All of these album anniversaries are starting to make me feel old. But with that said, I can think of few better to celebrate than the silver anniversary of what is arguably Danzig’s masterpiece, How The Gods Kill. I can’t remember exactly what year I bought the album, but I do remember picking it up at one of the three record stores that populated the local shopping mall (ah, the good ol’ days), bringing it home and subsequently being blown away. It immediately struck me as one of the deepest, darkest albums I’d ever heard up to that point in my life, and given that I was still an impressionable teenager, I’d like to think it was one of the key albums that helped to propel me down the path of heavy music.
For many metalheads, Danzig’s discography ends with either III: How the Gods Kill or 4p. I on the other hand, celebrate Danzig’s entire catalog. While there’s no doubt that many of his latter-day works signaled a shift away from the bluesy, metallic hard rock that the Evil Elvis made his name on, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad albums, it just means they’re different. So without further ado, let’s dig beyond the first four Danzig albums; deep, down you go…
If there’s one thing I hate doing, it’s writing intros to interviews. Fortunately, Paradise Lost is a band that needs no introduction. The death/doom/gothic metal pioneers have been releasing great music for nearly three decades now, and that enduring legacy continues with their latest full length, The Plague Within, which is out June 1st via Century Media. Legendary vocalist Nick Holmes graciously answered my questions about their stunning new album via e-mail.
Autumn in the Midwest is typically dark and chilly, a time of introspection. The sweltering heat and humidity of Summer dissipates, September’s cool, wet mornings and brown leaf vertigo eventually ushering in October, and with it Halloween, all cardboard skeletons and freshly carved jack-o-lanterns. Over the years, Type O Negative’s October Rust has more often than not served as my soundtrack to this drearily beautiful, eerily haunting season, and what a soundtrack it is.
I seem to remember reading interviews with dearly departed Type O frontman Peter Steele in which he proclaimed October Rust as his masterpiece, and it’s damn hard to argue with him. This is a truly excellent album, conceived by a musician who wrote as if he held The Beatles and Black Sabbath (and possibly Bauhaus) in equal regard. In actuality, the lushly layered pop sensibilities of October Rust recall the work of Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson moreso than The Beatles. If Wilson had been obsessed with death, lost love, substance abuse and folklore, this might have been the album he made instead of Pet Sounds. Indeed, there is an atmosphere of dark psychedelia lurking below October Rust‘s surface, adding yet another shade of grey haze to its funereal gloom.
From a song standpoint, the album’s highlights are many. Opening epic dirge “Love You to Death” and electro/pop/goth/metal lead-off single “My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend” are probably the two most well known tracks here, and while they’re certainly worthy of their infamy, October Rust is a veritable treasure trove of deep cuts. “Green Man” is an otherworldly ode to nature, touching upon pagan and Wiccan themes. “Red Water (Christmas Mourning)” is a drunken carol of lost loved ones that even manages to quote “Carol of the Bells”. “Wolf Moon” is my favorite track on October Rust, the very definition of a perfect song; it’s heavy, catchy, melodic and totally original in both concept and execution. I’m pretty sure it’s about a werewolf (or perhaps a man who thinks he’s a werewolf) performing cunnilingus on a menstruating woman (“Don’t spill a drop, dear / let me kiss the curse away / yourself in my mouth / will you leave me with your taste?”); it serves as the culmination of the morose, surreal sexuality that permeates the album. On an earlier track, the lusty “Be My Druidess”, Steele declares “I’ll do anything / to make you come” and I’ve often wondered if the two songs are related, with the “anything” in question being the bloody, lupine muff diving session detailed on “Wolf Moon”. Then again, maybe I’m just a weird pervert.
The component parts of the songs on October Rust are just as interesting as the songs themselves. The down-tuned, electric ultra-fuzz of Kenny Hickey’s guitar tone is total Tony Iommi worship, but the myriad influences at work within October Rust‘s aural confines keep it from being a mere Sabbath rip-off; it’s more like Hickey studied Iommi closely and then applied what he learned in support of Steele’s eclectic writing style, creating something totally unique in the process. Steele’s affinity for crafting great songs peaked with October Rust, and his vampiric baritone vocals are also at the height of their powers throughout the recording, securing the late frontman an eternal place among metal’s greatest and most recognizable singers and songwriters. Josh Silver’s nuanced keyboards and production work completes the album’s rich sonic tapestry, which seamlessly encompasses doom metal, gothic and psychedelic rock. If you’re wondering why I didn’t mention the drums, well… according to an interview Silver gave in 2007, the drums on October Rust are canned.
October Rust is many things. It’s Summer dying fast. It’s November coming fire. It’s the Green Man, the Wolfman and Bacchus. It’s love, death and depression. It’s booze and drugs and cigarettes and fucking. In case it hasn’t already been made abundantly clear, I’ll just come right out and say it: October Rust is a perfect metal album.
