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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Return Trip: Type O Negative - October Rust


Type O Negative
October Rust
(Roadrunner ; 1996)


"Functionless art is simply tolerated vandalism. We are the vandals." - from the liner notes to October Rust

There are bands that take themselves too seriously. And then there are bands who don't take themselves seriously enough. Type O Negative creates music in the bizarre realm of bands who take their non-seriousness way too seriously. Seriously. From the tortured lyrics and subject matter, to the dark-on-11 sludge of the music, to the odd tongue-through-cheek covers, Type O Negative is either one seriously meta-goth joke or something entirely not understandable. It is simultaneously the most endearing and frustrating thing about them.

Type O Negative arguably hit their commercial apex with this album which capitalized perfectly on the success of its superior predecessor, Bloody Kisses. On that album the jokes were still fresh and the band was something novel. Type O Negative has always had the advantage of being pretty unique with its style - part Black Sabbath, part Bauhaus, part Beatles. They are sludgy without being relentlessly so - spry and nimble in their arrangements, turning tempo on the drop of a dime if necessary. Technically, they are quite gifted.

But by October Rust it was becoming harder to discern the intentions behind the band's seemingly mocking penchant for self-deprecating humor, classic rock covers, and Pagan/S&M/macabre lyrical themes. One need look no further than the quote at the beginning of this review - did they really see their own music as "functionless art?" And was this a comment on their music versus others, or a comment on commercial music in general?

October Rust, when it finally gets to a song (three tracks in), opens with "Love You To Death," and trust that in a Type O Negative song, death is never metaphorical. It's a pretty standard track for Type O - a sludgy, fuzzy, crawling rhythm as singer Peter Steele opines for his dominatrix lover. At just over 7 minutes, it sets the bar for most of the album to follow. With only 11 full-fledged songs on the album, it still manages to clock in at around 70 minutes. The album definitely begins to feel interminable at points, but the band also knows its audience. They're not looking for quick-hit pop songs.

The schlock, lyrically, on the record is amusing - "Be My Druidess" and "My Girlfriend's Girlfriend" are jokes that don't extend much further than the titles of the songs themselves, but at least the latter is an up-tempo song with Doors-esque keyboard, a small respite from the relentless sludge of most of the rest of the album. Songs like "In Praise of Bacchus" and "Wolf Moon (Including Zoanthropic Paranoia)" invoke the Pagan imagery that runs as a theme throughout a lot of the record as well - the album, down to the liner notes - has a theme of nature and cycles. Even the title of the album seems like a reference to life-of-man as seasonal cycle, the October rust being just the tell-tale signs of the aging process, either mental or physical.

There are two, unquestionably bright spots on the album: "Red Water (Christmas Mourning)" and "Cinnamon Girl." The latter is, of course, the Neil Young staple, and in the hands of Type O Negative becomes a gothically-crooned, fuzzed out, vaguely creepy song. This was not the first time Type O had tackled a seemingly disconnected cover song on record - Bloody Kisses had boasted their terrific take on Seals and Crofts' "Summer Breeze." But as obviously part of the joke as the covers are, they were also a deft peak into the musical minds of the band.

"Red Water.." is just a tremendous song. A constant staple of my Christmas-time show, the lyrics actually manage to control the clichéd-macabre imagery and go for something much darker and, oddly enough, more realistic. The narrator's increasingly dwindling family count leaves him more and more alone at the holiday - and he subsequently tries to chase the ghosts away with the titular liquid. While not quite as darkly subversive, it's a song to rival the Handsome Family's "My Sister's Tiny Hands," a song truly dark and menacing in its depiction of familial loneliness and the effect on those left behind. (Compare lyrics here and here.)

While unique, Type O Negative hasn't stepped outside its confines very much - not that that can necessarily be leveled as a valid criticism. They've most certainly found a niche audience and one that appreciates their way of recording. Is it going to draw in new fans? No. Their chance at that came with this album, and while it lured a few (like me) into at least buying one other album, it wasn't the major shift in sales they might have hoped or aimed for. And ultimately, rather than being musical vandals, inherently exciting and risqué, they end up being anything but.

Rating: I(ndifferent)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

Type O Negative - "Love You to Death"

Type O Negative - "Red Water (Christmas Mourning)"

Type O Negative - "Cinnamon Girl"

You can download other music by Type O Negative over at EMusic.

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