For many, the nineties would prove to be the end of heavy metal as we knew it. Bands who rose to greatness in the preceding decade suddenly found themselves either retreading old ground, out of their depth trying to explore new territories, or simply grinding to an unceremonious halt. Within just a couple of years, denim, leather and even the term “heavy metal” itself, were out.
With entire genres dying through either an inability or refusal to adapt, or simply because the musical tastes of the masses had changed so dramatically almost overnight, new ones rose from the ashes to continue this painful and never-ending cycle of death and rebirth. Met with, let’s just say… a certain amount of scepticism, the Grunge, and Alternative scenes were blamed by many for the death of eighties metal, where in reality – one way or another – most of those acts involved in these new movements only actually existed because of it.
A few notable exceptions aside, heavy metal faded into the background. But while the world became accustomed to cardigans, sullen expressions, emotional outpourings of teenage angst, and the horrifying term, “unplugged”, one very different band was leaving a vastly more colourful mark on the nineties.
Formed in 1985, White Zombie had made little impression with their first couple of albums, but all that was about to change with 1992’s sample-laden La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One (Geffen). Taking MTV by storm with the singles ‘Thunder Kiss ’65’, and ‘Black Sunshine’ (which even featured an appearance by Iggy Pop), the album still wasn’t quite what frontman Rob Zombie had originally envisioned, but it earned the band enough money and success to embark upon their most ambitious record to date – 1995’s amazingly titled, Astro-Creep: 2000 – Songs of Love, Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head (Geffen).
Skilfully produced by Terry Date (Soundgarden, Pantera, Prong), Astro Creep sounds exactly like it looks on the artwork included with the record. An ultra-vivid, swirling kaleidoscopic cartoon nightmare. Down-tuning the guitars and adding a more industrial vibe to their groove-oriented sound led to some simply astonishing results. Layer upon layer, sample upon sample, something new crept out of every brightly coloured, pulsating orifice every time you listened to it.
With the music written by bass player Sean Yseult, former Exodus drummer John Tempesta, and skronking guitarist Jay Yuenger, each and every song sounds immense. Zombie’s bizarre, and occasionally downright nonsensical lyrics adding yet another dimension to the insanity. Samples from horror films such as To the Devil a Daughter, and Dawn of the Dead sit next to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre lyrical leanings of ‘Real solution #9’, while a science fiction approach is present on samples taken from The Omega Man, and the lyrics to Blade Runner inspired ‘More Human Than Human’. Add samples from Manson Family member Patricia Krenwinkel, and Blaxploitation flick Shaft, and you’ve got yourself one very strange brew indeed.
Opening appropriately enough with a voice suggesting “I think you’d better start from the beginning” (a repeated sample lifted from The Curse of Frankenstein), the intro swells with horror movie soundtrack style and creepy church organ before exploding into ‘Electric Head – Part 1 (The Agony)’ – (Fear Factory fans look away now), arguably the best opening track from any album released in 1995.
Throughout the record, the pace changes but the same darkly offbeat tone remains the same. From the bouncy, uptempo groove of ‘Electric Head Pt 2 – The Ecstasy’, the slide guitar of ‘More Human Than Human’, the grinding crawl of ‘Creature of the Wheel’ and ‘Grease Paint and Monkey Brains’ to the psychedelic, off-kilter closer ‘Blur the Technicolor’, each song creates its own unique, if utterly bizarre, identity. A point further driven home by a couple of suitably odd promo videos.
By 1995, whether you loved them or hated them, the White Zombie phenomenon had well and truly exploded. The crowning point of that summer proved to be a highly anticipated appearance at the UK’s prestigious Monsters of Rock festival, and at Reading Festival the following day. However, just a year or so later, it was becoming clear that something was amiss. Zombie was beginning to distance himself from the rest of the band, and in 1998, the band would officially announce their break-up. Sadly, White Zombie’s finest studio moment would also prove to be their last.