Type O Negative – Red Water (Christmas Mourning)

Life in Peter Steele and Type O Negative’s world was certainly not the happiest. Throughout their illustrious career, their songs of love, lust, death, rejection and more, mostly along other depressive lines made for some dark, uneasy but ultimately incredible listening that made Type O one of metal’s most unique and interesting bands. Years of alcohol and drug abuse eventually caught up with Steele and despite getting clean, a heart attack took him in April 2010 and robbed the world of any future gloom from the enigmatic frontman.

A good proportion of Type O Negative’s songs dealt with personal themes, and ‘Red Water (Christmas Mourning)’ was no different. It was written about Steele’s dead father at the time, but as we will explore, goes far beyond his personal loss. Songs such as ‘Black No.1’, ‘Christian Woman’ and ‘Everything Dies’ are unquestionably among their greatest anthems but ‘Red Water’ ought to be considered as great as any of those and despite its title, isn’t just a song for Christmas. The album it came from, ‘October Rust‘, yielded ‘Love You to Death’ and ‘My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend’ as its main singles, as well as a cracking cover of Neil Young’s ‘Cinnamon Girl’, so it isn’t really a surprise that ‘Red Water’ is often overlooked as one of Type O’s greatest. Type O apparently insisted they would never play it live, likely due to the subject matter of the song, But in my book, ‘Red Water’ is simply one of their most incredible to listen to and an absolute must-listen, whether the lyrics resonate powerful with you or not.

Entering with some sorrowful horns, the slow, descending slide guitar so prominent in Type O’s music brings in the whole band, a four-bar arrangement for the main riff, which consists of just nine notes, six of those coming at the very end of the arrangement with the three preceding notes all being long, heavy ploughs. The same riff continues but takes a back seat to Steele’s vocals in the verse. The lyrics set out the stall instantly. Take the first verse:

Wake up, it’s Christmas mourn
Those loved have long since gone
The stockings are hung but who cares
Preserved for those no longer there
Six feet beneath me sleep

Steele’s dark wit prevails here, playing on the term ‘Christmas morning’ with a sorrowful interplay. The themes of loss are all too evident – the loved ones you spent last Christmas are no longer present. A harsh but all true reality that everyone will surely face in their lifetime. The nail is hit firmly on the head there, and is equally reflected in the song’s second verse:

My tables been set for but seven
Just last year I dined with eleven

As previously mentioned, the song is about Pete’s father, but that line alone implies death and loss on a wider scale, and one can only imagine sitting down to the Christmas dinner to an emptier scene. While the verses discuss grief, the chorus deals with how to cope with the loss through Steele’s eyes. Steele’s life left behind a litany of alcohol abuse that was well documented, and indeed influenced later Type O recordings, in particular 1999’s ‘World Coming Down’. It seems the best way for Steele to dispel the spirits of the ghosts of Christmas past was to drown his sorrows, and this is where the song’s title comes into its own. The ‘Red Water’, is of course, red wine, which Steele commands to ‘chase them away

Type O Negative – Red Water (Christmas Mourning)
Those with a keen ear for Christmas carols may be able to spot two of them present in the song. The first, following the first chorus, is a slowed keyboard rendition of ‘Carol of the Bells’ which underpins the first bridge of the strong, captured excellently by Josh Silver. Undoubtedly the bleakness of this song is captured within a midsection where the band stops and the sound of a second carol, ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, sounds as the backdrop to a howling blizzard, what sounds like an ornament falling off the Christmas tree and the sound of a young girl crying. Type O were never the cheeriest band and although ‘October Rust’ was overall more positive, there’s no doubt that at times its veneer was much darker and engorged with sadness; yet the weaving in of those two carols serves to highlight their mastery at being able to twist popular and traditional music into their sound.

This is not exactly a Christmas song, least not in the truest sense, and was probably never intended as one. For many of us, Christmas brings a lot of positive cheer, joy and sense of community and family. A proper Christmas song can be found in the likes of ‘Fairytale of New York’ by the Pogues and Kirsty Maccoll. Or ‘Merry Christmas’ by Slade, or more recently, ‘Don’t Let The Bells End’ by the Darkness. ‘Red Water’ is none of those in that it’s the complete antithesis of a Christmas song. It’s depressing by lyrical nature. It’s not at all cheerful, or celebratory and it’ll never get played on the radio before Christmas.

Good. This song will certainly have meaning to those who have felt the pain of loss at this time of year, but even for those that haven’t its perfect for those of us who in the run up to Christmas just can’t get into the festive spirit. Or even if you are, it takes you out of that comfort zone for seven minutes. If you’re on the receiving end of the Christmas rush, as I and certainly millions of others are year in, year out, it’s hardly gleeful. It’s a pressure situation, and doesn’t half bring out clueless idiots with no sense of understanding that situation.

For a personal catharsis musically, ‘Red Water’ does the trick. Although I won’t go too far into personal details, thankfully lyrically it doesn’t match up in the same scale at all. When I leave the office and I make the hour-long journey home via foot and train, I need to get out of that environment and just immerse myself into a musical world which is pretty much what I do every day. In December, anything that isn’t ‘Last Christmas’, ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, or even that abominable cover of ‘Many of Horror’ is perfect. It runs far, far deeper than any Christmas song you can imagine.

If you’re lucky enough not to have felt the full force of missing someone at Christmas, ‘Red Water’, whether it was intended or not, should still be on every miser’s playlist this advent. But ultimately, this song of deep personal meaning to the singer will no doubt resound most with two groups; those who have lost loved ones and are missing them at this time of year; and those fans of Type O Negative, such as myself, who continue to recognise Peter Steele’s undying genius.

Peter Clegg

Previously in this series:

3 thoughts on “Type O Negative – Red Water (Christmas Mourning)

  1. Pingback: Various Artists – Dumb and Dumber OST « We Must Obey

  2. Reblogged this on We Must Obey and commented:

    This post is cropping up in my recent page stats. Must be the time of year. That said, I’m truly proud of this post and truly a fan of this song, and though it’s sadly more poignant and personal than ever, ‘Red Water’ is a true alternative Christmas anthem.

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