Peter Steele, an unforgettable giant

Omaggio di Zoa Studio a Peter Steele

Peter Steele, stage name of Petrus Thomas Ratajczyk, was an American singer and bassist, co-founder of the ruin metal band Type O Negative. We remember him today because a dozen years have passed since his death on April 14, 2010.

Steele was known for his  vampire attitude, his height of 2.03 meters, his baritone voice and dark and self-deprecating sense of humor, his very often personal lyrics on themes such as love, death and addiction.

Who is Peter Steele

Peter Steele was born in Red Hook, Brooklyn, on January 4, 1962, to a Catholic family of Polish, Russian, Icelandic and Scottish descent, and grew up in Bensonhurst and Brighton Beach near Brooklyn. His father fought in the World War and later worked in a shipyard. Steele began taking guitar lessons at the age of 12, switching to bass after six months. Another story of “instrument change”, like the ones we have already seen more than a few times in this blog.

Steele worked for some time for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, responsible for maintaining the city’s parks, until he began filming with Type O Negative in the summer of 1994. His work he consisted of maintaining the park, driving garbage trucks, eventually being promoted to park supervisor. Steele considered the last days of working for the parks department to be among the happiest in his life.

Music career up to Type 0 Negative

Peter Steele’s musical career began in the 70s. In 1979 he founded the band Fallout, a heavy metal band. The band disbanded three years later, with their discography limited to a single 45 rpm single. However, Fallout achieved some success in the New York art scene of this era, so much so that it led them to open a concert for Twisted Sisters in New York.

Meanwhile, Steele created Carnivore, a thrash metal oriented group. Steele’s lyrics are harsh and politically incorrect. They deal with religion, warfare, race and misogyny. The first real album was released in 1985. The band disbanded in 1987, shortly after the release of Retaliation. They reformed at the 2006 Wacken Open Air festival.

We can say that serious things start with Type 0 Negative. It is with his childhood friends that Steele founded this group, namely Josh Silver, Kenny Hickey and Sal Abruscato (who will later be replaced by Johnny Kelly). Previously, the group was called “Subzero” (Steele incidentally had a tattoo of a zero with a minus inside). However, he noted that the name was already in use. But Steele always had this image of 0 with minus in mind. One day, while looking through the ads in his directory, one of his hobbies, she saw an ad for a blood bank, ready to pay a fortune for one type of blood type: negative zero. Consequently, he decided to rename the band Type 0 Negative.

Legend has it that Type 0 Negative’s contract with Roadrunner records was signed with Steele’s blood and sperm. And let’s not add anything else.

Type 0 Negative: the albums

First successes of Peter Steele and Type 0 Negative

Type 0 Negative’s first album, Slow Deep and Hard was released in 1991. This album retains a certain Carnivore heritage: lyrics dealing with romantic breakups, revenge impulses, with a hint of melancholy and suicidal thoughts, all in a doom metal vibe. The lyrics reflect similar events experienced by the singer himself, who stated:

On October 15, 1989, I cut my wrists. All I can say is that I fell in love with the wrong person.

In addition, the group suffered attacks and controversy over the song Der Untermensch, which was allegedly taken for a Nazi song.

The following year The Origin of the Feces was released. The album cover depicts the singer defecating. Censored, he was replaced by a dance of death. The major peculiarity of this album which, at first sight, recalls a concert, with the presence of a hostile audience that violently denigrates the group. In reality it is a fake live, made with a particular recording technique. This false direct highlights the spirit of self-irony shown by the members of the group.

In 1993 it was the turn of Bloody Kisses, the first album by Roadrunner Records to be certified gold. The screaming song is set aside to make way for a much deeper voice. Despite the huge success of the album, tensions arise between Peter and Sal, and Sal ends up leaving the group. This album is a great opportunity for the group to respond to their detractors, through the two tracks “Kill All The White People” and “We Hate Everyone”. Christian Woman and Black N ° 1’s music videos looped on MTV at the time, making the band more mainstream.

New atmospheres and projects

A curiosity. Two years after Bloody Kisses was released, Steele posed nude for Playgirl magazine in 1995. After discovering that only 23% of that magazine’s subscribers were women, the artist somewhat regretted the decision and drew on to that experience on the Life Is Killing Me album with the song I Like Goils.

