Petrus Thomas Ratajczyk, more commonly known to us as Peter Steele, was – quite literally – a colossus of the metal world. Best known for his work with gothic metal giants Type O Negative, Steele began his career in the little known heavy metal band Fallout – with future Type O band mate Josh Silver – before turning his hand to crossover thrash with Carnivore and going on to form the band that would cement his place as heavy metal royalty; goth/doom legends Type O Negative.
Well known for his deeply personal, often controversial lyrical content and dark sense of humour, Peter Steele was a formidable presence in the metal community and following his death in 2010, many of the great and the good of the metal world came out with stories of his generosity and the good times they shared.
It is now just over five years since his death and the time seems right to cast an eye over his contribution to heavy metal and the bands and albums that benefitted from his substantial talent.
Fallout And Carnivore (1970 – 1987)
Fallout, a band Steele joined when only in his teens, left little in the way of recorded output, releasing just one 7″ untitled single in 1981 containing two tracks; A-Side “Rock Hard” and B-Side “Batteries Not Included”.
“Rock Hard” is the better of the two tracks and while Steele was only seventeen years old at the time of the singles release, his dark sense of humour was already coming through in this ode to a dead girlfriend. “Batteries Not Included” left little impression but its tale of computers turning against mankind would fit in well with his work in Carnivore and has a Cold War, impending apocalypse vibe to it. All in all, Fallout‘s sole release is a pretty amateurish effort but you can still hear traces of what Steele would go on to do with Type O Negative in terms of melody and the especially in the lyrical content of “Rock Hard” .
Formed in 1982, Steele’s next venture was the highly controversial hardcore crossover thrash of Carnivore. Sonically both their self titled debut and the follow up Retaliation are relatively harsh but by this stage Steele’s songwriting skills were starting to blossom as he delivered longer, more progressive tracks. Both albums are an acquired taste but do have quite a bit in common with early Type O Negative and serve as an interesting insight into what was to come.
With Carnivore, Steele appeared to go out of his way to offend just about anyone who cared to listen. Songs such as “Race War“, “USA for USA“, “Jesus Hitler” and “Male Supremacy” stirred up plenty of controversy and led to him being branded a “Nazi” – amongst other things – in the European press. With the fondness of hindsight it’s fairly obvious he was going out of his way to wind people up and his lyrics -immature for the most part – were meant to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Carnivore are not going to appeal to every fan of Type O Negative, however they are worth a listen….even if it’s just to hear where Steele was coming from and his overall progression as a songwriter and musician.
The Birth Of Type O Negative
With Carnivore running its course, 1989 announced the arrival of the one and only Type O Negative, the self styled “Drab Four” of gothic metal and home to Peter Steele’s pioneering sound. Whether you prefer your music harsh and brutal or lush and melodic, Type O Negative have an album to match your mood – as long as that mood can cope with some truly depressive elements from time to time – and Steele, alongside ex-Fallout compadre Josh Silver on Keyboards, Kenny Hickey on Guitar and Sal Abruscato on drums, who would later be replaced by Johnny Kelly, would go on to crack the mainstream with their unique brand of melodic gothic doom.
Peter Steele and keyboard wizard Josh Silver were the main songwriters and producers for Type O Negative and while Steele may have been the focal point of the band it is the chemistry of Steele, Silver and Kenny Hickey’s morose riffs that gave the band their edge over all competition. It was also with Type O Negative that Steele finally utilised his deep, baritone voice and rich tones to full effect and a key part of the bands success was the vocal interplay between himself and Kenny Hickey – possessor of a harsher tone – who’s pairing was a match made in heaven.
A friend of ours here at Worship Metal summed up Type O Negative perfectly when she heard we were writing an article about them, stating their appeal lies in “the mix of keyboards, guitars and melody. You can’t help but sing along and it’s only afterwards you realise what you’ve been singing about”.
Which sums things up perfectly; Type O consistently delivered extremely well structured, catchy, memorable songs. Really, what more can we ask for from our artists?
Slow, Deep And Hard (1991) And The Origin Of The Feces (1992)
Slow Deep and Hard, the debut album from Type O Negative, unsurprisingly picked up where Carnivore left off but this time our hero had turned his anger towards any woman he perceived had done him wrong, which – to be fair – became an enduring theme for all their albums.
