If you are like so many music fans, you probably haven't heard of Peter Steele. But you've probably made fun of him. He was a mess of long hair, muscle, and baritone. He had tattoos coloring his shoulders and covered most of his 6'7" frame in black denim or cloth. His band was named after a blood type and he wrote mostly about death and destruction.
He may not have appealed to you, but he--and his band Type O Negative--serviced his mostly teenage male audience as few others have. The band sold scores of records, including 1993's platinum-selling Bloody Kisses, all while speaking solely to the makeup-streaked, black-hair-dye-and-angst set. Steele was Twilight Metal before Twilight Metal even existed. If only for style's sake, without Steele, there is no Hatebreed, AFI, or probably My Chemical Romance.
Steele died this week of apparent heart failure at age 48. Born Petrus T. Ratajczyk in New York in 1962, Steele found himself in metal and thrash bands in New York's seminal 1980s metal scene. Steele eventually steered Type O Negative as its singer, bass player, and main songwriter through its six albums.
Heavy metal in all its forms, more than any other type of popular rock, conjures a state of perpetual adolescence. Steele was, in many ways, this concept personified. When asked by their label to put together a live record, Type O Negative simply recorded an album and overlaid crowd noise. Not surprisingly, they named the record The Origin of the Feces and took a photo Steele's behind as the album cover. The label was not pleased at this adolescent prank and changed the cover. Type O Negative's first studio album, 1993's Slow, Deep and Hard, featured a cover depicting the point of sexual penetration, slightly pixilated out. Steele was not uncomfortable with his nudity, as he would later pose nude for Playgirl magazine.