Three years after the success of Bloody Kisses, Peter Steele and his band engage in October Rust, considered their most accessible album. This time we abandon the gothic image of the singer playing bass and the punk atmosphere. We always keep a note of humor: the first track is completely empty, which confused some fans. The lyrics, as the title of the third track suggests, develop a theme and atmosphere close to the forest, nature (Peter Steele describes his affection for nature in “Green Man”), paganism, the pains of love and sex. The album is softer, Peter’s voice more sensual.

In 1999 World Coming Down was released, with a first song once again bizarre. This time it is no longer a question of words soaked in rose water. World Coming Down is a true descent into hell. The texts are much darker. Based essentially on an extremely difficult period in Peter’s life, they speak of his addiction to cocaine and the depression that will mark him for a long time, as well as the pain of seeing his loved ones disappear.

In 2000, Steele made a guest appearance on the song Just Say No to Love, on Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi’s debut solo album. In 2001, Steele made a guest appearance on Biohazard Uncivilization’s Cross the Line album. Also in 2002, he appeared on Doro’s Combat’s Downhill Track album.

Last albums

Four years have passed since the last album and the group returns with Life Is Killing Me. We notice less obscure but equally depressing lyrics. The speed of the rhythm of certain titles like “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” contrasts with the slowness of “White Slavery”, for example.

We notice the somewhat “medical” atmosphere of this album. The title “Anesthesia” is evocative. The beginning of Life Is Killing Me is marked by a hospital atmosphere, typical sounds of electrocardiograms. As for the lyrics of the song, it is a reproach addressed to the doctors in charge of the care of Peter Steele’s father, who died on February 14, 1995.

The singer also applies, in this song, to denounce some aberrations of the American health system. Type 0 Negative’s latest studio album is 2007’s Dead Again. The cover features Rasputin, who Josh Silver says fitted perfectly. He said in Hard n Heavy magazine:

Rasputin has attempted suicide four times and maybe even more, it depends on the story you read, so who better than him could have illustrated the title Dead Again?

Although this album differs from the previous one in the general atmosphere, it turns out to be a return to origins, with the reappearance of screaming songs, faster rhythms. The lyrics of Tripping A Blind Man show Peter’s resentment, even hatred of his family. In fact, Steele was very bitter towards his sisters as they confessed to law enforcement about his drug problems. He found it a kind of betrayal, which earned him imprisonment.

This situation has been incorporated into the above passage. Halloween in the Sky is instead a song about the death of the rock star Dimebag Darrell, friend of Steele.

Disappearance and death of Peter Steele

There were, at one point, rumors of Steele’s death after the band’s website published an image of a tombstone, with his name and dates from 1962-2005. The photograph of the tombstone was removed in October 2005. It seems that the date of death actually corresponded to the end of the contract with Roadrunner Records.

Yet Steele had actually disappeared for a long time, without giving an explanation. Rumors of his death, terminal illness and other speculations grew until the mystery was dispelled in the DVD of the  band, “Symphony For The Devil” issued in 2006.

Steele actually died on April 14, 2010, at the age of 48 in his Brooklyn home. The official news spoke of cardiac arrest as cause of death. However, Steele’s private life, his suicide attempt, the fact that he suffered from depression (or bipolar disorder) and above all an analysis of the lyrics of his songs, suggests that behind the news the family wanted to hide the musician’s suicide. 

The death of Peter Steele meant the dissolution of Type 0 Negative and the other members had no intention of replacing him. Johnny Kelly himself says:

Even if there were someone to replace Steele, it wouldn’t matter, it’s not worth chasing after. It’s impossible – you can’t get out of any discussion. When Steele died, Type 0 Negative died with him.

A tall and very pleasant man

On November 21, 2011, an oak tree was planted in Prospect Park in memory of Peter Steele. The band Voyager wrote “Iron Dream” in his honor, from the album “The Meaning of I”, released in 2011. Lacuna Coil wrote “My Spirit” included in the 2012 album “Dark Adrenaline” to honor Steele and many other artists have written songs in his memory.

In his autobiography, “Iron Man”, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath recounted his shock at Steele’s death, adding, “He was a tall, tall and very pleasant man.”

A pleasant and certainly interesting man, even in his private life. Outside of music, Steele spent his time lifting weights at home or on the tour bus. He also enjoyed reading books based on scientific issues and was interested in European culture. Steele enjoyed working in his house and was interested in architecture and civil engineering. He loved modifying cars and also loved cats, tending many of them as pets.

A gentle giant, with a menacing appearance on stage: a stage he feared so much that he drank alcohol in large quantities to overcome his fear. But also a giant with depression, for which he received psychiatric treatment from time to time.

Above all, a giant who can never be forgotten.



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