The album touches on the topics of the unemployed/immigrants with “Der Untermensch“, suicide with “Gravity” and betrayal with just about every other track and – as with Carnivore – Steele appears to enjoy winding people up with his deliberately provocative and often offensive lyrics.
Standout tracks are “Unsuccessfully Coping With The Natural Beauty Of Infidelity“, which clocks in at a bum-numbing twelve minutes long but really comes to life in the second half of the song with a great call and response segment and some rather pithy lyrics. “Gravity” is an early Type O Negative classic that was rarely dropped from their setlists, featuring a rather depressing lyric but a riff to die for the signs of Type O’s future success were writ large. The most offensive song title and content must go to “Jackhammer Rape”, the title of which says it all; lets just say Womens Rights organisations would not be queuing up to give them any awards for their work on this particular album!
Slow, Deep And Hard was followed up by pretend “live” album The Origin Of The Feces just a year later, basically a re-recording of the debut album with added “crowd” sounds, while nothing special, some of the tracks on Origin were reworked and actually have a little more life in them.
Both these albums may not be ground-breaking and do contain plenty of filler material, however at this stage the band were just getting warmed up and wouldn’t fully hit their stride until their next release….but when they did there was no stopping them!
Bloody Kisses (1993)
1993 saw the release of the undisputed classic Bloody Kisses and by now Steele and Type O Negative had refined their sound to thrilling effect. The production was substantially better, as was the songwriting, with the bands keen ear for melody shining through.
The mainstream beckoned.
This album is worthy of the term ‘classic’ on the strength of its opening two compositions alone. “Christian Woman“, without doubt one of the finest tracks Steele ever penned, is epic goth metal perfection. From its sexually charged lyrics, eerie keyboards and crunching guitars to its controversial refrain of “Jesus Christ looks like me” this is a song that practically begs to be blasted out loud for all to hear! The one-two sucker punch is landed by “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All)” a monster of a hit and a rock-club dance floor classic revered for it’s witty lyrics – gently poking fun at goth culture – and ingenious keyboard lines ‘borrowed’ from The Addams Family!
Type O Negative had arrived.
The one problem with Bloody Kisses is that it does contain a number of filler tracks. While “We Hate Everyone” remains a high energy track in which Steele takes potshots at the bands detractors and has a catchy sing-a-long gang style chorus, songs such as “Can’t Lose You” and “Set Me On Fire“, while not necessarily poor tracks, just seem to plod along, ultimately going nowhere.
Admittedly, this is a small gripe as Bloody Kisses stands tall as an epic gothic doom milestone and a true classic that continues to enthral fans to this day.
October Rust (1996)
How do you follow up a ‘classic’ album? If you’re Type O Negative you simply release another one!
On previous albums the band used keyboards sparingly, popping up fairly unobtrusively during intros and choruses, however by the time of 1996’s October Rust they had been fully integrated into the music, fleshing out the bands already substantial sound.
Make no mistake, October Rust is Type O Negative‘s magnum opus. The production on this album is amazing, every instrument gifted a warm, full sound and the guitars and keyboards mesh perfectly throughout while the music is best described as lush and orchestral with virtually all trace of their old aggression long gone and replaced with a lush, romantic, yet deeply morose pop-goth sound.
October Rust epitomises the sound of a band at the top of their game. Lyrically it covers all the bases a goth could want with songs about three-way relationships, love, lost love and family tragedy featuring throughout and it’s home to some of Type O’s best known songs. From the keyboard led balladry of the achingly beautiful “Love You To Death” to the extremely catchy and highly amusing “My Girlfriends Girlfriend“, it’s actually the lesser known tracks that really make the album; “Red Water (Christmas Mourning)” being a highlight. Its depressing lyric where the narrator realises how many family members have died in the space of a year is prime Steele; trust Type O Negative to make a depressing Christmas song! The standout track though is “Wolf Moon (Including Zoanthropic Paranoia)” its seriously catchy and effectively haunting keyboard line kicking things off before the guitars come rolling in with a heavy, reverb drenched riff; both instruments combining in melodic perfection for the remainder of the song. Lyric-wise the song is probably one of Steele’s more perverted efforts and tells the tale of a man who turns into a Werewolf when he performs oral sex on menstruating women! From subject matter to music delivery this song could hardly be anymore “Goth” if it tried.
