Devil Music Volume One’ at 30

white zombies La Sexorcist: Devil Music Volume 1 arrived in March 1992, reinventing metal in an age dominated by alternative rock. The Sexorcist is also an exemplary postmodern collage on par with better-regarded non-metallic LPs such as Brian Eno and David Byrne My life in the ghost bush (1981) and the Beastie Boys Paul’s shop (1989). The Sexorcist is also an exemplary metal album, but that’s not the point here. Honestly, the fact that it’s a metal album probably obscured its status due to the very different cultural capital. Moreover, in the world of metal, there is – or there was at the time of its release – a purism: the tedious and regressive position that the inclusion of synthesizers in the genre automatically taints it.

White Zombie’s only excuse was their uncompromising willingness to stick together whatever was necessary to create their admittedly silly concept for themselves. I would best characterize this vision by using Frank Zappa’s memorable phrase “a movie for your ears”. Of course, it’s not a narrative feature, nor an LP of cohesive lyrics that express personal experience or philosophy. The model here is like Craig Baldwin’s 1992 collage movie, Tribulations 99: Alien Anomalies Beneath America. It takes all the raw materials at hand to create something aesthetically pleasing but undeniably bizarre.

Usually, when the term “postmodernism” appears in modern writing, it is a salvo fired in the “culture wars”. In the 1990s, however, the phrase conjured up something exciting (and admittedly superficial, but also appropriately superficial for the time). This sparked a freewheeling styles aesthetic and a channel-changing aesthetic. This aesthetic seemed to revel in the plurality of senses, the ability to contain many contrasting, even contradictory styles, and a fascination with glossy surfaces rather than depth.

Moe Szyslak from The simpsons defined the aesthetic as “weird for the weird,” but weirdness, which is particularly relevant to White Zombie, was more than just for the weird in the 1990s. As documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux explains in his 2005 book, The call of the strange“In this interregnum between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the attacks on the World Trade Center, all sorts of strange heterodoxies have taken root”. It was a brief period with no big narrative to worry about and with popular culture of the past repeated endlessly on countless TV channels. It is this particular context that gave birth to The Sexorcist.

While Paul’s shop and My life in the ghost bush sampled musical hooks from a wide range of ’70s musical artists—and used field recordings and found sound, respectively—White Zombie’s commercial stock was film dialogue. This is precisely what they used to create their sound cinematic collage. It had horror movie dialogue (I mean, what else would you expect from a band called White Zombie?) and Jack Arnold’s vintage countercultural pattern High School Confidential (1958) and Russ Meyer Faster, Pussycat! To kill! To kill! (1965).

The most sampled film of the album is Faster Pussycat kill, kill since it appears on four tracks (compared to High School Privacy Three). Meyer’s film is an ambiguous tale of incredibly buxom go-go dancers wreaking havoc in the Mojave Desert; it is a film in balance between slavery objectification and proto-feminism. Perhaps most important to White Zombie, it’s filled with campy dialogue delivered with absolute conviction in 1960s hipster slang. High School Confidential is equally ambiguous, titillating its audience with scenes of marijuana use and crime stories. Consequently, he denies all pleasure of the banal exploitation film posing the false preoccupation with a social problem. Once again, Absolute Belief provides that campy countercultural slang.

White Zombie likes to sample their dialogue in a way that allows the speaker’s rhythm to follow the music. They achieve this relatively easily with a short phrase like “Let’s move”, taken from Faster, Pussycat! To kill! To kill! for the opening “Welcome to Planet Motherfucker / Psychoholic Slag”. But in “Cosmic Monsters Inc.” lines from the trailer to Plan 9 from outer space seem to match perfectly, as if the announcer is rapping along with the song: “They are coming from intestines of hell. A transformed race of living dead. Zombies guided by a master plan for complete domination of the earth”.

