Last month I took a little bit of a detour, as I took you on an adventure with former (yet forever) KISS guitarist Ace Frehley. Now it’s time to take a good, hard look at what was festering in May metal. I also interviewed White Zombie bassist Sean Yseult about the band’s new box set, White Zombie: It Came From N.Y.C., which includes material from the band’s early daze as a weirdo art metal band in New York. Let’s get moving.
Gruesome – Dimensions Of Horror (Relapse): All-killer-no-filler death metal from these Floridians. Gruesome came peeling out of the gate about a year ago with their debut Savage Land, and their new EP doesn’t ease up on the pedal. This is classic, thrashy death metal in the spirit of Death. The ragged production gives the riffs and harmonic squeals some needed rust. Song titles like “Raped By Darkness,” “Amputation” and “Dimensions of Horror”…oh, and the band’s name and the cover art, tell you what you’re in store for. Don’t listen to this alone in the dark. Or while camping. Or while having sex.
Vektor – Terminal Redux (Earache): I get the feeling I’ll still be trying to wrap my head around this record come year-end list time. Vektor ups the precision and the sci-fi/high-concept on Terminal Redux. If you still think this band is just throwback thrash, then you’re missing out (even Vektor’s more straightforward debut Black Future had its otherworldly moments). The band blends influences well—proggier moments will leave you wondering what just happened, but the dual leads and galloping riffs will make you bang thy head that doesn’t bang. Nothing else sounds like Terminal Redux, probably because it’s not humanly possible.
Fyrnask – Fórn (Ván Records): If you like your metal like you like your coffee (no, not ecru) then Germany’s Fyrnask offers you the blackest of the black. The one-man army of Fyrnd just released his third LP, Fórn, a dense and beautifully chaotic piece of ambient black metal. It’s thrilling, cinematic in scope, and horrific in all the right places. The LP is available through Ván Records, which released my favorite metal record last year from Germany’s Arstidir Lifsins.
Withered – Grief Relic (Season Of Mist): It’s been six years since Atlanta’s Withered have released a record, and their latest reflects the changes within the band during that time. Guitarist-vocalist Mike Thompson, who’s kept the band moving ahead for the past 13 years, recruited bassist Colin Marston (Gorguts, Krallice) and guitarist Ethan McCarthy Primitive Man, Vermin Womb), who both bring more technical playing on Withered’s fourth album, Grief Relic. There are definitely more moving parts on songs like “Feeble Gasp” and “Leathery Rind,” but they don’t lose any of the raw power the band is known for. It’s less melodic than 2005’s exceptional Memento Mori and 2010’s Dualitas, but sometimes a good sledgehammer to the ears is just what the doctor ordered.
Wrong – Wrong (Relapse): Florida’s Wrong sound more like Helmet than Helmet has sounded in 20 years. I mean, this could easily be the followup to 1992’s Meantime. The Helmet worship goes beyond the gnarly riffs—even the vocal phrasing on songs like “Read” and “Mucilage,” and the one-word song titles, nod to Page Hamilton. Now, I know what you’re thinking: I’ve spent more time here talking about Helmet than I have Wrong. Well, two can play the worship game. Also, Wrong’s debut is killer.
A couple months ago when the venerable Numero Group announced they were releasing an exhaustive box set of White Zombie’s early material, my interest was piqued. I got into the band in the early ’90s, and Astro-Creep: 2000 – Songs of Love, Destruction and other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head, in particular, was huge for me while I was working at a record store—I think we sold more copies of that CD than anything else…save for maybe Jagged Little Pill.
White Zombie: It Came From N.Y.C. is a massive collection, indeed. And those early EPs sound nothing like the industrial, horror flick-obsessed White Zombie most are familiar with (OK, maybe a little). The members—most notably frontman Rob Cummings (aka Rob Zombie) and bassist Shauna Iseult Reynolds (later Sean Yseult)—met while attending art school, creating White Zombie while attending Parsons School of Design in New York.
