By Bill Adams
After so many years and releases (since Supersexy Swingin’ Sounds – at least) that have seen Rob Zombie continue to mutate his metal into some permutation of ghoulish electro-goth, the question of whether the singer would find his way back to more realtime music had become an increasingly valid one. In the last ten years particularly, even when Zombie has polished his metal edge (Educated Horses), it has always been coupled with an appraisal of his cybernetic one in order to hedge bets and at least ensure some play on any given gothic club dance floor so, as “Jesus Frankenstein” warms listeners up for Hellbilly Deluxe 2, that it rocks hard and does it with little in the way of technological glitchery actually comes as a shock.
Could it be that Rob Zombie is ready to step out from behind his laptop?
The answer, for the most part, is “Yes, he is.” For the first time in years, Hellbilly Deluxe 2 sees Rob Zombie playing and interacting with other musicians on tracks that actually sound like new songs rather than a set of reconstituted remixes. After the tone gets set by “Jesus Frankenstein” – which sounds a bit like an overture for the proceedings and echoes “Sawdust In The Blood” from Educated Horses – Zombie leads the charge through a set of the ten hardest-driving, least computer-controlled rockers to come from the singer since the word “White” preceded his name. Each track presents a different facet of the singer’s established public face; the heavy-handed but brick-thick rhythm section in “Sick Bubblegum” recalls an affinity for The Ramones while “Mars Needs Women” resuscitates the heavy breathing exercises of “Dragula” and, when the bells toll to open “Virgin Witch,” they drive a stake through the heart of the singer’s electro-clash period while an unholy choir looks on.
All of those aforementioned tracks will get longtime fans who have waited so long for a glimmer of metal excited, but the album doesn’t stop there. Zombie is earnestly (and successfully) trying to recapture some of his former powers in tracks like “Death And Destiny Inside The Dream Factory,” “Burn” and the wild, enormous “The Man Who Laughs” (which comes complete with a full-sized S&M-style orchestra and a barn-burning drum solo) Zombie and guitarist John 5 dig even further into the singer’s metal roots to remove any possible perception that this album might just be a canny and calculated play to get back into the good graces of metal heads. In the end, when 5, the orchestra and Zombie finally ease the book closed on “The Man Who Laughs,” it just feels revelatory. It’s an easy end, but it leaves listeners to contemplate what they’ve just experienced and it does take a minute to sink in; after a decade spent lightening up and concentrating on any and every other artistic endeavor within reach, Rob Zombie has effortlessly revived his career as an active musician and done so without any electronic gimmickry. If there was rust that needed to be kicked off the belts, it doesn’t show here; on Hellbilly Deluxe 2, Rob Zombie’s career just lives – again.
(Roadrunner/Loud & Proud)