October Rust would announce the arrival of drummer Johnny Kelly and this line-up would remain intact until the death of Peter Steele in 2010, the band hitting a groove that resulted in an instant classic. We can’t recommend October Rust enough, an album of such immense quality from start to finish that it unearths new surprises with every listen and is best listened to in a darkened room with a couple of bottles of red wine for company.
World Coming Down (1999)
1999 saw the release of the morosely depressing -especially by Type O’s standards –World Coming Down. By now the addictions of some of the band members were coming to the fore, whether through drink with Hickey or cocaine with Steele and death and despair are a recurring theme on this album that finds Steele at his bleakest.
Production wise the album has more in common with Bloody Kisses and the raw sound serves the songs well. Again, all traces of the earlier aggression are practically gone with many songs moving along at a snails pace, namely the title track and the magnificent funeral-march of “White Slavery” which relates to Steele’s gargantuan cocaine problem. Although, trust him to inject some wry humour into such a depressing song by stealing slogans from a couple of well known fizzy drinks companies with the lines “Let me say Pepsi generation. A few lines of misinformation. Watch your money flow away oh so quick. To kill youself properly Coke is it”.
You only need to take one look at the song titles to realise the mindset of Steele at this time in his life; “Everything Dies“, “Who Will Save The Sane?” and “Everyone I Love Is Dead” hardly hiding Steele’s fragile state of mind. Undoubtedly another great Type O Negative album with church organ keyboards, thunderous drum sound, crisp and heavy guitars and a definite Black Sabbath vibe but the star of the show is Peter Steele. As already mentioned, this album contains some of his bleakest lyrics and at times his vocals are heart wrenching and you can really feel his world falling apart.
Life Is Killing Me (2003)
2003’s Life Is Killing Me saw the return of Type O Negative‘s trademark humour with “I Like Goils” and “Angry Inch” providing the chuckles, the latter a cover from the musical Hedwig and The Angry Inch. Even some of their speed of old returns with “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” featuring an uptempo driving riff from Kenny Hickey and backed by a swirling keyboard motif, the band sounding their most accessible since the heady days of “Bloody Kisses”.
However, Type O Negative are at their best when their songs embrace the morose and the epic and the standout track on this album is the amazing “Anesthesia“. In the lyrics to this track Steele really lays himself bare from his haunting refrain of “I don’t need love” to lines like “Betwix birth and death, every breath regret. I pity the living envy for the dead”; a man bravely opening every wound for his audience and exposing his pains to the world at large.
In all honesty, Life Is Killing Me is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s by no means a bad album but could have been a whole lot better if a few tracks had been dropped; namely “..A Dish Best Served Coldly“, “How Could She” and “IYDKMIGTHTKY (Gimme That)“, songs that meander along aimlessly, adding nothing to the overall feel of the album and ultimately feeling a tad bland.
Dead Again (2007)
Lyrically, as per usual with Steele, heartbreak and loss is the default setting and “September Sun” is a heartbreakingly beautiful song. Sung by both Steele and Hickey the lyrics are highly descriptive with lines such as “September sun rotted Flatbush porch” and “October’s rust bisecting black storm clouds. Only the deaf hear my silent shouts” adding a warm feel to the song despite the gloomy subject matter.
Dead Again is without doubt the angriest Type O Negative album since Slow, Deep and Hard and after the album emerged it was revealed that Steele had spent some time in prison for assault and then in a psychiatric unit prior to it being written. The lyrics bristle with intensity and disdain for those he feels betrayed him and mankind in general.
Listening to this album now there is almost an air of finality about it and while not as immediate as some of their mid period work it remains a strong album and worthy of repeated listens.
Gone But Not Forgotten (Jan 4, 1962 – Apr 14, 2010)
Peter Steele sadly passed away in 2010 aged just 48. Whilst he had gone through some tough times with addiction, probably the saddest thing about his passing was that according to those that knew him he had got his life back on track and embraced sobriety; it’s just a pity that the damage was already done.
Compared to some of his peers he did not leave a vast body of work behind but with his two Carnivore albums and six Type O Negative albums Peter Steele did leave an indelible mark upon the world of heavy music that will never be forgotten; after all it was arguably Peter Steele and Type O Negative that brought goth metal to the attention of the masses.
So, here’s to the mighty Peter Steele and the giant void he has left in our world, he will never be replaced.