They formed White Zombie in 1985, taking the members’ love of horror movies, punk rock and heavy metal, and creating their own rock ’n’ roll Frankenstein. Records like Soul-Crusher and Gods On Voodoo Moon were weirdo slabs of extraterrestrial rock—wiry riffs and spaced-out synths and noise—accentuated by Zombie’s Marvel Comics-meets-Rosemary’s Baby artwork.
White Zombie was a fixture for years in New York’s club scene, including CBGB, playing with bands like Live Skull and Pussy Galore, before gradually moving toward a heavier sound and eventually signing with Geffen Records in 1991 and releasing the successful La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One a year later.
HEAVIÖSITY caught up with Yseult, who’s still making art in New Orleans, to talk about the work that went into It Came From N.Y.C., the beginnings of the band, and their legacy. Needless to say, it was a fascinating time in music, and Yseult and White Zombie were a big part of that.
HEAVIÖSITY: I remember 20 years ago I picked up Make Them Die Slowly on CD—and this was around the time Astro-Creep: 2000 came out—and at the time I preferred the newer, more industrial stuff you were doing. But now I’m listening to the box set, and thinking how ahead of its time some of this early stuff was.
Sean Yseult: It’s kind of crazy, right? I haven’t heard it since we recorded it. You know, because Rob and I lived together, and he always hated whatever we had just done—he just wanted to shelve it and move forward, like a shark [laughs]. Now I’m seriously just listening to this stuff for the first time. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. There’s some crazy material there [laughs].
HEAVIÖSITY: How involved were you in putting the box set together?
Yseult: J. [Yuenger, White Zombie guitarist] and I were very involved since the first day. Numero Group actually drove down from Chicago to visit J. and I in New Orleans, and hung out with them for a few days and went through a ton of our stuff. And we spent on and off for a year being interviewed for the liner notes. It was crazy. I’m kind of the one that has the most stuff. I’m sure Rob has a good amount of things, but I think I actually have more because I was a photographer at Parsons [School of Design in New York] and I shot a lot of the early photos of the band. And I saved every flier and collected things. Almost everything in there is from my collection.
HEAVIÖSITY: It’s a very thorough box set. I love the fact that there’s a “T-shirtography” in there.
Yseult: J. and I also saved every T-shirt. And I have ones going back to the first 7-inch. Rob had a design he drew on the back—kind of a cryptic, astrological, slightly satanic-looking design—and we made, I think, three T-shirts. I was also doing a lot of silk-screen back then. At school I went and made like three T-shirts; so I have one, Rob has one and, I don’t know, I can’t remember of we even gave one away. The first couple months of White Zombie, that’s how far back the T-shirtography goes [laughs].
HEAVIÖSITY: How involved was Rob?
Yseult: He did get involved—not at first, but then he actually realized this is a cool project, I’m guessing. That’s what I was told. He did a lot of the interviews, so if you read the liner notes he chimes in. It’s good that Rob gave his perspective, you know, because it’s obviously very different than ours.
HEAVIÖSITY: From what I’ve read it sounds like Rob sort of went his own way after White Zombie.
Yseult: Yeah, yeah. I don’t know. It’s umm, you’ll have to read it [laughs]. It’s all good.
HEAVIÖSITY: White Zombie formed in 1985, which is a trip to me considering what was going on at the time—you had the L.A. hair metal scene and some good thrash metal happening. White Zombie was doing its own thing. Tell me about that time, especially being a woman in what was mostly a man’s world.
Yseult: Well, it’s interesting, because we lived on the Lower East Side in the East Village in New York City, and to be quite honest every band that we were friends had a girl in the band, usually on bass. We were friends with Honeymoon Killers, Live Skull—these are the bands we played with, kind of arty, noisy East Village bands, which we were one of. Pussy Galore with Julia Cafritz on guitar. We didn’t play shows with Sonic Youth, but they had Kim Gordon. Swans. It didn’t seem like a weird thing. Even some of the heavier bands we got to know later like Raging Slab had a girl on slide guitar.
