Artist Profile: Peter Steele
Steele was born in Red Hook, Brooklyn into a Roman Catholic family and attended Edward R. Murrow High School located in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn. His father was of Russian and Polish descent, and his mother of Irish, Scottish, Norwegian and Icelandic heritage. He was raised in the Bensonhurst and Brighton Beach neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Steele was the youngest of six children, with five older sisters. His father fought in World War II and later worked at a shipyard. Steele started taking guitar lessons at age 12, moving on to bass six months later.
Steele worked for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation up until he began touring with Type O Negative in the summer of 1994. He was based at Brooklyn Heights Promenade, where his job involved park maintenance, driving vehicles including garbage trucks and steamrollers, and eventual promotion to the role of Park Supervisor. Steele considered his days working for the Parks Department to be among his happiest.
Steele was widely known for standing 6’8” (203 cm) tall, giving him a famously menacing stage appearance. Despite that perception, Steele admitted to suffering from stage fright which he overcame by drinking alcohol before shows, and by drinking red wine when on stage.
Outside of music, Steele spent time lifting weights both at home and on his tour bus. Steele also enjoyed reading books on the subject of science and he had an interest in European culture. Steele liked working on his house and was interested in architecture and civil engineering. Steele also worked on his cars, including a heavily modified 1985 Pontiac Grand Prix he customized himself. Steele had a love for cats and kept several as pets.
In 1979, Steele formed the heavy metal band Fallout. In 1982, after the split of Fallout, Steele formed the thrash metal band Carnivore. With Carnivore, Steele’s lyrics were often harsh and politically incorrect, dealing with religion, war, race and misogyny. Carnivore released their debut self-titled album in 1985. In 1986, Steele wrote lyrics for several songs on hardcore punk band Agnostic Front’s second album Cause for Alarm. In 1987, Carnivore released Retaliation, before splitting up later that year.
Former Carnivore frontman Steele, along with childhood friends Sal Abruscato (later replaced by Johnny Kelly), Josh Silver and Kenny Hickey, formed Type O Negative and signed to Roadrunner Records. Shortly after signing in 1991 the band released their debut, Slow, Deep and Hard.
Type O’s first album Slow Deep and Hard incorporated dragging dirge riffs, maniacal punk-metal outbursts, and droning industrial and gothic atmospheres. The songs were long, multi-part theatrical epics, with lyrical topics ranging from heartbreak to getting revenge on a cheating lover, and even contemplating suicide.
Back in the States, Type O began creating a new album that was supposed to be live. The subsequent 1992 album was entitled The Origin of the Feces and a warning label was put on the album cover: “Not Live At Brighton Beach”.
Type O Negative’s third album, Bloody Kisses, was released in 1993 to critical and listener acclaim, and eventually became the first record for Roadrunner to reach certified Platinum status in the US.
Bloody Kisses mostly addressed loneliness and heartbreak, with songs like “Too Late: Frozen”, “Blood & Fire”, and “Can’t Lose You”. The organ-driven “Set Me on Fire” is vintage sixties garage rock, while “Summer Breeze” covered the 1972 Seals and Crofts hit. “Christian Woman” and “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All)” became the most popular tracks, after having been edited down to radio-friendly lengths (the album versions were 8½ and 11 minutes long). In order to promote the album, Type O Negative embarked on a two-year world tour. During this time, the band was featured on MTV, VH1, and in Rolling Stone. In the midst of this media blitz, drummer Sal Abruscato quit the band to join another Brooklyn quartet, Life of Agony. Johnny Kelly, the band’s drum technician, was therefore hired as a full-fledged member. Bloody Kisses was re-released a year after the original release in a limited-edition Digipak form, including eight of the musical tracks from the original (omitting the “filler” tracks) and the previously unreleased “Suspended in Dusk”.
Type O’s October Rust picked up where Bloody Kisses left off, this album continued to explore themes of sex and sensuality, explored in a humorous sense on the single “My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend” and then taken much darker with “Love You To Death”. This record also saw a cover of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” as well as the fan favorite, semi-serene “Green Man”. While not quite as successful as Bloody Kisses, the album was certified Gold in the US, and was the first Type O Negative album to enter the top half of the Billboard Top 200, debuting at No. 42.
With the completion of another successful world tour, writing for a fourth album began. In the period immediately following the release of October Rust, resulted in 1999’s World Coming Down (working titles included Prophets of Doom and Aggroculture).World Coming Down debuted at No. 39 on the Billboard Top 200 charts.
