Monday, October 23, 2017

White Zombie - La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1 (1992)

La Sexorcisto was a pretty interesting turn of events for the New York based White Zombie, trading in a lot of the grit and grime of their asphalt and trash-soaked Soul Crusher and Make Them Die Slowly for something more notably upbeat and accessible, which drew upon influences like groove metal, stoner rock and probably a lot of Slayer riffing of around that early 90s period which I hear a lot of tonal nods towards. Where the older material was more like a driving, dirty heavy/doom, and distinct in its own rite due to Rob's unmistakable, grating roadkill vocal style, it didn't have a lot of potential in terms of giving the band its breakthrough, which this record did in spades. While Devil Music Vol. 1 wasn't my own first rodeo with the band (I had picked up Make Them Die Slowly since Rob Cummings grew up in the town next to mine), but I can imagine for a lot of folks this was the initial exposure to their sound, specifically "Thunder Kiss '65" and its video which were popular and fairly well-rotated on the radio and MTV.

I had enjoyed the sophomore to an extent, despite its flaws, but for me the real attraction to Devil Music Vol. 1 was how it created this entire universe of horror, exploitation, smut and schlock and then seamlessly fused it to the riffing and vocal styles. It was like Zombie and crew created their own dialect out of Hollywood sleaze, creature features, pornographic kitsch, slasher flicks, Halloween parties, acid trips, and well-placed cussing, which was then offered up as an hour long language lesson you could bang your dreads to...or for the sellouts like myself, your freshly-cut High School graduation hair. There really was very little like this at the can hear some clear inferences to the aforementioned Slayer, Texas' Pantera, who were also blowing up at this time, and perhaps a metal counterpart to My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult's seedy dance club aesthetics. There are samples and atmospherics splattered all over the record, expertly placed to give maximum impact to the themes imparted through the lyrics, and also a foreshadowing of the more industrial direction they'd take with their fourth and final album Astro-Creep 2000 in 1995.

More importantly, it all works so well together here that this quickly became a shoe-in for one of the most entertaining metal records of 1992, a rather barren year in many scenes, as thrash was on its way out to be replaced by grunge, rap-rock, and the ever increasing brutality of death metal. In fact it's STILL fun, a quarter century later. White Zombie were one of the band's that managed to ride out that transition, by honing in on simplistic, catchy rhythms, chugs that were often laden with bluesy wailing, Southern rock personality circa Clutch, and an image that looked like apocalyptic voodoo hippies had gone on a shoplifting spree through Vegas and the Sunset Strip. The music might seem a little basic these days, but it's also timeless, hitting climaxes like the wah-wah smothered lead bridge of "Thunder Kiss '65" over that unforgettable, evil groove. Sean Yseult's bass lines were nothing too special, but they have a good flow to them, and their audible presence in the recording helps to fatten up Jay Yuenger's rhythms which aren't all that leaden or heavy by themselves, ranging between slow to mid-paced heavy/thrashing to a semi-sludge sensibility with a slightly neutered production.

Ivan de Prume's also play an enormous role, steady rock beats pepped up with lots of cymbals and a feel like he's smacking his kit on the back of a pickup truck rolling down a highway, but if there's any real star here it has to be Zombie, truly establishing the syllabic and thematic blueprints he would stick to all through his successive solo career, a voice that feels like a posse of enraged bayou hunters on the trail of a runaway drug addicts. Harsh and goofy in equal measures, howling with sustain where a verse or chorus calls for it, but delivered with an almost funky pace and inflection, as if he were a reincarnation of James Brown that had watched too many John Carpenter flicks as a child and abused every substance available. His range is admittedly limited to a few notes and verse patterns that he uses over, and over, and over, but there are so few front men I can think of who leave who could leave such an immediate impression (for better or worse). Maybe Jet from Boston thrash hardcore locals SamBlackChurch, who was even more schizo in delivery, but on the world stage?

This really felt like something new had shown up. Even the way the lyrics channel these old racing films and horror concepts (like Richard Matheson's I Am Legend which is paid tribute by a tune of the same name), it seems so stream-of-conscious and lovably absurd, barked out beat poetry, heavily threaded with Zombie's timely uses of 'fucker' and 'motherfucker' and 'YEAH!' The lyrics in tunes like "Cosmic Monsters, Inc." and "Starface" are just incredible. The tough part is deciding whether I like this album or Astro-Creep 2000 better. That feels like a heavier and more existential experience, with some really surprising moments, where this is the more low-down, cheesy and amusing, the real catalyst for Rob's career in both music and as a film director. I can't be the only person who was getting psychic flashbacks to the songs on this record the first time I watched The Devil's Rejects, and even when screening the more recent, mixed-bag that is 31, I was mentally referencing this shit. I don't listen to this in full as much anymore, but it was a good time then, it's a good time now. La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1 is just one of those metal anomalies whose shadow I am fortunate to get to stand in from time to time, especially around Halloween.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10] (you shook the devil's dig deep hand today)

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