In Memoriam: Peter Steele (1962 – 2010)

On the evening of April 14, 2010, Petrus T. Ratajczyk–better known as Peter Steele, frontman of Carnivore and Type O Negative–died of apparent heart failure. He was 48 years old.

As is typically the case, mourning the loss of a cherished artist is a difficult undertaking for fans. While precious few of us knew the man himself, many of us became quite intimate with the man’s work. Thus, while there’s a certain void that appears–and possibly even a palpable sense of loss–it’s hard to feel robbed of a man who had already given us so much. Instead of wallowing in the sorrow that Type O reaped so well, this a time to celebrate the work of one of the most iconic frontmen of our generation.

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Steele first came to prominence as the bassist and vocalist of thrash mini-legends Carnivore. Their two full-lengths (1985’s self-titled debut and its 1987 follow-up, Retaliation) were as infamous for their brutish, bass-heavy crossover strains as they were for Pete’s fuck-y’all cynicism (re: “Race War,” “Jesus Hitler“). Carnivore quickly devoured itself after Retaliation‘s release, and Steele formed a new unit called Subzero.

Subzero soon became Type O Negative (get it?), and Pete’s leftover Carnivore compositions became Slow Deep and Hard. This debut record retained Carnivore‘s schizophrenic shifts from crossover to doom and back, and the brutally clever lyrics made the trip, too.  However, respects to these records would be best paid by some of my esteemed colleagues, as this writer insists that Steele’s classic period was yet to come. Following a frivolous, punk rock fuck-you entitled Origin of the Feces, the band’s unholy triptych of 1990’s classics–Bloody Kisses, October Rust, and World Coming Down–stand as Steele’s crowning achievements as a songwriter.

His artistic symbiosis with keyboardist Josh Sliver came to fruition with the release of 1993’s Bloody Kisses. Not only was this the album where Type O fully jelled into the green-and-goth icons we know today, but it was also an unexpected (modest) commercial success. See, back in the early 90’s, a legit rock band could actually break through the glass ceiling on the merits of their artistic value (or, at the very least, a cool music video). Leave it to Type O Negative to bust through with the nine-minute epic “Christian Woman.” “Black No. 1” was another surprise hit, no doubt–at least partially–due to Pete’s stylish brandishing of a stand-up bass.

But while the band’s gothic embellishments enthralled the curious consumer, Bloody Kisses yielded some seriously deep cuts. Despite being littered with oddball interludes and intros (clutter still left from the wake of the Carnivore‘s cuteness), “We Hate Everyone” and the title track are two of the best songs the band ever penned. “Bloody Kisses,” in particular, is so blood-soaked, so emotionally wrenching, so fucking bleak…it’s a death-drenched doom ballad of soul-smashing mettle. The fact that it follows “We Hate Everyone,” one of the most raucous, playful tracks in the band’s catalog, is testament to Type O‘s storytelling genius.

Three years later, Type O returned, bullshit-free this time. 1996’s October Rust, despite being slightly backloaded, is arguably the band’s most complete album. The fuzzed-out, deceptively heavy leadoff, “Love You to Death,” is their classic ballad, and it sets the tone perfectly. While some decried October Rust‘s blunted edges, none could argue the depth found here. Rust finds the band at their creative peak. Each member of the Rehab Four is in fine form, and they intertwine and take root with awe-inspiring ease. Admittedly, “Be My Druidess” and “Green Man” are a little ridiculous, as is the blatant MTV-bait of “My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend.” But the second half of October Rust contains enough fuzzy, earthy goodness to make every black / folk band on the planet shit themselves with envy.  “Wolf Moon” is haunting as hell, and “Haunted” itself is a heavy-as-balls doom opus, a vibe that would bleed into 1999’s weighty World Coming Down.

Perhaps reacting to October Rust‘s relative lightness, Steele and Silver composed their heaviest album yet in World Coming Down. Dredging the depths, Steele penned his most humorless set of songs to date, beginning with the funereal strains of “White Slavery” and (almost) ending with the wistful grave-moping of “Hallow’s Eve.” (The album actually closes with a heavy-as-balls Beatles medley, continuing the Lennon / McCartney fetish Steele toyed with on October Rust.) WCD‘s production is robust, Steele and Hickey’s tones are like asphyxiation via warm concrete, and the stench of death cloaks everything. “Everyone I Love is Dead” and “Everything Dies” are as simplistically grim as their titles, and Pete’s passionate mourning here is even more profound in the wake of his death.

In my teenage years, I had yet to experience any kind of serious loss in my life. Mourning–and the longing and fear that accompanies it–was foreign to me. WCD allowed me to live vicariously through Peter Steele’s pain, and I imagine hundreds of thousands of others did the same. The conviction and matter-of-factness of his delivery resonates powerfully, especially in an arena polluted with poseurs. Pete’s vulnerability, in spite of his imposing figure, was endearing, and to experience that type of emotion through the eyes of someone you’ll never meet…well, that’s fucking special. Prior to World Coming Down, Type O Negative’s deadpan grimness was a little over-the-top, a little snarky. This time, it was real. The armor had been shed.

As is the case with many bands that experience such a run of greatness, the albums that followed were enjoyable, but failed to reach the heights of their classics. 2003’s Life is Killing Me was a Type O party album, with jams like “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” and “Anesthesia” shining over the lowly likes of “How Could She?” and “I Like Goils.” 2007’s Dead Again, while occasionally hitting the mark as a throwback to their hardcore / crossover roots, wasn’t as resonant as the material of their halcyon days. Exacerbating matters, Steele’s self-inflicted health issues began to take their toll on his live performances.

Regardless of their recent plateau, Type O Negative left an indelible mark. Their sound was unmistakable, and their approach wholly original; a true rarity. They were the complete package. And while all four members were equals, Peter Steele was the man that held it together, holding the green-and-black flag high. He truly was an icon, in every sense of the word, and his work will live forever.

Thanks for everything, Pete.

Posted by Last Rites


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