"Dead Again" couldn't be a more ironic title for the sixth studio effort from TYPE O NEGATIVE. One of the most original metal bands of the last 16 years is back with perhaps its finest outing since its 1993 breakthrough, "Bloody Kisses", displaying a newfound energy and heaviness that touches on elements of all its previous releases, even going all the way back to the tortured, labyrinthine brutality of its debut, "Slow, Deep and Hard".
Although both 1999's "World Coming Down" and 2002's "Life is Killing Me" had their moments, there was a sense that this Brooklyn-based quartet was running in place, regurgitating its sound in increasingly unenthusiastic fashion. As the press surrounding the new album notes, it took some major upheavals in the life of frontman and creative wellspring Peter Steele — the death of his beloved mother and other close family members, as well as his own flirtation with darkness in the form of an extended cocaine addiction and rehab process — to refocus and re-energize the imposing bassist/singer. As Steele goes, so goes TYPE O NEGATIVE, with keyboardist/producer Josh Silver, guitarist Kenny Hickey and drummer Johnny Kelly all responding in kind.
The album's opening sets the pace right away. The title track piledrives right out of the speakers, yet is tempered with the melodic, psychedelic touches that are as much as part of the TON catalog as its most crushingly heavy, atonal moments. But "Dead Again" is flattened in the wake of "Tripping a Blind Man", which launches on a thrash metal tempo straight out of the Eighties before slowing into a more doom-laden dirge for the second half.
The band's distinctive mix of razor-edged guitars, rumbling bass and Silver's haunting cathedral keyboards is amply enhanced by a larger palette of sounds than usual, especially from Silver himself, who employs a wide range of synthesized sounds. The use of live drumming for the first time on a TON album (all the drums were sampled on previous recordings) adds a feeling of immediacy that wasn't always there in the past. Pity that the album's mix is muddier than usual, even for the typically sludgy wall of sound that TON creates. The sheer tonnage (so to speak) of the album puts it head and shoulders above so many brittle-sounding records that come out today, but the near-distortion and murk of some of the album can be a strain on the ear.
That doesn't prevent the disc from reaching epic status in the TON discography. "September Sun", perhaps the song most directly affected by the loss of Steele's mother, begins with a gentle piano and builds to a massive finale, all the while maintaining an atmosphere of loss amid its sonic interplay of thick slabs of guitars and stark melodic moments. "These Three Things" is the album's centerpiece, a 14-minute, multi-section journey through numerous tempos, with Hickey's restless, inventive guitar jousting back and forth with Silver's keyboard flourishes. Above it all is Steele's unmistakable voice, which soars from a menacing Gothic growl to an anguished cry sometimes within the same verse.
"Dead Again" is a long, long album, and TON remains an acquired taste for some, but this is the work of a band pushing itself to be the best it can be. As heavy and original as anything TON has ever done before, yet bursting with newfound energy, "Dead Again" is nothing less than the sound of a band that's been reborn.