The Influence

From listening to triple j as a Perth teenager to Eurovision stardom, the metal band Type O Negative has always been there for Voyager’s Danny Estrin. By Neha Kale.

Danny Estrin

Album cover: four rows of vines with a black background.
Cover art for Type O Negative’s 1996 album October Rust, and Danny Estrin (below).
Credit: Roadrunner (above), Mike Dann (below)

Danny Estrin is the lead singer of Voyager, the progressive metal band that represented Australia at Eurovision and placed ninth with Promise, a track that splices propulsive synths with an epic, soaring chorus. The acclaimed musician, who also works as an immigration lawyer, relocated from Hamburg, Germany, to Perth as an 11-year-old.

He started Voyager, which currently features guitarists Simone Dow and Scott Kay, bass guitarist Alex Canion and drummer Ashley Doodkorte, as a student at the University of Western Australia in 1999. This month, Voyager release their eighth studio album, Fearless in Love.

Since Estrin was a teenager he has been entranced by Type O Negative, the Brooklyn group known for blending genres, playing with masculinity and defying expectations of a metal band. Their 1996 album October Rust remains his sonic lodestar.

October Rust, the fourth studio album by Type O Negative, is considered one of the most darkly romantic metal records ever released. When did you first hear it?

I was pretty much raised on classical music – it was violin, clarinet, all that sort of stuff. I was sheltered from mainstream music for a long time. When I came to Australia, I was listening to the Top 40. And then I went through a bit of a Nirvana phase. Nirvana Unplugged was huge. You had the migration experience. From the age of 11 onward, you are trying to find yourself.

I remember triple j’s metal show Three Hours of Power. I heard Type O Negative and I thought, what is this? It is melodic and heavy at the same time. I heard the song Love You to Death and thought, this is transformative. When you are a teenager, you put your headphones on and you are transformed. Everything is massively amplified and you care so much about the details.

That emotional intensity often fades over time.

When you get older, you miss that deep passion. You want to tell everyone, listen to this track, it is the best record you will ever hear. You have the magazines. You become obsessed. Are there concerts, metal shows, other people who are into this? I remember [Perth record store] 78 Records. You would have the headphone station. You discover more albums. And then you meet other people. Much to the surprise of your parents, you are getting into what looks like the dark arts. The imagery is dark and mysterious – but you realise the people who are into that have had a hard time growing up.

If you are passionate about a subculture, it helps you. “My life is shit, but I can put this on and it is all gone.” With teenage boys, there is this level of aggression that comes with the hormones – and heavy metal is really cathartic. You can sit there and bang your head in your bedroom. Instead of damaging something, you are expressing it. The thing about Type O Negative is, it isn’t like Slayer and all those hardcore bands. This was a more sophisticated aggression, a melancholic aggression. It is uplifting melancholy. You have these beautiful soundscapes. It is complex. You have this beautiful piano melody. The whole idea of distorted guitars is to create some of the heaviness of orchestra. You have these big cellos, this big brass. There is this heaviness underneath and melodies above that has stayed with me since those early days.

What impact does October Rust have on you emotionally?

It takes you into this dark forest of emotions. Lyrically it is quite dark. There is an eroticism there. The towering figure, Peter Steele, the main guy – he was [two-metres tall], this huge presence. He looks like this big alpha male. But he didn’t take himself too seriously, which is amazing. That has influenced me and my band. If you think about the album, it [starts with] static. You think there is a mistake. And then in track two, someone is making chicken noises. You think, what the hell is this? Then it goes into this very romantic love song, which is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.

They were very gothic but they were taking the piss out of being gothic at the same time. They understood that metal is quintessentially theatre – and it can be quite absurd sometimes.

They were playing with that performance of masculinity. There are so many layers.

Exactly. From a sonic perspective, they used so many tracks. They used 96 different tracks, which back in the day was insane. Layering upon layering. You listen to it for the umpteenth time and you hear a keyboard and you think – how are you transporting me into this atmosphere?

October Rust is lush, melodic, layered and sombre. What does mood mean to you as a musician?

Mood is everything. And melody creates mood and soundscapes create mood. A lot of the melodies are in a minor key and then they don’t shy away from going into a major key. And then you get this uplifting but still melancholic major chorus. This is very unusual for heavy music. That is a technique that more bands are using. Going between major and minor is all about mood creation.

If you look at a keyboard, look at the notes, why does an augmented fourth sound mysterious? Why does a major [key] sound happy? That is just socialisation, but they are also innate inside us. Mood is innate and mood is created by the melody. Melody takes you through the journey that is the song.

There are these points on October Rust during which the song is still going and then it is cut. It is very premature. It shows the ability to get you out of the mood. It is this cheeky playfulness that I think works so well with music. When you don’t take yourself seriously but take your music seriously. In our performances too, we joke around. If you want to call us the Wiggles of metal, that is fine – it means that we are going to do a dark sort of number and it is emotional and beautiful and melodic, but you can still have fun.

Cutting tracks short is also a way to create suspense, right?

Do you remember those albums where you had to skip to the very end and there would be half an hour of silence? Those would be so cool. You had to go to track one and rewind and then you would get to the hidden track.

We did an album in 2011 called The Meaning of I and it had a song called Iron Dream (In Memoriam: Peter Steele). We didn’t just want to do a cover, we wanted to do something that we thought he could write. And actually, Peter Steele’s sister reached out and said it made her so happy to hear something that could have come from her brother. 

Your new album, Fearless in Love, is out this month and you are touring Australia after representing the country at Eurovision. How has the response by your fans changed?

We’ve done … sold-out shows around the country. Eurovision has really propelled us to the next level. We’ve got a tour in Europe and the UK and a lot of the shows are already sold out. It is the dream. I am 41 this year. It is the 20-year overnight success. From hearing October Rust in 1996 to starting the band in 1999 to still bloody listening to it, you realise that there are constants in your life.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 8, 2023 as "Danny Estrin".

For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.

All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.

There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

Use your Google account to create your subscription