White Zombie’s La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One arrived in March 1992, reimagining metal in an era dominated by alternative rock. La Sexorcisto is also an exemplary postmodern collage on par with better regarded non-metal LPs such as Brian Eno and David Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981) and the Beastie Boys Paul’s Boutique (1989). La Sexorcisto is an exemplary metal album, too, but that’s not the focus here. Honestly, the fact that it is a metal album has probably obscured its status due to the very different cultural capital. Furthermore, within the world of metal, there is—or was at the time of its release—a purism: the tedious and regressive stance that including synthesizers in the genre automatically taints it.
White Zombie’s only pretense was their uncompromising willingness to collage whatever was necessary to create their admittedly silly concept for themselves. I would best characterize this vision using Frank Zappa’s memorable phrase “a movie for your ears”. Of course, this is not a narrative feature film, nor is it an LP of coherent lyrics that express some personal experience or philosophy. The model here is like Craig Baldwin’s 1992 collage film, Tribulations 99: Alien Anomalies Under America. It takes any raw materials at hand to fashion something aesthetically pleasing but undeniably weird.
Usually, when the term “postmodernism” crops up in modern writing, it’s a salvo fired into the “culture wars”. In the 1990s, though, the phrase evoked something exciting (and admittedly superficial, yet also appropriately superficial to the times). It prompted a freewheeling aesthetic of styles and a channel-changing aesthetic. This aesthetic seemed to delight in the plurality of meaning, the ability to contain many contrasting and even contradictory styles, and a fascination with shiny surfaces rather than depth.
Moe Szyslak of The Simpsons defined the aesthetic as “weird for the sake of weird”, but weirdness, which is of specific relevance to White Zombie, was more than just for the sake of weird in the 1990s. As documentary maker Louis Theroux explains in his 2005 book, The Call of the Weird: “In that interregnum between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the attacks on the World Trade Center, all kinds of bizarre heterodoxies took root”. It was a brief time without a grand narrative to worry about and with the popular culture of the past endlessly repeated on countless TV channels. It’s this particular context that gave birth to La Sexorcisto.
Whereas Paul’s Boutique and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts sampled musical hooks from a diverse range of ’70s musical artists—and used field recordings and found sound, respectively—White Zombie’s stock in trade was movie dialogue. It was precisely this that they used to create their aural cinematic collage. There was dialogue from horror films (I mean, what else would you expect from a band called White Zombie?) and the vintage countercultural patter of Jack Arnold’s High School Confidential (1958) and Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965).
The most sampled film on the album is Faster Pussycat Kill, Kill since it appears on four tracks (compared to High School Confidential’s three). Meyer’s movie is an ambiguous tale of improbably buxom go-go dancers wreaking havoc in the Mojave Desert; it’s a film poised between slavering objectification and proto-feminism. Perhaps most importantly for White Zombie, it’s filled with campy dialogue delivered with absolute conviction in 1960s hipster slang. High School Confidential is similarly ambiguous, titillating its audience with scenes of marijuana use and tales of delinquency. Consequently, it disavows any pleasure from the common exploitation film posing fake concern about a social problem. Once again, absolute conviction supplies that campy countercultural slang.
White Zombie love to sample their dialogue in a way that allows the rhythm of the speaker to fall in step with the music. They achieve this relatively easily with a short phrase like “Let’s move”, taken from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! for opener “Welcome to Planet Motherfucker/Psychoholic Slag”. But in “Cosmic Monsters Inc.” lines from the trailer to Plan 9 From Outer Space seem to fit perfectly, as if the announcer is rapping along with the song: “They come from the bowels of hell. A transformed race of walking dead. Zombies guided by a master plan for complete domination of the earth”.
It’s not surprising that a band called White Zombie would foreground zombies. Yet, the countercultural patter is even more foregrounded, as on “Welcome to Planet Motherfucker/Psychoholic Slag” (one of the record’s highlights). It features a breakdown that includes a few lines of beat poetry from High School Confidential. Within the film, the beat poetry scene is something of a digression, though it’s the film’s most memorable part:
Hula fast shorts, swing with a gassy chick,White Zombie
Turn on to a thousand joys, smile on what happened,
Then check what’s gonna happen, you’ll miss what’s happening.
Turn your eyes inside and dig the vacuum.
Actress Phillipa Fallon’s inspired delivery, dripping with beatnik resentment towards Eisenhower’s America, redirected towards—what exactly? White Zombie aren’t rebelling against anything in particular. Instead, they’re just celebrating the styles of a type of youth culture gone by, which the film’s producers had already commodified and re-packaged. The one-note chugging guitar riff played under the poem creates a mood of carefree enjoyment that contrasts with the nihilistic poetry.
Though the album would become known for its use of movie dialogue, it also abounds in other sampled sound effects and found music. Several attributes—the warped, glitchy music and explosions that begin the record, plus the radio static, police sirens, orgasmic moaning, and snippets of space-age bachelor pad music that appear elsewhere—exemplify these techniques. Somehow, the whole thing coheres together. Though La Sexorcisto may be a movie for your ears, it’s a compilation movie: it rapidly shuffles between scenes and folding in everything from Japanese anime dialogue to televangelists. It is movie-like, with sudden cuts and extreme close-ups, but it doesn’t aim to replicate a Hollywood film’s character development or consistency.
Furthermore, a couple of the tracks—”Radio Knuckle Duster 1A” and “Radio Knuckle Duster 2B”—aren’t songs; they’re just 24-second collages, and they’re too short to be considered alongside the skits that populated ’90s rap records. Still, they break the flow of the music. If the collection is a movie on late-night TV, then these are the commercial breaks: lulls in the action that nonetheless have a fascination of their own.
Cars and motorbikes abound in Rob Zombie’s lyrics, especially on the album’s two singles: “Thunder Kiss ’65” and “Black Sunshine”. The chugging riffs seem to connote the vast expanse of the road, and the American road trip is a crucial part of ’90s postmodernism. Pick up a copy of America—the postmodern philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s freewheeling 1988 diary of his time in the USA—and the images of heat haze, car radios, distance, and desert jump off the page from the first paragraph.
Rob Zombie’s lyrics drive this road trip, foregrounding cars and motorcycles. In “Thunderkiss ’65”, he spits out the following stanza:
Livin’ fast and dying young a like an endless poetry.Rob Zombie – “Thunderkiss ’65”
My motorcycle nightmare freak out inside of me.
My soul salvation, liberation, on the drive.
The power of the blaster, move me faster 1965.
What it means barely matters because it’s delivered with such swagger and confidence. It refuses any more profound meaning, allowing only pure pleasure in how the words sound and the fleeting imagery they signify. As David Byrne comments in the liner notes to My Life in the Bush of Ghosts: “It is assumed that I write lyrics (and the 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 lyric that trigger the emotion within me rather than the other way around”. Zombie’s lyrics seem to have been written the same way: free form collages of imagery evoked by the band’s grooves.
Doomy album closer “Warp Asylum” has the fewest samples (just some queasy carnival music at the beginning). At the end, there’s also some 1950s bachelor pad music and a voice saying: “If you play the record a few more times, you will be amazed at how easily you will have begun to understand”. Repeated listening to La Sexorcisto may not lead to understanding. Yet, it will lead audiences to appreciate the scope of references (from the Batman TV series to Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend) that White Zombie used to create this postmodern movie for your ears.
Baudrillard, Jean. America (Verso Books, 1988).
Theroux, Louis. The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures (Da Capo Press, 2005).