Peter Steele was a giant in the metal world, both physically and metaphorically. The Type O Negative frontman stood at 6 feet 8 inches tall, and delivered epic gothic metal anthems that made him seem twice that height. Sadly, he left this world on April 14th, 2010, at the young age of 48.
Hailing out of Brooklyn, New York, Steele’s metal career dated back to 1979, when he formed the band Fallout with future Type O Negative keyboardist Josh Silver. A few years later, Fallout broke up, and Steele formed the thrash metal band Carnivore, who released two albums in the 1980s. During that time, Steele also co-wrote several songs on Agnostic Front’s 1986 album Cause for Alarm.
Following the breakup of Carnivore, Steele formed Type O Negative, a gothic metal band that combined the power of Black Sabbath with the haunting overtones of Bauhaus. It’s with Type O Negative that Steele became the stuff of legend.
After their first two albums — Slow, Deep, and Hard (1991) and Origin of the Feces (1992) — Type O Negative hit it big with their third LP, 1993’s Bloody Kisses, which featured the standout “Black No. 1” and went on to achieve platinum status. The band would continue to amass legions of fans up until Peter’s death in 2010, releasing a total of seven studio albums over their 20-year career.
While Steele may have appeared as an intimidating and dark figure, longtime Type O Negative drummer Johnny Kelly recalled a different side of the frontman in the book Survival of the Fittest: Heavy Metal in the 1990s (by author and Heavy Consequence writer Greg Prato). In remembering his bandmate, Kelly shared his thoughts on Steele as follows:
Johnny Kelly: I always said my impression of Peter was he wanted to be a normal person really bad…but he couldn’t! [Laughs] Given the nature of how he looked and what he did, but he really just wanted to be a regular guy. Like, I remember before I joined the band, he was working for the Parks Department and I was working for the Post Office — I was a mailman. I’d see him in the rehearsal studios and we’d sit there and just talk about things like health benefits, and “How many days off do you get?” He wasn’t really into sports too much, but we did make him come to the bar with us when the Rangers advanced to the Stanley Cup [in 1994]. At the time, there were a few of us on the crew, we were all big hockey fans. I’m a diehard Rangers fan. So when the Rangers were about to go to the Cup, they were playing the Devils in game seven [of the Eastern Conference Finals], and it went into overtime. A few of us went to a bar across the street from the club we were playing. And we were like, “Peter, you’ve got to come watch this. I know you don’t like hockey, but you’ve got to come watch this game with us!”
But he could never step out of his house without some kind of crazy shit happening to him. I would talk to him, and he was like, “Listen to this. You know what happened to me today?” And it would be the craziest story. I would be like, “Peter, you’ve got to write a book one day, because these things don’t happen to normal people.” Seriously, he would go, “I just had to go to the corner store for something, and this is what happened just now.” He never really wanted the “rock star life.” He totally would have been content just working for the city, doing his time, and retiring. But then, after a while, he got “acclimated” – his troubles are pretty well documented. But other than that, he was pretty easygoing.
He told me he got mugged one night! He got mugged up the block from his house. A lot of stuff happened to him when he was just going to the store on the corner. He didn’t venture far away from his house. He was always in his neighborhood. He’d go hang out with other friends and the bars that he went to – he always stayed local. He said he saw this gorgeous Russian girl, and he walked up to her, and Peter had “game” — women were attracted to him. He said he walked up to this girl, and he was just about to say something to her, and she just turned around to him and said, “Don’t even think about it,” and walked away from him! [Laughs] His troubles got in the way of him really reaching his full potential. But he was always a practical joker. Really just the opposite of how he was portrayed. Type O Negative was an outlet to let him be something different than what he was.
With Type O Negative’s success also came problems for Steele, including developing a substance addiction and serving a 30-day jail term. Ultimately, he passed away at the age of 48 from an aortic aneurysm, resulting in the surviving members opting to end the band. A decade after this passing, Steele’s influence is still felt – as he is often credited as being one of the founders of the “goth metal” style.
Such artists as Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia and HIM’s Ville Vallo have cited Steele as a major influence, with Vallo saying in a 2016 editorial for Metal Hammer, “Type O Negative were able to create this really odd combination. They had such dry humor, and at the same time were kind of spooky and kind of fun … Peter Steele is one of my icons, full stop. Through his music he was experimenting, trying to find the perfect balance between something really pretty, something really melancholy, and something really heavy-hitting.”
Few figures in the history of metal were as imposing and unforgettable as Type O Negative’s larger-than-life frontman. Peter Steele, RIP.