Essential Albums #7: Type O Negative “Dead Again”

ton2007

Update, 4/15/10: Peter Steele died Wednesday of heart failure. For a Noise Pollution remembrance of Steele, go here.

Well, one of my favorite bands, Type O Negative, is performing tonight in Cincinnati. But, instead of driving to the show, I’m sitting here at work. How is that fair?

But, I’m determined to make the best of my misfortune. Thinking about tonight’s show made me dig into my Type O collection – which led me to spin the band’s best album, 2007’s “Dead Again.”

Not only is “Dead Again” on par with the band’s best work, it signaled that Type O’s droll, gothic corpse had quite a bit of life (or at least undeath) left, and showed the band was still capable of making amazing music.

After the band was dumped from Roadrunner Records, it seemed Type O Negative was at the end of its road. In some ways, that was expected: After releasing three brilliant studio albums in a row in the 1990s (“Bloody Kisses,” “October Rust” and the emotionally jarring yet incredible “World Coming Down”), the band seemed to lose much of its edge and desire. “Life Is Killing Me,” the followup to “World Coming Down,” had a few bright moments, but was also packed with several completely unmemorable songs. During an interview to promote the album, drummer Johnny Kelley sounded as if “Life” would be the band’s swan song.

In retrospect, I wonder if the band was just burned out by their experience with Roadrunner and needed some time to regroup. Of course, that wasn’t the only thing happening: Vocalist Peter Steele was hospitalized after years of substance abuse and later embraced Catholicism. When Steele returned to music, he had both passion in his voice and something new to say. 

Almost four years after “Life Is Killing Me” was released, it was announced that Type O had signed with SPV Records and had a new album in the works. “Dead Again,” ironically, was the sound of the band being reborn.

The title song opens with a dive bomb screech of noise, a doom riff and funeral keyboards, before suddenly shifting to punk rock. A song about drug addiction, Steele confronts his demons with his trademark wit: “Had no pulse last time I checked/I’d trade my life for self-respect/so I say with my last breath/there are some things worse than death.” The song ends on a big bombastic wall of power chords. 

“Tripping A Blind Man” also opens with a wall of psychedelic doom before zooming off again into punk rock. But the song has so many ideas in the mix it’s hard to keep up. The midsection is Sabbath-y metal on magic mushrooms with a Beatles vocal line turning up at the chorus. The song then shifts again to uptempo hard rock, with a heavy beat from Kelly and lovely duo melodies from Steele and guitarist Kenny Hickey … and then the band swings back to punk! It’s exhausting and exhilarating, the song of a band with a ton of great ideas and a new lease on life.

“The Profits of Doom” is a mash-up of ideas and time changes that roars in on fretboard spanning Hickey riff and a wall of bass sludge from Steele. The first two verses are more ranted than sang, as Steele screams conspiracy theories right out of the book of Revelations. When the first time change arrives, Steele and Hickey share the vocal lines while keyboardist Josh Silver layers the proceedings with cosmic noise. Then the second major time change throws the song into Beatles territory, with a psychedelic aura and a soaring Steele chorus (soaring for Steele anyway) before the song devolves and fades out.

“September Sun” is reminiscent of the ballads of “October Rust,” with a quiet acoustic piano by Silver and mumbled-grumbled lyrics by Steele. The sudden explosion of not-quite chorus is a surprise, as Hickey takes over the vocals while laying on the fuzz distortion. The song quiets just as quickly for the second verse, flares up again for the chorus … and slides into a odd jam that feature Beatles style vocals, stoned-out guitar, a virtuoso keyboard solo by Silver – and Russian chanting. Russian chanting? After the solo, the song swings into Beatleseque singalong sweetness again before dissolving into noise and petering out.

“Halloween in Heaven” seems straight-forward at first, with Kelly bashing out a fast beat and Hickey throwing out a two-note riff to drive the song through the first 89 seconds. But nothing in Type O land is never simple. At the minute and a half mark, the band throws in a time change and switches from punk to driving hard rock – and then goes spacey with a droning wall of guitar sludge and female vocals. Then the song switches back to slam-dance mode for the big finish.

“Halloween in Heaven” is light-hearted. “These Three Things,” however, is the roar of doom. Type O Negative have two overwhelming influences – the Beatles and Black Sabbath – and its Sabbath that dominates the song. The opening riff is a sludgy reinterpretation of the riff from the song “Black Sabbath” and the guitar lines sound right out of the Tony Iommi catalogue.

The lyrics irritated a number of Type O fans, I know. “These Three Things” deals largely with the topic of abortion, from a very pro-life, conservative Christian point of view. I remember reading comments on Blabbermouth and other news sites about how Steele should keep his opinions to himself … to which I say, “huh?” Steele is the band’s main lyricist and he has been expressing his opinions on T.O.N. albums for about two decades now. What are albums, anyway, if not a forum for artists to express their opinions? People can disagree with Steele’s views – and not purchase future T.O.N. discs if they vehemently are opposed to his point of view – but to say the man can’t express his beliefs on his own albums is beyond ridiculous.

The mid-section, were Steele switches back to conspiracy theory lyrics – something about Christianity and Area 51, but that’s about as enlightened as I got – before morphing into the surprisingly uplifting coda. I don’t know half of what Steele’s singing about here, but the performance is stellar. The man sounds on fire throughout – and when Hickey takes over near the end, the hair stands up on the back of my neck.  “These Three Things” is the album’s showcase: I’d post it here, but it’s simply too long for one YouTube vid and too awesome to be edited down to size.

“She Burned Me Down” is straight-ahead hippy metal at first, with Steele croaking like a zombie in the opening verses. From there, the song flies off into the ether of psychedelic keyboard noise, droning guitars and the repeated refrain, “every time I see her start a fire, I get higher.” But then the damn song turns into a (Russian) military march. Even by Type O standards, it’s weird … but weird is part of the reason they’re so interesting, isn’t it? Hickey again kills with the solo as well.

“Some Stupid Tomorrow” and “An Ode To Locksmiths” are essentially one long song, with another heavy Beatles vide on “Ode” until the two minute mark, when Hickey throws in a Sabbath line for the midsection. The end is singalong bouncy. It’s another standout.

“Hail And Farewell to Britain” closes the album on a heavier, more serious note. A song of betrayal (not a new theme for these guys), Steele seethes his way through “Hail” … and when the man screams, “I can’t believe how cruel life is,” you’ll believe he means it. The song ends with a descent into aero madness that is hysterical.

Instead of being dead, Type O resurrected themselves on “Dead Again.” The fact that the band is out doing a brief Halloween tour right now gives me hope that the old corpse will be walking, smirking and biting for quite some time to come. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.

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1 Comment

  1. Great post/review. I had tix for the show in Conn. this past weekend but ended up sick so I missed the show. Too bad because I heard Steele was amazing, and Scott Warren, in for Josh, did well too.
    I am a late bloomer to TON and like yourself, can’t wait to see what they pull out of the rabbit’s hat next.


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