When Type O Negative formed in 1989, nobody could have predicted they would become one of the biggest bands of the 90s, goth metal icons whose tenacity and genre-blurring tendencies would inspire generations of musicians to come. From HIM and Pallbearer to Trivium, Oceans Of Slumber and Code Orange, Type O Negative's unique blend of sounds has provided a guiding light for many a musician to test the limits of their sound and strive for more.
We spoke to some of the many musicians who played with - or simply admired - the band to find out just why Type O Negative were so important to the development of heavy metal. Hell, even Black Sabbath legend Bill Ward couldn't resist gushing about the band when we spoke to him for a Hammer feature last month... "Red Water (Christmas Mourning) is one of the best metal songs ever, period. I have to complement Josh Silver, who is an unbelievable keyboard player. There is a sadness in that sound which I think Type O were able to capture perfectly. Johnny [Kelly]'s drums – incredible, Kenny [Hickey]’s guitar – perfect and Peter [Steele] was iconic with his vocals, but Josh’s keyboards are so haunting and melodic. It’s such a good combination – pure metal with orchestrated, demonic energy. It’s got everything and is a rubber stamp on what metal is. We used to go out with that song on our radio show, every Christmas."
Aaron Stainthorpe (My Dying Bride)
“My Dying Bride were invited out to play a show with Type O Negative once in Vienna, at Libro Music Hall. It was 1996, so the same year they put out October Rust and I remember the stage had all these orange leaves and fake trees; it was very theatrical. Moonspell opened and we were all just kids really, incredibly excited. We weren’t even on tour at the time; we’d been invited out to do the gig. I remember we flew out and as soon as we arrived we rushed backstage hoping to see the other bands. You couldn’t miss Pete of course; I’m tall, but he’s ridiculous!
We’d loved Bloody Kisses and all that went along with it and October Rust was equally as good, although there were a few funny little moments that maybe didn’t float my boat, the band were clearly having a laugh. They were snowballing, so to do that Vienna gig meant we got to ride that wave of popularity they were creating. You’re not short-changed with that album either – there’s a lot of material there and they didn’t short-thrift the fans. I can’t say I loved Bad Ground [38 seconds of buzzing made to sound like the listener’s aux wasn’t plugged in correctly] but the little chat afterwards [Untitled] is great and was quite pleasant. There’s one or two other throwaway moments - The Glorious Liberation of the People's Technocratic Republic of Vinnland by the Combined Forces of the United Territories of Europa springs to mind - but there were also these wonderful songs, like their cover of Cinnamon Girl [originally by Neil Young].
For me, the big one was My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend – it was pop-rock perfection and ticked all the goth boxes, but was also heavy as hell. That bass was fuzzy and delicious, it didn’t sound anything like a bass I’d heard before – I’m used to Iron Maiden and Steve Harris’s bass is lovely and jumping along! We did the 70,000 Tonnes of Metal cruise the once and I remember there was a girl singing karaoke to My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend – it was brilliant! She had all the moves, it was quite a raunchy do and everyone was just nodding along like ‘this is great’. I’ve got fond memories of October Rust – everyone liked it at the time aside from some stick-in-the-muds who felt it was cashing in on the goth scene, but they were opening doors in that genre that allowed bands like My Dying Bride to step through. They appealed to a much larger and more diverse audience than we possibly could and that’s great.
We got to speaking to Peter at the show; he spoke tremendously deeply and would often speak quite slow; I don’t think he was ever the kind of guy that would rush into a conversation and put his foot in his mouth. He thought about everything he said before he said it, so he didn’t look foolish. He was sound as a pound, a really nice guy. Moonspell went on, then we were on and it was a huge stage. Even considering we’d just been out with Iron Maiden, you expect it with them but for three doomy/goth bands? Not so much! We were pleasantly surprised we could go wherever we wanted and it was a good, healthy crowd that we played to. I thought I’d spotted Pete at one point but it could just have been a massive shadow!