THKD’s Top 100 Metal Albums
1. Celestial Season – Solar Lovers
2. Type O Negative – October Rust
For a while now, I’ve been trying to think of an interesting ongoing feature for this site, a long-term project that would not only take some time to complete, but also provide me with something of a challenge. To the outsider, a top 100 albums list might seem like one of the most obvious choices possible and not a particularly challenging one either. I beg to differ. I’ve been living with some of my favorite metal albums for over a decade. They’re almost a part of me. Listening to them is nearly as routine for me as getting up at 6:15AM, taking a shower, brushing my teeth, getting dressed, hopping on the bus and heading into work Monday – Friday. What do you say about an album you’ve been so close to for so long, an album that has become a part of the very fabric of your existence? Herein lies part of the challenge. The other part lies in the fact that I am not an expert on metal, rather, I am a student of metal. I am still learning, still discovering new favorites all the time, whether they be in the form of recent releases or old classics I missed out on the first time around. I seriously doubt that THKD’s Top 100 Metal Albums will be totally solidified until the final entry is posted, and I envision a lot of agonizing in my future.
A few things to know before we begin. First, this list will be in no particular order. It would be next to impossible for me to sit down and rank a top 100 albums. The rankings would likely change daily depending on my mood and whatever bands/subgenres/etc I happen to be obsessing over at that particular moment. Second, I have no set timetable, schedule or completion date. This list is meant to be a living, breathing, ongoing project and I will work on it as inspiration comes to me and time allows… besides, I fucking hate deadlines. Third, this is a list of my favorite metal albums, and “favorite” doesn’t necessarily mean the same as “best” “most groundbreaking” etc. It does mean albums I love, albums I have a personal connection with, albums that make me want to fuck on the floor and break shit. Hopefully, this list will feature some albums you haven’t heard, haven’t thought of, or haven’t previously held in the same esteem that I do. That’s what makes these things fun!
So, without further ado, I present the first entry in THKD’s Top 100 Metal Albums…
Although the Netherlands might not be the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of the extreme metal, there can be no doubt that the country has made some unique contributions to the genre. Celestial Season’s awesome Solar Lovers just might be the pinnacle of those contributions, a gothic/doom/death metal masterpiece featuring dueling violinists and riffs for miles.
Easily rivaling and in some cases surpassing anything recorded by the “Peaceville Three” (aka Anathema, My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost), Solar Lovers is heavy, hypnotic, sorrowful and Sabbathian. It was probably amongst the most uncool albums to be unleashed upon the post-Cobain musical landscape of 1995 (which is definitely a big part of its charm). It must also be remembered that by 1995, the second wave of black metal had forever changed the prevailing concepts of musical extremity, death metal was in a state of decline and that doom metal, quite frankly, has never been cool. These factors seemingly go a long way towards explaining why Solar Lovers remains a largely overlooked/forgotten gem from that era.
Ah, but what a gem it is. Celestial Season certainly shared similarities with the aforementioned trio of UK death/doom bands, but the music on Solar Lovers is also possessed by an eerie, opium dream vibe (which can be largely attributed to the fuzzed-out yet thick as a brick guitar tone) that borders on both stoner rock and psychedelia, setting the Dutch septet apart from their contemporaries. Death metal is the smallest piece of the puzzle here, manifesting itself mainly in the vocal department, and the album is all the better for it. The druggy, doomy atmosphere created by the aforementioned down-tuned fuzz of the six-strings mixes with the gothic overtones of the violins to produce a truly intoxicating listen.
What really makes Solar Lovers worthy of the THKD Top 100 is the way it all flows together so perfectly. Each track stands on its own, yet all the tracks work together to create a complete listening experience, a journey into the realms of ultra-heavy, depressive yet trippy and darkly romantic soundscapes; even a cover of Ultravox’s ’80s new wave hit “Vienna” is seamlessly incorporated into Celestial Season’s forlorn, narcotic world. It’s positively tragic that Celestial Season would never make music this interesting again, totally abandoning their death/doom/gothic foundation in favor of a straight-forward stoner/desert rock sound, only to be met with deafening apathy.
Solar Lovers is special for me on a personal level because it’s an album I approached with zero expectations. I picked it up from a used CD bin for five bucks back when I’d blindly buy just about anything with a Metal Blade (they licensed the album from Displeased for North America), Relapse or Earache logo slapped on it, and it ended up blowing me away, becoming a staple of my metal listening for close to a decade now. To this day I’ve still never heard anything quite like it. I reckon it’s time to start hailing this largely unsung slab of death/doom as the classic that it is.