better fit on retail shelves), and doesn’t quite have the same physical appeal of say SLAYER’s “Soundtrack to the Apocalypse”, but it does just fine on it’s own.

Rating: Music -4.5/5; Package - 3/5

James Zahn

James Zahn is best-known as The Rock Father™, a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur. He is the Owner, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief of THE ROCK FATHER™ Magazine. In January, 2019, after nearly a decade of publishing The Rock Father™ Magazine, he joined Adventure Media and Events as Senior Editor of The Toy Book—the leading trade publication for the toy industry since 1984, as well as The Pop Insider — a destination for all things pop culture, and The Toy Insider — the leading consumer guide for toys and games. He is also editor of The Toy Report, a weekly newsletter published by The Toy Book each Thursday. Zahn has over 27 years of experience in the entertainment, retail and publishing industries.

He regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global. A new album has been completed and is set for release this year.

Zahn and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, NBC, ABC, WGN, CBS, GCTN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch, Reuters, BusinessWire, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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