Passing away on this day eleven years ago, take a look into the life and tragic fate of one of metal’s most intriguing frontmen.
To metal fans across the globe, the Gothic Metal genre was pioneered and centred solely around the Type O Negative frontman, Peter Steele.
With his haunting, baritone vocals, vampiric image and unmissable 6ft 8inch stature, it was unsurprising that Steele captured the world by storm and steered Metal into a new direction with his sound. Yet, behind the fame of Type O Negative, there remained one of the most tragic backstories in the history of the genre that few knew the full extent of.
Born Petrus Thomas Ratajczyk, the musician was raised in Brooklyn to a strongly Catholic family, of which he was the youngest of six children. Although a self-proclaimed Atheist for the majority of his life, these Catholic origins would return to the musician shortly before he met his tragic end.
Before creating Type O Negative, few realise that the musician was part of two other bands: a heavy metal band named Fallout, and a politically incorrect Thrash band entitled Carnivore. In both of these acts, Steele immediately established himself as both a bassist and vocalist, using his lyrics to discuss issues including Racism, Misogyny, Race and War.
Yet, experiencing little longevity or success from these bands, Steele instead set his sights on a new, darker project that would follow a path unlike most on the scene. Pairing up with his childhood friend, Josh Silver, in 1989 the duo set their eyes upon the up-and-coming Gothic genre and formed a new band called Repulsion… later to be renamed Type O Negative.
Inspired predominantly by the sinister motifs of Black Sabbath and the songwriting ability of The Beatles, Steele took a melodic, 1970s sound and incorporated darker and more insidious undertones to make it distinctive to him. This was then taken to the next level by discussing deeply personal subject matter within the lyrics and tackling taboo themes including addiction, death and heartbreak in each track.
Whilst generating a name for themselves in the underground scene and helping formulate the Gothic Metal genre (paving the way for artists such as Nightwish and Cradle of Filth), few know that, during this period, the frontman was still working full time for the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Based in New York City throughout his life, when not working on music, Steele was employed to drive garbage trucks, snowploughs and steamrollers across the streets for five years after the band emerged. In fact, it was his green work uniform during this period that inspired both the colour scheme for the band and the ‘Green Man’ alias of the singer.
Only leaving this job and pursuing the band full time in 1994, after being asked to join Mötley Crüe on tour, it was at this point that the vocalist’s personal life began to descend out of control, with drug and alcohol abuse beginning to take its toll.
Following a self-proclaimed lifestyle of excess in all aspects, the health of Steele began to deteriorate. This escalated to the point where his lavish demands forced the other band members to only plan short-term events, out of fear for the vocalist’s fate.
One of the most prominent issues at the time came from the frontman’s dependency on alcohol. Whilst initially presumed to be derived from enjoyment, it later emerged that the addiction stemmed from Steele’s ongoing struggle with nerves and stage fright, an issue that he was never able to overcome.
Gradually evolving their sound as they drew larger audiences, Steele became set on proving that the band could accomplish more than a simple ‘Gothic’ sound.
Incorporating more grandiose aspects, the band’s discography began to dabble in genres including Hardcore, Thrash and Industrial Metal for the first time. Despite running the risk of losing their original fanbase, this risk paid off in excess and Type O Negative was seen as more diverse than many had initially given them credit for. Now, with an even wider audience, the band accelerated into a new level of success and sold over 2.5 million albums collectively.
However, in the time since he formed Type O Negative, Steele’s personal battles and excessive lifestyle seemed to go from bad to worse. Having already attempted suicide, posed nude for a 1995 edition of Playgirl, overdosed and faked his own death, by the mid-2000s it came as a shock to both fans and band members alike when the singer made a sudden, pivotal shift into sobriety.
Sober, optimistic and determined to lead Type O Negative into bigger and better things, for the first time, Steele was considering the long-term plans for the band. Enthusiastically writing new material for their upcoming eighth album and embracing his Roman Catholic roots, the band decided to follow in the footsteps of Mötorhead and aspired to leave a lasting legacy.
However in an act of tragic irony, despite this newfound enlightenment, the following year the frontman fell severely ill. Experiencing major health issues after contracting the flu, matters were only worsened by the stress caused by the ongoing illness of his pet cat. Then, suspected to have relapsed into alcoholism shortly after, Steele’s concerning lifestyle became rampant once more, leading to the singer suffering a fatal aortic aneurysm at his home on April 14th 2010.
Although writing extensive material for an upcoming album, the frontman left no written or audio recollection of the new tracks, leaving the band unable to pursue the release in his legacy.
Refusing to consider finding a new vocalist, Type O Negative disbanded almost immediately upon hearing the news of the frontman’s passing- proclaiming that the day Peter Steele died, the band died with him.
Now, over a decade since his death, the memory of the frontman is still prominent across the metal community. Inspiring a wave of new musicians and helping form the Gothic Metal genre, the full legacy of Steele still remains incomprehensible, with his impact on the scene set to last long after the band ended.
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