Afterwards we had a few drinks and watched the show, but what was mad for us was people kept coming up to get us to sign autographs; we’d never really had that before. When Type O came out the roar was incredible and they absolutely tore the place apart. Heavy metal audiences tend to be predominantly male, but not a Type O gig – there were a lot of women there. After that gig we hopped back on a plane and went home and that was it until around a year later – Pete was having a bit of a to-do with the record label, so the band played this small show in London but he refused to do any press for it. He would only speak with Greg [Mackintosh] of Paradise Lost! I’ve known the PL guys for ages, so we managed to sneak into the dressing rooms with Greg and he interviewed Peter there. It was a great time for all of us.”
Greg Mackintosh (Paradise Lost)
“I can tell you the exact moment I first heard Type O Negative. I was a big fan of Carnivore anyway; Retaliation was my Saturday night ‘going out’ album. We took Cathedral out on their first-ever tour and we were in Holland somewhere and I hear this music playing, monk chants and stuff coming out the speakers, so I opened the door and it was [Cathedral vocalist] Lee Dorrian, who told me he’d got this new demo by a band called Type O Negative, a band by one of the guys from Carnivore. I loved it so I asked for a copy, then later the first album came out and I liked that too.
We later went to America with Morbid Angel and Kreator in early 1993 and I ended up getting off with this girl in New York, as we were leaving she says ‘I’ve got to tell you something – my boyfriend is Peter Steele’. I couldn’t believe it, so I asked why she hadn’t told me before and she told me they were on and off, but he’d written a song about her called Black No. 1. She was the very stereotypical goth; exactly the kind of person who went for me back then because people would say I looked like [Brandon Lee] from The Crow. About six months after that tour I ended up somehow writing to Pete and we would exchange letters, in a pen-pal type thing. We were both interested in the goth-meets-metal thing and knew some of the same people, so he sent me a copy of Bloody Kisses and I sent him Icon.
That was the first time we started talking, then I was asked by Vanessa Warwick of Headbanger’s Ball to go down to their show at The Underworld and interview him. He wouldn’t do interviews with anyone on their team but would speak to me, but it was the first time that I ever met him in person. I walked into The World’s End, the pub above the venue and he was there at the bar with a big train-driver’s cap on. He turns to me and says ‘ah, Mr. Mackintosh… I believe we need to talk about Black No. 1’ and I was like ‘oh crap’… It turned out he was winding me up but he could definitely loom over you and I thought he was going to kick off about me kissing the girl! We talked about it and laughed; in fact, myself, Pete and Josh were laughing the whole time right up until they switched the cameras on and those guys perfectly switched to deadpan mode, so if you watch the interview I’m a bit smirky.
Over the years we toured with them a few times, played a few gigs together and kept in touch at least through the 90s. We lost touch in the 2000s but later on caught up again at the end of the decade for some more gigs. Whenever we were in correspondence we talked about music a lot – he really liked the English deadpan humour so there was a lot of banter too and he was interested in the goth circuit in Leeds. It was all a laugh and nothing ever got taken seriously. It’s endearing; you don’t meet many bands – especially American bands – who were like that, but Paradise Lost were like it and Type O Negative took it to the nth degree. You had to take everything with a pinch of salt.
After Bloody Kisses, Type O seemed to have better commercial prospects than us. We were more directly metal, whereas they had the more directly goth route. I think the whole reason Pete ever reached out to me was because we’d done the album Gothic in 1991. It was Nick [Holmes], our singer who coined the term ‘gothic metal’ while in an interview with RAW, because they couldn’t decide if we were gothic or metal. Peter told me he was interested in that same sort of thing, mixing those two genres together. When they released Bloody Kisses they opened it more to a commercial avenue because where we’d have tinges of goth in our metal, they went all-in with songs like Black No. 1.
October Rust is probably my favourite album by Type O Negative. I loved the first two and obviously really loved Bloody Kisses and the one after [World Coming Down], but October Rust is always the one for me. It’s got the best two or three songs they ever did, to my mind. In Praise of Bacchus is insanely good, as are Wolf Moon (Including Zoanthropic Paranoia) and Red Water (Christmas Mourning), they’re among the best tracks ever. I was never all that keen on the Beatlesy stuff; I loved how they did it, the covers they did of Cinnamon Girl and Summer Breeze were great, but whenever it went too Beatlesy it wasn’t really my thing but it was part of what made them original. Nobody sounded like them and no-one has since. Sal [Abruscato, original Type O Negative drummer] has A Pale Horse Named Death, but even that’s not fully like it. It’s a mixture of the diversity of influences and how they interpreted their humour and Pete’s lyrics.”