Even though we were this noisy art band, we were also into heavy metal. Rob and I always loved Black Sabbath. He liked KISS and AC/DC. It all just made sense at the time, but as we mutated and became heavier we started getting asked to play shows with bands like Biohazard and Cro-Mags who, a month before they asked us, we thought they were crossing the street to kick our asses. To be honest when Harley [Flanagan, Cro-Mags bassist and founder] did cross the street on St. Mark’s at 2 in the morning—Rob and I were putting up fliers for our next gig—and our normal reaction is to run, or cross the street [laughs]. And he came up and was like, “Hey, I really dig you guys; do you want to open for us sometime?” And that was like the most amazing thing in the world. And the fact we said yes took some balls, because their audience could’ve destroyed us. We went out and played L’Mour, the metal club, and started opening for Cro-Mags and Biohazard and bands like that, and their audiences loved us—probably more than the audiences at CBGB.
HEAVIÖSITY: Yeah, White Zombie was a difficult band to categorize.
Yseult: It was kind of a gradual process. A lot of people were like, “Oh, all of a sudden you’re on Geffen and you’re metal.” No, if you listen to the transition on all of these records we put out ourselves, up through Caroline Records, you can hear it. It was happening for years before we got on Geffen. You know, we both loved a lot of punk, like The Cramps and Gun Club. Even Bauhaus. We were really into The Birthday Party. The Butthole Surfers were a big influence. Black Flag. And then Black Flag started getting slower and heavier, and that was a big influence on us. We went to every one of their shows—I must’ve seen Black Flag a hundred times.
HEAVIÖSITY: I interviewed Donita Sparks of L7 recently, and that was another band with sort of a foot in both the punk and metal worlds.
Yseult: When we got to L.A. that’s who we played with, and that’s whose floor we slept on. We totally were hanging with L7, so that’s always made sense. There was a little of that going on everywhere. On that same tour, Bruce Pavitt was just starting Sub Pop, and he only had Soundgarden and was just signing Mudhoney, and we played with Mudhoney. All these bands had this punk influence, but were also progressive and heavy. It was a really interesting time.
HEAVIÖSITY: You’ve been a role model to a lot of young women. Did you have any female role models?
Yseult: Thank you. I do get that a lot from young girls, and it’s always very flattering. It’s so nice for me because I had Poison Ivy of The Cramps. But the real influence on me was Joan Jett. I got to see Joan Jett when I was 16 back in North Carolina at this little club. And I just could not believe it; she was doing the I Love Rock ’n’ Roll tour. Ya know, she just looked like Dee Dee Ramone—she was killing it, wearing the striped T-shirt and rocking out. And I’ll never forget that. I love how she just held her ground, and was one of the guys. That made such an impact on me.
HEAVIÖSITY: How did you end up in New York from North Carolina?
Yseult: Scholarship. I was at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston, Salem—I was in class with kids from all over the world; Bob Fosse’s daughter was in the ballet department. I started going there when I was 12 years old for ballet, but I broke my foot toward the end and I switch to visual arts. I found out before my senior year that I was excelling in visual arts more than I had in all the years I put into ballet. And then I got a scholarship to Parsons, and I took it. That’s how Rob and I met. Actually, we were both going to the Sunday CBGB hardcore matinees, but we met in the cafeteria at Parsons. And then he dropped out the next year. Our first drummer and our second guitarist were both Parsons students, too. But everybody kind of dropped out eventually. And I think that’s one part about being the girl, I was conscientious and stuck it out and I got my BFA [laughs], despite all the late-night rehearsals and touring.
HEAVIÖSITY: So, what’s your take on the White Zombie legacy? Do you think the band gets overlooked, or do they get their due?
Yseult: I’m glad you asked that. We didn’t ever quite fit…I mean, we did our own thing, and for God’s sake we’ve sold millions of records, and got nominated for Grammys, and we sold out 10,000-seat arenas. But when it comes to people putting together the biggest, best metal bands, or even a metal encyclopedia, we’re left out. And then when it comes to the New York scene, we’re left out. We started White Zombie and put out many records and played the Lower East Side and the East Village many years before we left New York [laughs]. We’re somehow the biggest, most obscure band ever.
Battleaxe – Burn This Town (1983)
Aretha Franklin – Young, Gifted and Black (1972)
Black Mountain – IV (2015)
Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust (2015)
Ace Frehley – Ace Frehley (1978)
Mark Lore is getting zero work done while on Twitter.