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In their two decades as a band, Type O Negative were completely unique. Emerging from the New York City hardcore scene of the late Eighties, their first two albums had more in common with frontman Peter Steele's hilariously un-PC hardcore troupe Carnivore than they did with the goth-doom behemoth they would become with the release of Bloody Kisses in 1993. What linked the two bands — besides their Brooklyn roots and Steele's daunting six-foot-eight presence — was a sense of humor, a trait that was distinctly lacking amongst the goth and doom bands of the era (or any era). Even when Steele was writing highly personal and ultra-depressing songs about death, loss and broken relationships, he managed to keep his tongue planted firmly in his cheek.
Being a goth band that didn't take themselves seriously was part of what made Type O so appealing. For all the intense genital close-ups and lesbian fantasies that marked their first three album covers, the back of Bloody Kisses summed up their attitude nicely: "Don't mistake lack of talent for genius." That's fine as one-liners go, but Type O also pulled off the unthinkable: Their breakthrough hit, "Black No. 1" made fun of the same self-serious goth audience who would embrace it.
Type O produced seven albums over their 20-year career. Bloody Kisses and 1996's October Rust were the most commercially successful — going platinum and gold, respectively. But later records including 1999's World Coming Down and 2003's Life Is Killing Me yielded many of their best tracks and have long been fan favorites. Sadly, Type O's 2007 record, Dead Again, would prove to be their swan song — as Steele tragically passed in 2010 due to sepsis brought on by diverticulitis. While the singer had been open about his past issues with alcohol and substance abuse, at the time of his death Steele had been clean and sober for eight months and was looking forward to working on a new record.
Compiling a list of any beloved band's greatest songs is a thankless task. Usually, the top handful are fairly obvious, but the rest are generally subject to extreme prejudice. Luckily, Type O left us no shortage of excellent material to work with. Let the arguing begin.
October Rust (1996)
A tale of lost love that takes place at JFK airport, "Die With Me" is full of references to "jet fuel perfume" and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. It starts off as a wistful acoustic ballad as Steele watches his girl board a plane to the U.K. When the band kicks in, he imagines a Romeo and Juliet scenario, but instead of suicide, perhaps — in true Type O fashion — a funeral pyre.
Bloody Kisses (1993)
This Bloody Kisses track plays off the melody from the tail end of the previous song on the album: Type O's cover of Seals & Crofts' Seventies AM gold staple "Summer Breeze." Like October Rust's "Burnt Flowers Fallen," there's essentially one line of lyrics. But there's also a huge drum break, some froggy porno guitar from Kenny Hickey and a Josh Silver keyboard vamp that may or may not reference the Doors' "Light My Fire."
Oddly enough, October Rust contains songs set in December (this one) and January ("Wolf Moon"). But there are no merry gentlemen in this Christmas song. Instead, Steele mourns the recent deaths of friends and family: "My table's been set for seven/Just last year I dined with 11." As the band churns out a slow-rolling funeral dirge, Steele chases the ghosts away with red wine and regret.
Life Is Killing Me (2003)
The title track of Type O's 2003 album is possibly the most venomous anti-doctor screed ever recorded. Steele rails against "overpaid meat magicians" while comparing all physicians to Doctors Jekyll and Mengele: "Just who do you think you are?/Medical school don't make you God/Now I don't care what you've been taught/Just get me off this life support." We notice he didn't mention Dr. Kevorkian …
This October Rust track might be one of Type O's most impressive feats in that Steele essentially repeats slight variations of just one line — "I think she's falling out of love" — for the entire six-minute song. Yeah, there's the melancholy bridge part about the burnt flowers that gives the track its name, but nobody's singing along to that.
Steele's nickname, "The Green Man," dates back to his days as an employee of the New York City Parks Department, when he would wear a green uniform to work. But it also references his love of nature — as detailed in the song's lyrics — and of the color green itself. "Pete was obsessed with the color green and having green on all the [album] covers," recalled former Roadrunner A&R man Monte Conner. "And it had to be the right green. He would literally spend hours looking through hundreds of different shades until he found the one he wanted."
Dead Again (2007)
The final Type O single released before Steele's passing, "September Sun" begins as piano ballad, ends with a backwards voice mail and follows a "lost man" named Peter as he sifts through the rubble of a broken 10-year relationship. The lengthy track references October Rust both lyrically and musically as Steele trades off lead vocals with Hickey. Like many of the songs on Dead Again, it seems an ominous portent.
