Agony and ecstasy
Slow, Deep and Hard is an odd place for Type O Negative to start out, as it’s honestly not a whole lot like what would end up putting the band on the map. Rather, this listens more like the last Carnivore album – while there are certainly elements to the music here that weren’t present in Carnivore’s music (ones that would end up on Bloody Kisses) this still has a lot of influence from those old albums and the feel of it is certainly much more in line with them too. It isn’t so much a bridge between the two bands as even with these extra influences its closer to Carnivore than anything TON would put out, but in retrospect the indication of a new direction is certainly there.
Of the 6 actual compositions here, 5 of them are towering, mighty epics with multiple distinct sections to them. The simplest way to describe them are lengthy feedback-inflected doom metal numbers with thrash metal/crossover sections spliced in, along with strong goth overtones due to the presence of keyboards and more melodic riffing. Thrash was obviously the backbone of Carnivore’s sound, doom metal isn’t a foreign influence (several tracks across their catalogue played around with it) and even the rare acoustic break here doesn’t feel that dissimilar to the one in ‘Male Supremacy’, but with this release the thrash and doom (the latter sometimes spiced up with goth influence) are in equal parts the core of this album’s sound. It’s as if every element present in their sound beforehand has been extended out and turned up to 11; the occasional gloomy doom passage is now the bulk of each track, the thrash sections are even angrier and more blood-pumping than before and what few tender, melodic moments there were are now found at various key points throughout each song, with keyboards being there to help emphasise them.
Critical to this blend of ideas are the performances themselves, which are excellent. The drumming is unobtrusive but still creative and inventive, managing to keep the beat and throwing in a good few fills and double bass sections while not subtracting from the meat of the album; the guitars and vocals. The thrash riffs here don’t feel at all stale despite this album’s 1991 year of release because Carnivore were one of the progenitors of that NYHC-flavoured crossover thrash style; and indeed none of them would feel out of place on a Carnivore album, being lethally aggressive and memorable. The slower doom metal passages are great too; the more atonal moments such as those found in ‘Der Untermensch’ are heavy and oppressive, hitting as hard as the earliest sludge metal bands that were getting started around the time. The more melodic moments backed up with keyboards are a nice touch of variation and give the album a lot of character, and while the keys here aren’t as lush as they’d be on later albums Josh Silver still does a lot with a little. This is especially evident on ‘Unsuccessfully Coping…’ and ‘Prelude to Agony’, which both take on the larger-than-life quality of something like ‘Bloody Kisses’ at points especially combined with the vocal delivery, the latter having always been Carnivore’s and TON’s trump card. Pete’s vocals here are as captivating and distinctive as the always were and would be. He mixes up his hardcore punk-tinged bellowing during the thrash sections with more tonal work to fit the more melodic sections, and is backed up by gang vocals at various points to great effect (‘I know you’re fucking someone else!’ and ‘Waste! Of! Life!’ are truly legendary moments.) He even starts to incorporate goth-tinged bass-baritone singing that would become a staple of later TON albums, most notably on ‘Prelude to Agony’. His position here as a very flawed narrator is pulled off very well; he truly comes across like a troubled, deranged and sick person. Whatever style he shoots for he always manages to pull off with amazing conviction, and whatever emotion the lyrics are trying to convey he always delivers.
What really separates this from TON’s later albums is the general atmosphere, one that results from how well the band work as a unit and how evocative the music manages to be as a whole – even at its most goth rock-infused this doesn’t have any of the dry, dark, tongue-in-cheek goth vibes of Bloody Kisses or the romantic, lovey-dovey feel of October Rust. Instead, the vibe throughout is a really ugly and dark one, which ties into its concept of murdering one’s lover due to infidelity and then taking one’s own life out of guilt over the act. The feel is much more in line with Carnivore’s deliberately offensive schtick than anything that would follow and the sheer bitterness and hatred on display here is something to behold. The more keyboard-y sections recall those later TON albums a bit more, but the doom sections are crushing, droning and gloomy (and at times bring to mind World Coming Down) while the thrash sections are no-holds-barred bursts of anger. This atmosphere is a big part of why this album works as well as it does, as the songs here are honestly abrupt collisions of crossover/thrash and doom/goth with no real progression between them. Rather than coming across like an incoherent and jumbled mess however, the songs listen more like emotional roller-coasters full of twists and turns, ones that consistently keep the listener guessing as Pete tells his depraved tales of murder and suicide. The music shifts tone with the lyrics perfectly, with the murderous ‘Prelude to Agony’ being the darkest and most crushing song here and the final track ‘Gravitational Constant…’ being a slab of pure, morose goth/doom to fit its themes suicide ideation.
There are a couple of questionable outliers in the track list that are worth mentioning – ‘Glass Walls of Limbo (Dance Mix)’ is a little under 7 minutes of gloomy industrial noise which is underpinned by a singular metallic clattering beat while numerous layers of non-lyrical vocalisations and chants get worked into it. While it’s a pretty interesting mood piece it breaks up the flow of the album somewhat, and given that these sounds are nowhere else to be found on the album it listens like a strange stylistic detour that doesn’t lead to anything or advance the narrative of the album. ‘The Misinterpretation of Silence…’ meanwhile starts a long tradition of humorous interludes on TON albums, and it’s literally 64 seconds of silence. It’s hard to hate a blank canvas but there’s no joke here at all; it flat out did not need to be here. All this said however, this is still a timeless and one-of-a-kind debut that only Pete and the boys could have come up with. Any fan of metal should listen to this at least once; it’s truly one of the greatest and most unique albums in metal, and an amazing start for an amazing band.