A best of album followed in 2000, entitled The Least Worst of Type O Negative. Although most songs appear on previous albums, many are unreleased remixes or B-sides of previously released singles. Along with these songs are some unreleased numbers from the World Coming Down sessions, the band’s cover of “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath (Peter Steele’s version with different lyrics, written from the perspective of Satan), and a cleaner version of “Hey Pete” (originally released on the mock live album The Origin of the Feces).
Type O Negative’s sixth studio album, Life Is Killing Me (originally called The Dream Is Dead after the closing song), was released in 2003. For this album, the band picked up the pace of their sound from the dirgeful slowness of World Coming Down. Songs such as “Todd’s Ship Gods (Above All Things)”, “(We Were) Electrocute”, and “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” convey the band’s classic elements of melody, though the song lengths were much shorter on this outing, the longest being the 7 and a half-minute “How Could She?”, a list of female character names from television shows. The album includes a humorous cover of the song “Angry Inch” from the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, detailing a sex change operation gone terribly wrong.
Type O then left Roadrunner for SPV Records and released Dead Again. Dead Again debuted at No. 27 in the United States; the band’s highest chart debut to date. They also continued to tour through October of that year, including a performance at the Rock am Ring festival in Nürburgring, Germany.
During 2005, Steele disappeared for an extended period with no explanation. Rumors of his death, terminal illness, and other speculations increased until the mystery was dispelled in an interview on the 2006 DVD Symphony for the Devil. In the interview Steele briefly mentions his incarceration in Rikers Island and “the psych ward at Kings County Hospital “. Steele’s family members had staged an intervention and insisted he check into a mental institution. Steele later confirmed he had been suffering from paranoia caused by his heavy substance abuse. Steele had been using cocaine since the age of 35, a decision he expressed great regret about. Steele then attended rehab for cocaine and alcohol addiction, and later served a 30-day prison term for assaulting a love rival. Steele made light of his incarceration by wearing a prison uniform on stage during live performances.
Steele stated in a 2003 interview that he was bipolar, and linked his mood swings to the types of songs he wrote. He also suffered from clinical depression for which he had received occasional psychiatric treatment. During a 2007 interview Steele explained:
“I’ve always been a very depressed person, but that’s only one side of me, you know. It makes me feel better when I can express my depression, my anger, my frustration through music… sonic therapy.”
In April 2007, Steele revealed that he began identifying himself as Roman Catholic in recent years, after decades of self-professed atheism. In an interview with Decibel magazine, Steele explained:
“There are no atheists in foxholes, they say, and I was a foxhole atheist for a long time. But after going through a midlife crisis and having many things change very quickly, it made me realize my mortality. And when you start to think about death, you start to think about what’s after it. And then you start hoping there is a God. For me, it’s a frightening thought to go nowhere. I also can’t believe that people like Stalin and Hitler are gonna go to the same place as Mother Teresa.”
Peter Steele died of an aortic aneurysm (initially reported as heart failure) on April 14, 2010 at the age of 48. Prior to his death, Steele was preparing to write and record new music. The remaining members of Type O Negative decided to dissolve the band rather than replace Steele, with Johnny Kelly stating “Even if there is somebody who could take his place it wouldn’t matter. We don’t have any interest in continuing. It’s impossible – it hasn’t even come up in any kind of discussion. When Peter died, Type O Negative died with him.” On November 21, 2011, an oak tree was planted in Prospect Park to commemorate Steele.
Following his death, the metal band Voyager penned a track entitled “Iron Dream” in memoriam of Steele, released on their 2011 album The Meaning of I. Lacuna Coil wrote the song “My Spirit” in memory of Steele for their 2012 album Dark Adrenaline. The Moonspell song “New Tears Eve”, from the 2012 album Alpha Noir / Omega White, is dedicated to Steele. Biohazard dedicated their 2012 album Reborn in Defiance to Steele. Swallow the Sun wrote the song “April 14th” as a tribute to Steele for their 2012 album Emerald Forest and the Blackbird. Meridian Dawn recorded a cover version of the Type O Negative song “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” in tribute to Steele for their 2014 debut release The Mixtape EP. The Crowbar song “Symbolic Suicide”, from the 2014 album Symmetry in Black, is inspired by the legacy of Peter Steele. The band Danzig, who include Steele’s former bandmate Johnny Kelly, have dedicated live performances of the song “On a Wicked Night” to Steele.
In his autobiography Iron Man, Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi described his shock at Steele’s death, adding, “Peter was a big, tall, and very, very nice guy.”
Quite possibly the one of the most brilliant minds in Gothic Metal, we miss you Peter \m/