Type O Negative – World Coming Down

I think it’s a real travesty that Type O Negative never plays any of the material off this album live. This is probably, as a whole album, the strongest material that Type O Negative has ever released: while it lacks catchy, poppy, easy to listen to songs like ‘Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All)’ or ‘Anaesthesia’, it does have the heaviest, most oppressive, and in some ways, most complex and multifaceted works that the band has ever created. There’s an obvious lack of ‘fun’ songs here, as opposed to the next album, ‘Life Is Killing Me’, which is composed of essentially nothing but them. Additionally, this is easily the most doom album that Type O Negative ever released, with each track a mightily low BPM tower of darkness and misery that would make My Dying Bride quake in their little gothic boots.

There’s a certain amount of there being a difference between ‘gothic’ and ‘goth’ music, with Type O Negative being frequently evoked as a large example of the latter. ‘Gothic’ would be characterized by the romantic, Victorian image that many people associate with the term, epitomized by the sort of thing you’d see in Cradle Of Filth’s aesthetic, or some other band like Theatres Des Vampires. But ‘goth’ seems to be a term more frequently associated with what goth was instead of what it has recently become: an extension of punk focused on darkness, depression, and some level of wry romanticism. Type O Negative embodies that New York Goth flavor above any other band I’ve heard: they have Joy Division, Ministry, and Celtic Frost patches on their black leather jackets, not Lacuna Coil wallets, and they spend their days getting drunk and talking about how everything is fucked in small, smokey clubs, not pining away their vague existential misery in Elizibethan castles. That’s too subtle for these guys. Less life is pain sorrow, more life is shit and idiocy. Romanticism for traditional goths was never something to be preoccupied with and have its values expounded and obsessed upon; it was something stumbled onto through the normal trials and tribulations of life, and just as disgustedly discarded when you realize what it is. And that’s how Type O Negative’s music is: long, monochromatic dirges of doom and rock and blues, broken up with brief fragments of bittersweet yet sardonic melody which gets abandoned when things have gotten too pretty. It’s a very unique thing that only this band has really been able to capture.

If ‘White Slavery’ doesn’t communicate this exact message to you, you’re probably never going to get it. The first real song is over eight minutes long, unapologetically slow, with a doom groove that’s almost impossible to find the beat in, so agonizingly crawling and trudging it is, with a completely unlikable set of riffs that only have a vague sense of melody, but a definite sense of dreary, passive-aggressive hopelessness. It’s one of the most unforgiving opening tracks I’ve ever heard; It’s not SUPPOSED to be enjoyed, and it really can’t be, at least not until the first, brief burst of melody explodes in at three minutes, one of the few instances of beauty that Type O Negative is willing to allow into their music. Otherwise, it’s some of the most frightfully and willingly ugly music that metal has ever churned out. This song and the title track are the sole epics of ‘World Coming Down’; while there are other, just as long songs, none of them have the same grandiosity and beautiful hopelessness as these two tracks. This is not a failure: it’s entirely intended to be this way, and any more openly beautiful music than that would destroy the fragile musical environment that Type O Negative so carefully constructs on this album.

That’s really what I think this album is about. It’s not really about the construction of the music, the riffs, the melodies, anything: it’s about taking you back when the ideal of ‘goth’ was present. This has literally nothing in common with ‘gothic’ style Victorianism or romanticism. This is supposed to be filthy, ugly, and utterly hopeless and drug-addled. And it succeeds remarkably at conveying this precise atmosphere, time, and place. Early Type O Negative was mostly about conveying the appearance of goth; late Type O Negative was about taking its stereotype to a ridiculous level and having fun. But this album was the culmination of those efforts towards such an image, after the early, raw, punky attempts to reach it, and before the desperate overshooting of it: this little album, as they say, is just right. This is pretty close to being completely unenjoyable, and I can’t imagine an album like this any other way. It’s ugly, awkwardly played, amelodic most of the time, and generally extremely slow, bordering on funeral doom speed at times. And due to its contempt for the world, musical standards, and the last vestiges of beauty it holds, it’s a masterpiece that perfectly accomplishes what it sets out to.

Type O Negative has always been, in its heart, a theatrical entity. All the elements are presented in dramatic fashion, taken beyond the thresholds of what we would probably think of as silly, and through a precise combination of sarcasm and seriousness, make you a believer. The musical vocabulary is the same: big, churning metal chords altered with tiny blues bends and technical twists, giving the music a psychedelic, almost nightmarish edge. Drums alternate between painfully slow doom crushing and uptempo rock and punk beats, both of which work effectively because they’re so restrained: there’s nothing in the drumming that takes attention away from the guitars, keyboards and vocals, which are the heart of the music here. Keys are employed sparingly, and are used as root note accents or for filling in when guitars are absent, often working in tandem with the crucial groove of the bass guitar. In the end, though, the vocals are what carry the music: Peter Steele alternates between his infamous low-key goth crooning and higher, more openly melodic cleans, with the occasional abrasive hardcore shouting section to add variation during the more aggressive segments. But such segments are rather few and far between: the atmosphere here is a sort of simmering misanthropy and a beautiful sort of pain that still isn’t ‘gothic’ in delivery.

One of my central complaints about metal’s illustrations of depression and sadness is that they’re much too idealistic and teenaged in tone. Most metal bands have clearly never experienced genuine depression, as it’s not the gothic romance they portray it to be. The atonal moments of Type O Negative capture the truth of it: depression is much more an abstract, featureless misery than it is something beautiful. The riffs flawlessly express this: amorphous, languishing collections of lethargic, dissonant notes, with just a fragment of minor key melody to give a trace of emotion to it And that’s all there really should be, as that’s all there is during periods of depression: a trace of emotion, more a memory of what it’s like to feel than any feeling itself. But the more incredible thing they’re able to do is in the openly melodic segments, with their bittersweet beauty that fits the New York goth style and allows us all to look into it. This beauty isn’t a celebration of a depression, but a celebration of beauty in ugly places. It’s the beauty in natural disasters, in inevitability, and most importantly, in the fact that you, yes, you, will not be remembered after you’re gone. Type O Negative celebrates our insignificance, how non-existent the footprint each one of us leaves on our world will be. This is the musical equivalent of standing on the edge of the river at night and looking longingly at the city before you, surrounded by people, and yet the loneliest person in the world. That is beauty.

I saw Type O Negative live in early 2007. Peter Steele, who had just gotten out of prison and recently broken his cocaine addiction, looked older and more haggard than I’d ever seen him before. There was a certain hopelessness and apathy about his performance: most of the notes on his bass were hammered, and he generally seemed to not want to be there, despite the uptempo and (more) fun nature of the songs. But moreover, there was an acute depression about him: as he gazed on the audience, composed almost entirely of teenaged goth girls, all dolled up for their weekend concert, and the boys they dragged along with them (who were clearly hoping they could get laid if they only dressed up and acted to part enough), you could practically hear him thinking “This is not what I wanted.” Perhaps the precise moment where you could see his heart break is when every little girl in the audience delightedly sung on with set closer ‘Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All)’, completely unaware, or perhaps not even caring, that the lyrics were squarely about them. Peter Steele won’t play material off ‘World Coming Down’ because it reminds him of the worst part of his life: I had no idea that it was an album about the future.

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~ by noktorn on September 13, 2007.

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