"Goodbye, cruel world!" In retrospect, the opening line of the first single from Type O's final album is loaded with pathos. "The Profit of Doom" sees Steele taking on the role of an overheated end-times preacher, invoking images of pentagrams and horned death-dealers while decrying "this new moral code that the media demands." It's all very apocalyptic, but now it seems like the end he was talking about was his own.
Slow, Deep and Hard (1991)
Opening your debut album with a nearly 13-minute-long track probably isn't the best idea, but Type O always liked bad ideas. The song itself is a hilariously graphic kiss-off to an ex-girlfriend who Steele caught with another dude at the now-defunct Brooklyn metal club L'Amour. The lyrics, though? "You had cock on your mind/And cum on your breath/Inserted that diaphragm before you left/Practicing freelance gynecology/Where there's a womb, there's a way/With you it's free/Slut! Whore! Cunt!" Feminist groups were not amused.
As the closer on October Rust, "Haunted" is a glacially paced ode to a nocturnal mistress who may or may not be real, a wet dream about an undead sex goddess or a fantasy about a demon lover. Any way you slice it, she disappears in the morning after sweating up the sheets each night. To achieve the proper atmosphere, Silver goes full church organ and Steele makes a choir of his voice as he shrouds the lyrics in moonbeams, green mist and freshly dug graves.
World Coming Down (1999)
Given the extensive goth following they'd accumulated by the late Nineties, Type O were smart enough to realize that they should probably write a proper Halloween song for World Coming Down. With an opening bass line that channels the Cure, "All Hallows Eve" is one of the few songs based in pure phantasmagoria. Resplendent in grinning pumpkins, spiderwebs and autumn leaves, the track even features a cameo from ol' "Saint Lucifer" himself.
Life Is Killing Me
The intro sounds like it could be the title sequence to the next Bond flick, but the only secret agents here are the lies alluded to in the lyrics. The title of this cut says it all, really. Steele and Hickey trade off vocals, with choice lines like: "How many times must I say I'm not sorry?/And how many ways can I show I don't care?" Not nearly enough, apparently.
World Coming Down
Possibly the most discouraging song Steele ever wrote, "Everything Dies" starts with a sludgy riff worthy of Eyehategod or Down before settling into a bizarre kind of cocktail-jazz memorial. In it, Steele mourns his dead aunt, uncle and father while pondering one of life's eternal truths: No one makes it out alive. Think of it as the companion track to "Everyone I Love Is Dead," but with a video featuring Steele in a bathtub full of blood.
World Coming Down
The title track of Type O's fifth album is a sprawling power dirge that revels in self-loathing. Steele's verses are grueling in their subject matter and musical presentation before Hickey takes over the vocals on the choruses, which — by virtue of the huge major chords underneath — seem almost sunny by comparison. At 11 minutes long, the song travels through many stylistic movements, each one a testament to Type O's musical prowess. But oof, it's depressing.
Like many of Type O's early songs, "Too Late: Frozen" channels Steele's old hardcore band Carnivore. With gang vocals shouting a sufficiently NYHC sentiment — "Too late for apologies!" — and the sound of someone saying "fuck you" in a Brooklyn accent during the band's false start, the song's first half is all tongue-in-cheek tough guy. About three and a half minutes in, "Too Late" takes a hard left turn into woozy psychedelia that — vocally, at least — channels Steele's beloved Beatles.
Type O have written many songs about dead humans, but "Bloody Kisses (A Death in the Family)" is not one of them. With its plodding doom riff, the sprawling title track from Bloody Kisses is about Steele's cat Venus, who passed away in her late teens. After burying her in his backyard, he wrote this solemn eulogy. "No one wants to hear a guy who's six-foot-eight with long black hair and fangs crying about his fuckin' cat," he said. "So, I had to make it extremely metaphorical."
World Coming Down
With its kaleidoscopic church organ and liturgical refrain, "Everyone I Love Is Dead" occasionally recalls the religious atmosphere of "Christian Woman." But instead of role-playing sex games, we get a raw reflection on the fragility of life. The song is a staple of 1999's World Coming Down, an album that saw Steele deep in the throes of cocaine addiction while his family members and loved ones started passing in droves. Despite its subject matter, the refrain is disturbingly catchy.
