Zombie on Zombie: The Zombies vs. White Zombie

bill bodkin and brent johnson debate who the better zombie band is …

If you’ve ever wondered how different the musical tastes of the two guys who run this blog are, just read this post.

In honor of Halloween, we decided it’d be cool to run some horror themed blogs — a look at things zombie, Ghostbusters and the best horror movies of all-time. But what about music? How could we tie in something about Halloween and the music world?

Hence, the birth of Zombie on Zombie.

The bands we’ll be comparing are The Zombies and White Zombie — two acts with horror-inspired names, on two opposite sides of the musical spectrum. Who makes the better listen on the spookiest night of the year?

Brent will be tackling The Zombies, the 60s mop-toppers — and he undoubtedly will make some very grandiose statements about the awesomeness of their pop sensibility. Meanwhile, I will be delving the megaton heavy sounds of the cult-movie/day-of-the-dead-inspired antics of mid-90s metalheads White Zombie. While they merely share a name, both bands are supremely underrated, creating some of the best albums of their respective decades.

So strap on your headphones and get ready for a sonic showdown between two of the best bands you can rock out to on All Hallow’s Eve.

Tell someone that The Zombies are one of popular music’s greatest bands, and they’ll likely have a simple response:

‘Who the hell are The Zombies?’

The name implies a kitschy ’60s novelty act dressed as flesh-eating corpses and playing ‘The Monster Mash.’ They weren’t. They also weren’t vein-popping proto-metal rockers with a screaming frontman who influenced White Zombie.

Nope. The Zombies were one of the most criminally under-appreciated bands of the 1960s British Invasion. They were a peripheral act of that era — not as popular as the Beatles, the Stones or even the Kinks. But they had three massive hit singles. They recorded one masterwork of an album. And then, they imploded.

You probably know their hits: The catchy staccato vocals of ‘Tell Her No’ (“Tell her no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no …”). The swampy pop of ‘She’s Not There’ (“Well, no one told me about her …”). The spooky psychedelia of ‘Time Of The Season’ (“What’s your name? Who’s your daddy?”).

Nimble-fingered keyboardist Rod Argent and bassist Chris White wrote most of the songs. Colin Blunstone sang them with an incredibly sweet yet powerful voice that rivals Carl Wilson’s as one of the most underrated of its time.

And the Zombies embodied what is still one of the most exciting and mind-boggling attributes of 1960s pop: how quickly these groups evolved. In 1965, they looked very un-zombie like: lads in suits and horn-rimmed glasses, playing incredibly catchy tunes, melding rough black R&B with melodic English pop.

Two years later — just like the Beatles, Stones and Kinks — their arrangements became more ornate. Suddenly, their songs opened with the sound of flutes. Their vocals swelled with harmony. And the cover of their second and final record, Odessey And Oracle, looked like an acid trip through the pages of The Iliad. (See above.)

Odessey And Oracle is wonderful. It’s like a little brother to Sgt. Pepper. One minute, it’s blissful pop (‘Care Of Cell 44’), the next a sad story of loneliness (‘A Rose For Emily’), the next a terrifying take on World War I (‘Butcher’s Tale). It’s daring, it’s fun, it’s accessible. It’s worth your time.

It also included The Zombies’ most enduring song:

But broken by in-fighting and a lack of recognition, The Zombies split up before Odessey hit stores. The album didn’t even make it big until a full year after its release in 1968. By then, singer Colin Blunstone had started working in the insurance business.

The Zombies, though, continue to find life on oldies radio stations. They’ve even reunited lately for live shows and a new album.

And while White Zombie’s image and catalogue drip with more obvious macabre, some of The Zombies’ hits are eerie enough to play at your Halloween bash this year. Listen to the whispers that open ‘Time Of The Season,’ the slightly menacing chords of ‘She’s Not There,’ the smoky tones cloaking their cover of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime.’ And ‘Butcher’s Tale’ is utterly creepy:

I encourage you to pop that ditty on your stereo come party time: You’ll spread the word about a great, somewhat forgotten group.

In 1996, I only listened to what songs my parents played on the radio. Then I heard it — it was in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. A deranged Jim Carrey was driving a monster truck, chasing the film’s villain down an African road. The beat of drums punctuated with an ungodly thunderclap of bass and guitar underscores the scene. Then a near-bone-crunching songs breaks into the films with a gravel-voiced singer who sounded as if he had just been unleashed from hell delivered a heavy metal scat “Yeaaaah — two guns west I ride an instamatic/polaroid rat crucifixion nail/antenna down cruising in the deep red/mouth a demon angel/geeeeet it on!”

What these lyrics mean, I have absolutely no clue. But the sound of White Zombie changed my musical life forever. After listening to years of light FM and doo-wop, I finally broke out and discovered my musical identity: heavy, hard, metal-sign-in-the-air, adrenaline-pumping rock ‘n’ roll.

White Zombie, like The Zombies, is a criminally under-appreciated band that was forgotten with the majority of the heavy music scene of the mid-90s — a time when post-speed metal heavy metal, hardcore, skater punk and rap-metal fusion were at their absolute best.

The band was the brainchild of Robert Cummings, a former production assistant on Pee Wee’s Playhouse and art director for various adult films. Founded originally as a “noise rock” band a la Sonic Youth and Butthole Surfers, Cummings drew upon his love of black and white cult films, the theatricality of Alice Cooper and created a band whose lyrics were of a horror/sci-fi movie imprinted on disc than on celluloid.

The heaviness of White Zombie is one of the most bombastic, in-your-face sounds you’ll ever hear. It’s so adrenalized that you can’t help but feel pumped up after their songs. To be fair some, of White Zombie’s catalog is a bit overkill. Outside of “Thunderkiss ’65,” their ’92 release La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume 1 is highly repetitive and forgettable. However, it was their ’95 follow-up Astrocreep 2000 that was the stuff of legend. The hit single “More Human Than Human” has been used in trailers for everything from the teen comedy Can’t Hardly Wait to the HBO series True Blood and hundreds of other films and shows. Its sliding, sonic guitar intro is one of the most recognizable heavy metal openings in history. Its thunderous bassline and Zombie’s buzzsaw-esque vocals have kept it atop my all-time favorite song list for 14 years.

Aesthetically, White Zombie was years ahead of its time, incorporating the Mexican Day of the Dead, 60s cult movies, underground horror movie imagery, 50s hot rod and pin-up culture well before Christian Audigier used it for Ed Hardy, before ever hipster bar plastered the art on their walls and every ironic tattoo was painted on punk rock kids.

Sadly, White Zombie disbanded in 1998 when Rob embarked on a more successful solo career. Even sadder, he’s seemingly ditched music for horror movie directing. It’s sad because he possesses one of the most unique and recognizable voices in metal. No matter who’s backing him, his voice is the straw that stirs the drinks — and it stirs it very well.

So this Halloween, if you want to bring an element of heavy metal into your party or you’re looking to discover some heavy music you may have forgotten — listen to White Zombie.

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

5 COMMENTS

  1. For obvious reasons you win Brent. You both made your points very well but given the listening choice this OF would go with the Zombies.

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