Soul-Crusher is the debut album of noise rock band White Zombie. It was released in November 1987 on LP under White Zombie's own label "Silent Explosion". In 1988, the album was adopted and re-edited by Caroline Records. Each label pressed 2,000 copies making it a rarity among collectors. Despite its initially limited release and the band's relatively unknown status, the album gained the admiration of popular musicians such as Kurt Cobain,Iggy Pop, and Thurston Moore.
The band decided to recruit Wharton Tiers, who had previously been associated with noise rock bands such as Pussy Galore and Sonic Youth, to produce and engineer the record. This marked the first time White Zombie had worked with a producer on any of their releases. The members of White Zombie claimed to have been more pleased with the production of Soul-Crusher than any other previous recording and praised Tiers for giving them creative freedom during the recording process. However, Sean stated that, "We really do need more direction sometimes. We know what we want, but we're pretty inexperienced in the studio." Rob also expressed his dislike for the way the band sounded, noting that the equipment used in the recording sessions was of poor quality.
Soul-Crusher continued to develop the punk-like noise rock style of its predecessor. The record's sound has been described as "Beefheart in painfully tight trousers trying to scream his way over Sonic Youth and The Birthday Party playing different songs in the same room." Sean has cited The Cramps, The Birthday Party, Flipper, Butthole Surfers, and Black Flag as primary influences to the band during this time. She said, "I would write bass riffs that were very driving and tribal with Ivan’s drums, very Birthday Party and Butthole Surfers-influenced. Then sometimes we would just tell Tom to go nuts and make some noise!". Guay also created entire tracks of guitar feedback and noise, which didn't relate to any of the songs, that the band would proceed to layer over the album. Rob would usually work out the lyrics and vocal arrangement after the music had already been written, sometimes even waiting until the band was in the studio to finish the song. He felt that the band had finally solidified into a unit and that the record perfectly showcased their sound during that era more so than anything else they had recorded before, although he was very critical of the band's music and the noise rock genre at the time, going as far as to say:
We just got called a noise band because we had such shitty equipment. It was like playing through cheap stereo speakers. It's so funny because in New York, no one will ever admit they're a noise band-even those who know they are. But when you get outta the city, everyone's dying to be called a noise band. They all think it's this really swingin' scene.
Rob recorded a variety of television and movie dialogue and sound effects to use on the album. This would become a characteristic that White Zombie would be known for on their later albums, especially on their Geffen releases.
The reception of the album, at the time, was somewhat positive. A significant amount of praise was directed at Rob's creative and bizarre lyrical contributions. Sean recalls that "Critics seemed to enjoy Rob's psychotic lyrics, so much so that their entire review would try to emulate his style, which was entertaining". Professional music critics occasionally list it as being a definitive noise rock album and a highlight of the band's career. Bradley Torreano of Allmusic awarded it 4 out of 5 stars, praising the lyrics and deeming it "a prime slab of noise rock that has aged shockingly well" and that although "Zombie fans might not even like this that much, but no less of an authority than Kurt Cobain himself pointed to this period in their career as one of his biggest influences". Historian Piero Scaruffi gave it a 7 out of 10, citing it as one of the band's greatest works and later deeming it one of the best records of the '80s. Billy Lucas and David Stubbs of Melody Maker Magazine praised the artwork, lyrics, "slammer guitars", and "scrawling vocals" on the album.Sounds gave the album three out of five stars; the reviewer citing that the album contained "No melody, little arrangement, just a cacophony of unlovely, forbidding noise that bloodies the nose of rock 'n' roll."Iggy Pop, the former front-man of The Stooges, was an admirer of the album and listed it as one of his favorite records of 1988 in the "Readers and Critics Poll" for Rolling Stone.
The album, however, has not gone without criticism. Sean noted that "People either loved or hated it--or were full of self-loathing and loved to be tortured by it."Creem described Soul-Crusher as the "most obnoxious sound of the year" and that "no one in the black concert T is ever gonna like White Zombie". Fans of the band's later albums usually dismiss the album, as with most of the band's back catalogue, because of its different style.
The concept for the front and back cover was conceived by Rob in sketch form and executed by Michael Lavine, who had previously worked with White Zombie on Psycho-Head Blowout. It is a single photograph of the band, which continues from the front to the back of the record, that was montaged in a darkroom. Sean mistakenly used the wrong color for the logo and titles, turning what was originally intended to be blood-red into hot pink lettering.
The band began touring outside the northeast for the first time after the re-release of Soul-Crusher on Caroline Records in 1988. They would open for bands like the Circle Jerks, but received mostly lukewarm responses from the crowds. However, their shows were received positively by critics, who described the band's onstage presence as an "aural and visual onslaught of vicious, shambling noise". It would be a relatively short tour as the band would enter the studio later that year to record Make Them Die Slowly.