Life Is Killing Me
Steele went on record saying that the lyrics on Life Is Killing Me are the result of a midlife crisis. "[It's about] all the things I took for granted — my health, my life, people I love dying, people I loved walking away," he told a Dutch interviewer around the time of the album's release in 2003. "I was with a girlfriend for 10 years, but she left. It's like my dreams are dead." As one of the band's most infectious tunes, "Anesthesia" seems to reflect all of this in memorable, mournful fashion. And that spooky keyboard line? This one should've been a massive hit.
Is there another song in history that has lyrics about menstruation, silver bullets, werewolves and cunnilingus? The question answers itself. Only Type O would write a song like this. Only Type O could write a song like this. In the autumnal goth forest that is October Rust, "Wolf Moon (Including Zoanthropic Paranoia)" is what passes for a power ballad. Over a rumbling cascade of major chords, Steele celebrates the dark pleasures of quaffing menstrual blood under January's full moon. Taste the sensation!
Life Is Killing Me
No goth band is legit without a healthy dose of self-loathing — but leave it to Type O to deliver some of theirs in the form of a punk-rock song. As the only single released from 2003's Life Is Killing Me, the raucous "I Don't Wanna Be Me" comes with a howling guitar solo from Hickey, a pulsing, video game — like bridge and a music video starring The Walking Dead's Dan Fogler dressing up as Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Eminem, Britney Spears — and Peter Steele.
A mating call to witchy women everywhere, "Be My Druidess" is one of Type O's most ludicrous — and catchy — sex jams. A slithering bass line snakes through the woods and around the funeral pyre as Steele sniffs hair, caresses thighs and bones by firelight. Naturally, fingernails claw flesh in the throes of passion. After a not-so-subtle description of a female orgasm, complete with vaginal contractions and references to, uh, wetness, Steele just blurts it out: "I'll do anything to make you come." About a million goth girls did just that.
Haunting violin strains and twinkling piano keys open October Rust's first proper song. Then it's all chunky bass and rolling r's as Steele weaves a lusty goth fantasy — complete with lipstick stains, red wine and burning candles. In a nod to Type O's classic-rock roots, he nicks a line from Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." "Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying" becomes "Her hips move and I can feel what they're saying," through Steele's sex filter. Given what we've heard about his popularity with the ladies, we have no reason to doubt him.
As October Rust's lead single, "My Girlfriend's Girlfriend" sees Steele inserting his six-foot-eight frame (and presumably other parts of his anatomy) into a lesbian fantasy. The song's lyrics detail a polyamorous relationship with two women — or "meat triangle," as he so eloquently describes it in the second verse. "The song was actually based on a few true-life experiences which turned out to be quite pleasant," Steele revealed in a posthumously published 1996 interview with The Aquarian. "There are no philosophical implications. It's purely flesh and fantasy. You definitely have to be up for [the ménage à trois]."
The opening lines of "Christian Woman" are sheer poetry in the classic bodice-ripping style: "A cross upon her bedroom wall/From grace she will fall/An image burning in her mind/And between her thighs." The lyrics reference a relationship Steele had with a woman who had some very specific sexual demands. "She was a Roman Catholic, much as I am," he explained. "She would ask me to dress up as a priest and, well, you can just imagine what would happen after that. I guess you could say I have a bit of a priest infection."
The song that started it all. Sure, Type O had two previous albums under their tight green T-shirts by the time the video for "Black No. 1" hit MTV in 1993, but this was the jam that got a million goth girls — and dudes — on the bandwagon. Never mind that it's 11 minutes long. Never mind that it's named after a mascara. Never mind that Peter Steele wrote it while driving a garbage truck for the NYC Parks Department. "I was waiting in line for three hours to dump 40 cubic yards of human waste at the Hamilton Avenue Marine Transfer Station, and I wrote the song in my head," he told me back in 2008 when I was writing the liner notes for the "Top Shelf Edition" of Bloody Kisses. Like many Type O songs, the lyrics to "Black No. 1" are rooted in tragedy but expressed sarcastically. "It's about the girl I fucking slashed my wrists over," Steele explained. "She was the ultimate goth girl, and I was poking fun at her because she was in love with herself." In classic Type O fashion, the song is making fun of the very goths that would soon flock to the band's shows. "The brilliant part is that goth kids still take it totally seriously," said Silver. "But the people who get the sarcasm also like it. So, it worked out pretty well."