When it comes to unique, Type O Negative fit the description. Formed in 1989 in Brooklyn, New York, the band – comprising of Peter Steele (lead vocals, bass), Kenny Hickey (guitar, backing vocals), Josh Silver (keyboards, backing vocals), and Sal Abruscato (drums, percussions), who was later replaced by Johnny Kelly – were given the nickname of the “Drab Four’’ due to the depressing and nihilistic nature of their lyrics, even though they were often peppered with a sense of gallows humour. Other lyrical themes would include doomed romance and sex, which would explain why Steele was considered somewhat of a sex symbol and romantic anti-hero among the band’s large female (and male) fan base (he also had an impressively large schlong and posed for Playgirl). However, back to my original point: Type O were on an island unto themselves. And, in this writer’s humble opinion, one of the most fascinating band’s to hit the scene.
Debut album, Slow, Deep and Hard, released by Roadrunner Records in 1991, isn’t the best of their impressive bunch, but it’s fascinating nonetheless. The record contains thrash and death metal elements along with the along with the New Wave, Gothic metal and doom stylings that later predominate their sound. Type O Negative’s music was as haunting as a cemetery at night – and beautifully so. They would embrace their New Wave elements as well, and their dark melodies gave music a crossover appeal; but Slow, Deep and Hard was, like the blurred out sexual act shown on the album’s cover, quite raw and tenacious. If you want a track that sums it up perfectly, just listen to the 12-minute opener “Unsuccessfully Coping with the Natural Beauty of Infidelity.’’ It has snarl, velocity and crosses a variety of genres, starting with thrash, before making excursions into doom, with acoustic guitars and funeral organs as well. Those would become hallmarks of the band’s music.
The next release was the hilariously titled, The Origin of the Feces. Unlike the record’s title, however, it’s anything but shit. Like the band’s introductory album, it’s a raw mix of the genres that made up their previously release. Furthermore, some tracks from before have been reworked and included, such as “Unsuccessfully Coping with the Natural Beauty of Infidelity’’ which was renamed, “I Know You’re Fucking Somebody Else.’’ Of course, listening to the doom-laden nature of the band’s output, it’s hard not to think of Black Sabbath a couple of times, and depending on which issue of the album you listen to, there’s a brilliant cover of “Paranoid’’ which has been slowed down to the tempo of a funeral procession. I don’t want to call it better because it’s like a different song entirely, but the old adage that the best covers are the ones where bands make the song their own applies here. If you didn’t listen to the words then you probably wouldn’t even think it was a cover because it’s so typically Type O. And that takes me back to my opening statement: this band was unique and easy to distinguish from the outset.
Up until that point, Type O Negative was still finding their way. All of the ingredients were there and it made for some tasty dishes. However, 1993s Bloody Kisses was when it all started coming together, and it made for the most satisfying course of their career. My terrible kitchen analogies aside, this album is a masterpiece, and it encapsulates everything that makes the band special. Unless you’re a purist who likes to follow band’s from the start, I’d recommend this as the best album to start with for those who have yet to discover their music. “Christian Woman’’ opens proceedings and sets the tone for what’s to come throughout – ethereal melodies, enchanting vocals and slow-paced Gothic metal with mainstream accessibility. At the time, it rejuvenated the Gothic metal genre, but the band had the ability to package it to a much wider audience. These elements were present in their music from the get-go, but here is when they fully embraced them. Bloody Kisses isn’t the hardest metal album on the planet, but it marked the sound of a band who knew they were on to something, and its dark soundscapes, strange melodies, and doom-infused pop hooks are unlike anything else. There’s also a thrashy number called “Kill All White People.’’ That probably wouldn’t fly these days.
Their next album, October Rust, is another one of those albums I’d recommend as an essential ‘90s metal record, and it saw the band incorporate new elements into their music such as psychedelic rock and more ballads. It’s all very theatrical in many ways, but Type O were one of those bands who knew how to find a balance between excess and what made them work. “Love You to Death’’ is the song I’d have included on the site’s Best Of – Power Ballads list if I didn’t love Skid Row’s “I Remember You’’ so much. However, if I was ever making love in a mausoleum then “Love You to Death’’ is the song I’d want to soundtrack that beautiful event. The album also contains the classic “My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend’’ and a cover of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,’’ which are two of the band’s most popular crossover songs.
In 1999, they would see out the decade with World Coming Down, which is arguably their most introspective release. Prior to the recording of the album, singer Peter Steele experienced a series of deaths in the family, as well as a period of drug addiction. Songs like “White Slavery’’ discuss his experience with cocaine, while tracks like “Everyone I Love is Dead’’ are pretty self-explanatory as to the mindset the band was in at the time. That said, it’s a powerful record, and while the band largely ignored tracks from it during their live shows in the years that followed for personal reasons, it’s still a mightily strong effort which showcases are more open, honest and emotionally delicate side of the band.
Life is Killing Me, which was released in 2003, saw the band continue to flirt with the mainstream. The video for “I Don’t Want to Be Me’’ was massively popular on music channels, and the song itself enjoyed regular airplay on rock radio. That’s how I discovered them initially back in high school, along with many more of metal peers around my age at the time. “(We Were) Electrocute’’ also featured on the soundtrack to Freddy vs. Jason (2003), which is actually a really worthwhile soundtrack that captures some of the better popular output from that time period, like Murderdolls, From Autumn to Ashes and Devildriver. The band’s habit of covering unexpected tracks also continued with their take on “Angry Inch’’ from the Broadway musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, as well as music from TV show The Munsters. It was their sense of humor that really added to the band’s morbidly goofy charm.
The band’s final album, Dead Again, was their highest chart release, debuting at number 27 on the Billboard 200. Sadly, singer Peter Steele passed away three years later at the age of 48. It ended their career with not a single bad record to their name, but here we are nearly 10 years later since its release, and I think the world could be using more Type O Negative albums. Once they found their groove, you got a good idea of what to expect from their output. However, they were so original and great at what they did, that it never felt stale either. Type O were the romantic’s doom metal band. They were smart without being pretentious. They were progressive and experimental but wrapped in a doom-tinged pop bow. Like a sweet cherry atop a cake found in the freezer of a morgue. They had a sense of humor, but it came from a place of inner turmoil and the experience of a life truly lived. Despite their popularity, Type O Negative aren’t often mentioned alongside the greats, and I feel like they deserve to be. During the ’90s, they helped define a Gothic subculture and their music is a snapshot of the shadowy, sexier side of the decade’s musical output. Trends and styles blew up around Type O during their heyday, but they remained oblivious to all of them and still managed to carve a successful career for themselves. Granted, their music isn’t for everyone by any means. But they were unique, and for us fans, they’ll always be special. Who’s with me?