Friday, April 23, 2010

The Late, Great Peter Steele

(WARNING If you are a bit uncomfortable with content that is rated at least PG-13, you might want to pass this blog entry by....)

Peter Steele, the leader, lead vocalist, bassist, and lead songwriter of the Gothic metal band Type O Negative, passed on Wednesday, April 14, 2010. The cause was heart failure. He was 48 years old.

Peter Steele was born Petrus T. Ratajczyk in Brooklyn on January 4, 1962. Prior to forming Type O Negative, Mr. Steele was employed by the New York City Parks Department. In 1979 he became a founding member of the heavy metal band Fallout alongside future Type O Negative member Josh Silver. Fallout only released one single ("Rock Hard/Batteries Not Included"). Fallout evolved into the heavy metal band Carnivore, which consisted of Mr. Steele on bass guitar and vocals, Louie Beato on drums, and Keith Alexander on lead guitar. Carnivore released two albums before breaking up in 1987.

It was not long after the break up of Carnivore that Peter Steele formed a band with drummer Sal Abruscato, keyboardist Josh Silver, and guitarist Kenny Hickey. Initially calling themselves "Repulsion," they renamed themselves "Subzero." After realising that name was taken, they renamed themselves "Type O Negative." As Type O Negative they released a demo, which came to the attention of Road Racer Records (now Roadrunner Records), who signed them. In 1991 they released their debut album, Slow Deep and Hard. That first album blended elements of thrash metal, industrial music, and New Wave with Gothic themes. For their second album Roadrunner Records insisted that Type O Negative fulfil a contractual obligation to record a live album. Instead the band simply re-recorded Slow Deep and Hard,  along with covers of Jii Hendrix's "Hey, Joe (redone as "Hey, Pete)" and Black Sabbath's "Paranoid," and dubbed in crowd noises, even going so far as to create a fake fight with the non-existent audience. While Roadrunner was not happy with Type O Negative's joke, they released  the fake live album,  entitled The Origin of the Faeces, in 1992 anyway.

It would be with Type O Negative's second original album that the band finally achieved success. Bloody Kisses featured  the cult songs "Christian Woman," which dealt with sexuality and religion,  and "Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All), which parodied Goth stereotypes. Another well known cut from Bloody Kisses was a Gothic metal rendition of Seals and Croft's "Summer Breeze."  The album was the first in which Type O Negative really came into their own, characterised as it was by Gothic imagery and rather dry, but very black humour. It became Roadrunner's first album to go gold and then its first to go platinum. On the heels of the success of Bloody Kisses, Mr. Steele posed for Playgirl,  a decision he later regretted.

Bloody Kisses was followed by October Rust in 1996. The album featured Type O Negative's Gothic remake of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl," as well as the cult songs "My Girlfriend's Girlfriend,"  "Love You To Death" and "Green Man." The album did not do as well as its predecessor, peaking at #42 on the Billboard albums chart, but went gold. It was also around this time that Type O Negative became involved in a bit of controversy, after Mr. Steele confessed on The Howard Stern Show to having murder-suicide fantasies and even admiring Kurt Cobain for having taken his own life. It was in the wake of the release of October Rust that several of Peter Steele's family members died. In his grief he began drinking heavily. The result of this was the album World Coming Down, an album which dealt with death, addiction, and self loathing. Strangely enough, the album ended with a medley of The Beatles songs "Day Tripper," "If I Needed You," and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." In 2000 a "greatest hits" album was released, entitled The Least Worst of Type O Negative.

It was in 2003 that Life is Killing Me was released. The album was much lighter than World Coming Down, even featuring music from the TV show The Munsters and a cover of "Angry Inch" from the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, as well as the humorous "I Like Goils." The songs on the album were also much shorter, "...A Dish Best Served Coldly" being the longest, clocking in at seven minutes and two seconds. It was following the release of Life is Killing Me that Peter Steele served a short time in prison for possession of narcotics. Afterwards he went into drug rehabilitation. It was at this time that Roadrunner Records released The Best of Type O Negative in 2006 without the band's permission. Unhappy that the label would released a compilation album without their permission and receiving a better offer from SPV Records, Type O Negative left Roadrunner for SPV.

It was in 2007 that the band released Dead Again, their final album. The album featured the epic ballad of lost love "September Sun," the comedic "Halloween in Heaven," and the Black Sabbath influenced title track. The album did very well , reaching #27 on the Billboard album chart.

Peter Steele was also a guest on The Jerry Springer Show. At the time of his death he had reportedly been sober for years. After being a self confessed atheist for many years, he confessed to being drawn to Roman Catholicism.

There can be no doubt that Peter Steele had more than his fair share of problems. He coped with alcoholism and other addictions, and even suffered from clinical depression at one point. When it came to Gothic metal, however, he was a true artist. He composed some of the most powerful songs in the genre, many of which are now considered classics. His songs could often be very, very dark, but at the same time tinged with a wry sense of humour. His lyrics were emotional, intelligent, and at times even poetic. If Type O Negative became the foremost band, short of Sisters of Mercy, in the Goth genre, it is largely because of Mr. Steele's talent as a composer.

1 comment:

J. Marquis said...

I really like Type O's version of "Cinammon Girl".