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Tuesday January 23rd 2018

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In Memory of Peter Steele, 1962-2010

Brooklyn native and longtime icon of New York City’s metal scene, Petrus Ratajczyk–better known by his stage name Peter Steele–passed away just last Wednesday, April 14, at age 48. Back in 2005, a similar report concerning Steele’s “death” caused something of a sensation, and only months later was the public informed that it was merely a gag meant to celebrate Type O Negative‘s split with Roadrunner Records (a label that the band particularly detested doing business with). But this time around, make no mistake about it: Peter Steele really is dead. The cause of death has since been determined to be heart failure, making this abrupt passing somewhat reminiscent of another metal legend, Quorthon, who died in 2004.

Steele first gained recognition during the mid-80′s with the metal/hardcore/satire band, Carnivore, which he worked on following his shifts for the New York City Department of Sanitation. Early on when the eponymous debut was released, Steele and the band went for a Manowar-inspired, absolutely over-the-top image that included armor, animal pelts, and flinging chunks of raw meat at audiences; even at this juvenile stage, though, Steele demonstrated a remarkable ear for songwriting, weaving in complex melodies in places that the listener would least expect. Carnivore’s shining moment would come with their sophomore release, Retaliation: an even more aggressive album that expanded upon the hardcore punk technique (tellingly, Steele and drummer Louis Beato contributed material for Agnostic Front’s Cause for Alarm) whilst shaking off a lot of the goofiness, successfully amping the causticity of their brand of black humor–with songs like “Race War” and “Jesus Hitler”, Steele and the gang were really giving the Stormtroopers of Death a run for their money in the realm of political incorrectness.

Carnivore would break up not long after putting out the second album, but they would play a few reunion shows over the next two decades. Steele then concentrated on his new gothic metal band, Type O Negative, which needless to say became his most famous and longest-running project. The debut album was composed of pieces of leftover Carnivore songs enhanced with keyboard harmonizing, and played at doomy tempos that quoted some other depressive New York City bands: Swans, and Winter. With 1993′s Bloody Kisses, though, Steele had hit upon what is widely considered to be Type O Negative’s trademark sound: synth-heavy, multimovement ballads with pronounced melodic sensibilities that found Steele largely abandoning his roaring rebukes in favor of a bassy croon. Subsequent albums would follow this paradigm to great commerical success, cementing the band’s status as the premier gothic metal outfit as well as promoting the strikingly-featured, nearly 7-foot tall Steele to something of an underground celebrity.

With Steele’s passing, the New York metal circle and Brooklyn especially has lost one of its most prominent figureheads. Perhaps the best way for all of us to pay tribute is by revisiting the legacy he has left behind:

Carnivore: “Technophobia” (in the spirit of the occassion, the motif from Chopin’s “Funeral March” appears at 1:32)

Type O Negative: “Everything Dies”

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