April is a banner month for Rob Zombie, who made two bloody splashes in one week: last week not only marked the theatrical release of his long-awaited feature film The Lords of Salem (check out our Salem interview with Rob here), but he also rolled out his fifth full-length solo album Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor, the first release on his own label Zodiac Swan. The follow-up to 2010's Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is a strong career move for Rob, who opted to dig deeper and tap into his late '90s roots in White Zombie, namely the legendary Astro-Creep 2000. HD2 was still a cool album in itself, and a solid sequel to Rob's career-defining solo debut, but the Z-man has wisely chosen to diversify his style while balancing his old and new musical strengths on this project.
Zombie's signature sound has certainly not been overthrown for anything radically new here, but the band has a few more inventive adventures with the B-horror-infused, funky raunch-rock & danceable metal formula. The instrumental lineup from HD2 is still here, with the exception of former Marilyn Manson drummer Ginger Fish, aka Kenneth Wilson, taking over the kit from Joey Jordison of Slipknot and Murderdolls. Guitar virtuoso John 5 (also a Manson alumnus) is back of course, as well as bassist Piggy D, and they bring the gritty, southern-fried groove that infused the 2006 release Educated Horses – an album with which Venomous shares more connective tissue than his previous release.
The album blasts off with one its most roof-raising cuts, “Teenage Nosferatu Pussy.” While dark, menacing and ultra-sleazy (as if the title hadn't tipped you off to that already), with the requisite horror and porn-flick samples, it's also sure to be a crowd-pleaser at shows, with a tough, nasty beat and stacks of heavy riffs and a chorus that's irresistibly shout-worthy. Rob's vocals, hardened and deepened over the years, are especially menacing here and throughout most of the record. On the same energy level comes the album's first single, the loud and rowdy “Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown” (be sure to catch the insane video below), with most of the same elements in play tempered by a wicked sense of humor.
The short, exotic instrumental "Theme for the Rat Vendor" may have worked better as an introduction, but it's appropriately cinematic and sensual and gives yu a short breather before another high-energy track: the current front-runner for goofiest song title of 2013 goes to "Gong Gang Gong De Do Gong De Laga Raga,” but don't let that mouthful of gibberish throw you off. In fact, you might just find yourself chanting those words while re-spinning this hard-hitting cut. "Rock and Roll (In a Black Hole)" is the most overtly industrial groove on the album, ascending from a slow-burn pulse to a raging cyber-metal anthem.
While John 5 doesn't have too many solo opportunities on Venomous, the appropriately down-and-dirty "White Trash Freaks" does give him a fine moment in the spotlight; Fish also gets to show off his punchy rhythmic skills here, proving himself a worthy anchor for the patented Zombie beat. In a nod to Rob's '70s influences, in the mode of his covers for the Commodores' “Brick House” and White Zombie's Grammy-nominated spin on KC and the Sunshine Band's “I'm Your Boogie Man,” Rob lays down a rock-solid version of “We're an American Band" by Grand Funk Railroad. "Lucifer Rising" takes its handle from the occult/biker-themed short film by experimental artist Kenneth Anger, and you couldn't ask for a more appropriate title: it's the centerpiece of the album, showcasing each member at the top of their game (John's main riff here is epic), and reanimating the demonic forces Rob first channeled in White Zombie – a power that also drives the club-friendly "Behold! The Pretty Filthy Creatures” and "Revelation Revolution."
"The Girl Who Loved the Monsters” is one of Zombie's most intense, atmospheric and horror-centric tracks, and I'm kind of surprised he didn't end the album here, as it captures much of the aggressively weird vibe that he aims for in his movies. Instead, in the closing slot we get the rowdy, punk-style "Trade in Your Guns for a Coffin” (a title that will no doubt raise some eyebrows given the heated gun debate currently raging in the US), which closes the proceedings on a more straightforward but also much heavier note; it's also sure to be another fist-pumping crowd anthem, bookending the album's strong opening with a memorable coda.
I won't go so far as to declare Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor as mighty a career landmark as the original Hellbilly Deluxe (that one set the bar impossibly high), I will say it runs a very close second in spirit and originality – and instead of trying to recapture that album's lightning, it summons up a new energy of its own, and it's one of the most purely fun listens in the Zombie catalog. It also proves that Rob and his team still have some imaginative tricks left in their hats, and that bodes well for his future solo work.
Now watch Rob, the band and his partner in crime Sheri Moon Zombie in “Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown,” doing what looks like a riff on the visual stylings of South African rap unit Die Antwoord (another of my fave acts, by the way). Anyway, it's goofy as hell and a lot of fun. Dig it!