Type O Negative Bio:
It’s hard to believe that brooding dark-rock outfit Type O Negative—bassist/singer/control freak Peter Steele, glass-is-half-empty keyboardist Josh Silver, reality-check cashing guitarist Kenny Hickey and guarded-optimist drummer Johnny Kelly—are celebrating 18 years of time-in on planet Earth. Early records—like their 1990 debut, Slow, Deep And Hard, the platinum Bloody Kisses and the gold-selling October Rust—displayed a sonic Venn Diagram where metal, goth and electro/industrial scenes forged a commonality that was fresh and engaging. Many of today’s rockers (particularly that heartagram-toting fop from Finland) have acknowledged the measure of TON’s influence in their own work. Hell, the character of Deathclok singer Nathan Explosion from Cartoon Network’s Metalocalypse sure looks a lot like the man of Steele (“When you’re seven feet tall, 350 pounds with long black hair, dark green eyes and fangs you are a caricature,” reasons the singer). Clearly, only a dullard would deny how much of Type O’s universe has been significantly up streamed into popular culture.
SPV Records certainly realized this, and that’s why they pursued the band with a contract drummer Kelly describes as “an offer we couldn’t refuse. We don’t have to play any weddings, make any drops or deliveries and we don’t have to kill anyone.” Last year, the label issued Symphony For The Devil, a DVD of the band’s 1999 appearance at Cologne’s Bizarre Festival. But the real pay dirt after TON’s three-year absence off the rock radar is Dead Again. The follow-up to 2003’s Life Is Killing Me contains 10 ambitious tracks that bring all the menace, noise, darkness and catharsis associated with the Brooklyn dirtboxes, while still expanding their craft. From hardcore throwdowns to psychedelic mind movies, Type O Negative resonate brightly in a music scene populated by cookie-cutter acts being told what to do by accountants.
“I’ve said this many times before,” begins Steele. “The Beatles would have a really hard time trying to release Sgt. Pepper’s in today’s musical climate. I think the music scene is as desolate as it’s ever been, and frankly, I don’t want to be influenced by it. Type O Negative were never a band to jump on trends, and I don’t even want to be tempted.”
“We’re a fucking time machine,” proffers guitarist Hickey. “We don’t move forward; we are what we are. We established our own niche and were able to transcend to other generations. We know we’re never going to be some faceless radio-rotation band. We’d rather have a career than have hits.”
While the title Dead Again implies a spiritual and physical (what the hell, let’s throw “creative” in there solely to make Silver happy) void, Type O 2K7 is anything but finished. While all of the sonics that have defined them for the past 17 years are still there, the quartet have significantly ratcheted up everything from atmospheres to musicianship. “The Profits Of Doom” features an opiate-laden psychedelic breakdown with sitar parts (contributed by Steele’s longtime buddy Paul Bento) within Hickey’s towering riffs, as Steele bellows “My soul’s on fiii-uur!” like a man at the end of his rope who is going to take every goddamn one of us with him. Songs like “Tripping A Blind Man” and “Some Stupid Tomorrow” are powered by breakneck hardcore beats, which then downshift into medium-tempo grooves conjuring a ’70s underground vibe. (Sure, it’s Black Sabba-tastic: Think “Fairies Wear Boots” or “Rat Salad” instead of “Electric Funeral” and “N.I.B.”) “September Sun” reconfigures the “power ballad,” where the quieter melancholic parts are given greater resonance by the density of the riffs. Tara Vanflower of darkwave act Lycia contributes vocals to “Halloween In Heaven,” Steele’s headbanging tribute to dead rockers. “She Burned Me Down” is a destroyed-by-love song that inexplicably fuses Hickey’s arena-rock sensibilities with Laibach-ian martial cadences. The closing “Hail And Farewell To Britain”—Steele’s scathing farewell to a duplicitous ex-friend—stirs solid riffing, lyrical invective, incredibly deft playing along with field recordings of combat (think Sonic Youth covering the Animals’ 1968 hit “Sky Pilot”) for a jarring conclusion. In today’s ADD-addled culture, Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame dictum has been shaved to seven minutes. Three years out of the public eye would destroy most careers in music. On Dead Again, it’s as if Type O are just getting started.
“Spacing the records far apart is how you achieve diverse results,” says Silver. “When you’re forced to write an album every year or eight months, you haven’t changed—you’re still the same asshole you were eight months ago. We’ve been different assholes every record. We’ve retained our identity through all the changes.”
While countless artists bandy around terms like “maturing” and “progressing” as rationale for delivering records better suited for landfills, Type O Negative have raised the bar, even though they’re always waiting for said object to crash down on them an errant communication satellites. For those following their career arc thus far, Dead Again is arguably Type O’s most ambitious record yet, teeming with fury, sorrow and darkness, and delivered with a broader sound palette that’s neither contrived nor cloying. But actually getting the self-deprecating, obstinate bastards to take pride in their work? Forget it: It’s easier to get a U.S. congressman to offer his teenage son for the frontlines of battle.
“It’s a painful process,” admits Hickey. “The weaker points get smashed down. The drama never ends. Pete’s having a bad day; how much are we gonna get done today? How many Black Sabbath songs are we gonna play [in the studio] before Josh walks out? Half the time, we do want to kill each other, but our process is not about contentious fighting—it’s about creating something out of shit. It probably stems from basic psychosis.”
“All of my music is based on what is going on in my life at the time and exaggerating it,” reveals Steele. “If I didn’t exaggerate it, I’d be writing about what I had for dinner last night.” Though early on, he and Silver used to define the band’s oeuvre as “gothadelic industrimetal,” these days he prefers “Confused dirge-core. The songs go from 40 BPM to 140 within a tenth of a second. My ADD has been flaring up so I need to write stuff that doesn’t bore me. One of the things I really like about Dead Again is that the band really likes it. It’s dumped some motivation into the group, which I felt had been lacking for years.”
“Type O Negative hasn’t become a job,” Kelly emphasizes. “We’re all in this band because we want to be here.”
“To be concerned with the reception of the work defeats the purpose of Type O Negative,” says Silver solemnly. “We don’t make music for other people. We have a lot of room for ambiguity.”
In the early days of his band, Steele would routinely disarm the most vociferous maniac screaming “you suck” by saying “Thank you.” Reflecting on the accomplishments he’s made on Dead Again, Steele has a slightly different defense.
“I’d still have to agree with those people,” he says calmly. “Only now, we suck better.”
On April 14, 2010 frontman and bassist Peter Steele died, reportedly from heart failure.