It’s no surprise that a band called White Zombie puts zombies front and center. However, the counter-cultural scheme is even more highlighted, as on “Welcome to Planet Motherfucker / Psychoholic Slag” (one of the highlights of the record). It features a breakdown that includes a few lines of rhythmic poetry from High School Confidential. In the film, the beat-poetry scene is somewhat of a digression, even though it’s the most memorable part of the film:

Hula quick shorts, swing with a gassy chick,
Light up to a thousand joys, smile at what happened,
Then check what will happen, you will miss what happens.
Turn your eyes within and dig into the void.
Tomorrow: drag.

white zombie

Actress Phillipa Fallon’s inspired delivery, dripping with beatnik resentment toward Eisenhower’s America, redirected to what exactly? White zombies don’t rebel against anything in particular. Instead, they’re just celebrating the styles of a past type of youth culture, which the film’s producers had already commodified and repackaged. The one-note guitar riff played below the poem creates a mood of carefree fun that contrasts with the nihilistic poetry.

Although the album became known for its use of film dialogue, it was also replete with other sampled sound effects and found music. Several attributes—the distorted, glitchy music and explosions that begin the record, as well as static radio, police sirens, orgasmic moans, and snippets of space-age bachelor pad music that appear elsewhere—exemplify these techniques. In a way, the whole is coherent. Corn The Sexorcist may be a movie for your ears, it’s a compilation movie: it quickly jumps from scene to scene and folds in on everything from Japanese anime dialogue to televangelists. It looks like a movie, with sudden cuts and extreme close-ups, but it’s not meant to replicate the character development or consistency of a Hollywood movie.

Additionally, a few tracks—”Radio Knuckle Duster 1A” and “Radio Knuckle Duster 2B”—are not songs; they’re just 24-second collages, and they’re too short to be considered alongside the skits that populated ’90s rap records. Yet they break the flow of the music. If the collection is a film released late at night, then it’s the commercial breaks: lulls in the action that nevertheless have their own fascination.

Cars and motorcycles abound in Rob Zombie’s lyrics, notably on the album’s two singles: ‘Thunder Kiss ’65’ and ‘Black Sunshine’. The chugging riffs seem to evoke the vast expanse of the road, and the American road trip is a crucial element of 90s postmodernism. Pick up a copy of America— postmodern philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s 1988 diary of his time in the United States — and images of heat haze, car radios, distance, and desert jump off the page in the first paragraph.

Rob Zombie’s lyrics drive this road trip, featuring cars and motorcycles. In “Thunderkiss ’65”, he spits out the following stanza:

Live fast and die young like endless poetry.
My motorcycle nightmare freaks out inside of me.
My soul salvation, liberation, on the drive.
Blaster power, move me faster 1965.

Rob Zombie – “Thunderkiss ’65”

What it means hardly matters because it comes with so much swagger and confidence. She refuses any deeper meaning, allowing only the pure pleasure of the sonority of the words and the fleeting imagery they signify. As David Byrne comments in the liner notes to My life in the ghost bush“It’s assumed that I write lyrics (and accompanying music) for songs because I have something I need to ‘express’. I find that more often, on the contrary, it is the music and the lyrics that trigger the emotion in me rather than the other way around”. Zombie’s lyrics seem to have been written the same way: free-form collages of imagery conjured up by the band’s grooves.

Doomy’s closest album “Warp Asylum” has the fewest samples (just nauseating carnival music at the start). At the end, there’s also 1950s bachelor pad music and a voice that says, “If you listen to the record a few more times, you’ll be amazed at how easily you’ve begun to understand.” repeated listening to The Sexorcist may not lead to understanding. Still, it will lead the audience to appreciate the breadth of references (from Batman television series at Urotsukidoji: The Legend of the Greater Demon) that White Zombie used to create this postmodern movie for your ears.


Mentioned works

Baudrillard, Jean. America (Verso Books, 1988).

Theroux, Louis. The Call of the Weird: Journeys into American Subcultures (Da Capo Press, 2005).