Brett Campbell (Pallbearer)
“I got into Type O Negative when somebody burned me a CD of World Coming Down when I was in high school. That’s about the time I was discovering a lot of metal bands and branching out from the classic rock I’d listened to before – it was so different to anything else I’d heard to that point. I was really into the Gothenburg [melodeath] stuff, then found Type O Negative and it was so strange – the guitar was wrong-sounding but it was so cool. The production would be weird but the songs sounded great and had this catchy element without being pop, it was this odd thing that really stood out to my mind. I went away and checked out all their stuff and got Life Is Killing Me when that was released.
Here in Little Rock they do these Halloween ‘cover up’ shows where bands will play as other bands, doing a full set as another band and there are bands that specifically form to do this. Mark [Lierly, drummer] did a Blondie band a few years back that he said was a lot of fun. We were gonna do an entire set of Type O Negative material but it was when we were also writing Heartless stuff and we quickly realised the compositions are a lot more complicated than you’d expect. The only song we ever finished [of Type O’s] was Love You To Death, which was really fun to deconstruct. When we finished the recording, we tried to keep some of the vibe rather than reimagine the song. It’s an ideal catchy metal ballad – is it a ballad, is it a love song? I don’t know! It’s quintessential Type O Negative, either way.
Mehdi Thépegnier (Hangman’s Chair)
“I discovered Type O Negative in the early 90s, around the time Bloody Kisses came out. All of us in Hangman’s Chair have a hardcore background, so we really appreciate how they were able to move into the goth thing from a similar hardcore punk/metal background. I really connected with them – and still do today. October Rust is a great album; my favourite song of theirs is Red Water (Christmas Mourning) and I’d honestly listen to it once a day because it’s just so special to me. They have this way of making extreme music with a lot of atmosphere, almost like cold wave. I read once that they loved all sorts of different bands – My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, The Beatles, Black Sabbath… we feel like we had that same personality. They make this great dark music with a load of emotion and its been a huge influence on Hangman’s Chair.
Peter Steele was a great writer and really knew how to work his lyrics in a song, introducing nice melodies whilst also using hard imagery when he needed to. We had this thing when songwriting, wanting to combine the sounds and atmospherics of cold wave/no wave with hard, emotional lyrics and mix it all in a way that could replicate that Brooklyn, urban feel that was in all Type O Negative’s albums. I was also a really big fan of Carnivore, Peter’s previous band who did a lot more hardcore-type stuff, I just loved how they sounded on Retaliation. The band’s whole discography is a brilliant legacy – you can’t just isolate one album because they did so much on each new release, creating incredibly dark music that could inspire such happiness and light.”
Mikko Kotamäki (Swallow The Sun)
“I got into Type O Negative when October Rust came out. I was still a kid, almost a teenager and I loved Black Sabbath and Ozzy. I read their interview and album review from a Finnish music magazine called Soundi and got really interested in hearing the album. I saw the music video for My Girlfriends Girlfriend and I’ve been a fan since. Swallow The Sun definitely owe them for some guitar leads and sounds! We also have a song called April 14th on our Emerald Forest And The Blackbird album which was written as a direct tribute to Peter.
Type O Negative’s role in popularising the goth/doom crossover was huge; just think about all the bands who followed after. A lot of metal bands tried to be gothic for a while, some more successfully than others. It was almost like a plague at the time. I got to meet Kenny [Hickey] and Johnny [Kelly], though sadly it was after Type O was buried. They were on tour with Seventh Void, opening for Monster Magnet. Nice dudes for a shy fanboy, but I didn’t want to bother them too much.
But October Rust is one of the greatest albums ever, simple as that. I still listen to it regularly – it’s one of those albums you can always go back to and it doesn’t get old. I can never fully decide on my favourite track though – it depends on my mood. Sometimes it’s Wolf Moon but other times maybe I have to say Red Water (Christmas Mourning). It’s like a Birthday song to me; my birthday is December 24th and I usually start that day with that song!”