The heads of Easter Island
The heads of Easter Island

Guilty of Being Goth Behemoths

In the age of Vice magazine and exposed-brick hipster lofts, it is sometimes hard to recall that Brooklyn was once a very scary place. Living in 1980s Manhattan meant fearing the outer boroughs. The Bronx was Mad Max territory, Staten Island might as well have been rural Alabama, and Queens was a good place to catch a race riot. For those of us late '80s New Yorkers who enjoyed live music, Brooklyn held a special dread, being the home of infamous Bay Ridge metal/hardcore nightclub L'Amours. Tales of audience atrocity filtered back across the Brooklyn Bridge with the force of grade school urban legends. According to the gossip mill, deaths, and—somehow worse—blindings (!) occurred in L'Amours' circle pits every other weekend.

For most of the Reagan years, Brooklyn thrashers Carnivore held court as L'Amours' unofficial house band. You may remember Carnivore from four clever stanzas in their 1987 song "Race War": Don't call me your brother/'cause I ain't your fucking brother/We fell from different cunts/And your skin's an ugly color. The band's logo bore a fishy resemblance to the three-pronged swastika of a South African white militia. Their Nuremberg rally chants in the chorus of "Male Supremacy" made the track several degrees nastier than any Mentors misogyny. Carnivore was a big influence on the mid-'80s "crossover" wave of New York Hardcore, and the band spurred much of that scene's soft bigotry (as opposed to the harder bigotry of audiences and fans—an important difference in a crowd that actually distinguished between "White Pride" and "White Power"). Carnivore eventually downplayed this extremism, and their brother bands followed suit; Anthrax awkwardly fielded questions about Stormtroopers of Death, and Biohazard discreetly swept their racist first demo under the rug.

After Carnivore disbanded in the late '80s, its bassist, frontman and mastermind Peter Steele formed Type O Negative. Steele is a huge man, reportedly 6'7", with mighty, tree-trunk biceps and a face like a Nordic Boris Karloff. But just because he looks like a movie villain and has said villainous things in the past doesn't necessarily make him a villain in present tense. Although Type O Negative never disavowed Carnivore, they've put a lot of artistic distance between the two bands. Traces of Archie Bunker now compete with black humor, juvenile humor, loneliness, loss, despair and occasional blurts of testosterone. Listening to these records is like stepping back into a stormy adolescence.

Musically, T.O.N. has covered a lot of ground over the years, vaulting from thrash blasts to dirge metal to poppy and flouncy goth in just three albums (two, if you don't count the band's second LP, a re-recording of the band's debut as a fake live album). By 1993, the band had made a platinum record and secured loyal hordes largely on the strength of two secret weapons: 1) Steele's domineering stage presence (even in his 1995 Playgirl photo shoot, dong out, his Glen Danzig scowl remains creepily intimidating), and 2) Steele's glum golem vocals. The man's range is cavernous. It's hard to tell if and when he uses effects. Combined with the spooky synths of Josh Silver, his vocals on the title track of "Bloody Kisses," for example, invokes the heads of Easter Island singing tales of lament for eons past. On 2003's sad pop showpiece "I Don't Want to Be Me," from the band's sixth album, Steele's voice creaks with veiled heartache; it is the sort of song that feels embarrassingly personal, the channel of some cheesy inner moment long gone.

How to reconcile T.O.N.'s range and talent with the dark skeletons dangling in their closet? Easy: don't. Who cares. Seriously. Go see them Sunday or Monday, as these are the band's only confirmed public dates. Hope that they play some new material from their forthcoming LP, their first new album in four years. Be thankful that you have made it this far, to see four self-described "dicks from Brooklyn" performing in the outer periphery of Disneyland. Brooklyn is safe, Disneyland admits dicks. The world is not going entirely downhill.



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