Type O Negative’s Peter Steele: Nihilist. Pessimist. Masochist. Atheist.
A real glass-half-empty kind of guy.
Devout Roman Catholic.
Just when you thought you knew someone.
“We’ve been together so long that there’s nothing Peter can do that would shock me,” says the seemingly ever-deadpan Josh Silver, Type O Negative’s keyboardist and album producer, of Steele’s surprising spiritual conversion. “Probably the only thing he could do that would stun me at this point is to become normal.”
When you’ve known someone for 26 years and have toured across the world with them for 17—as Silver has with Steele and fellow Type O Negative bandmates Kenny Hickey (guitar) and Johnny Kelly (drums)—you’ve certainly gained a unique perspective. But it’s hard to imagine that even Silver would have envisioned some of the lyrical content that Steele presented for the band’s long awaited new disc, Dead Again, which was released in mid-March on SPV/Steamhammer Records, their first since departing the Roadrunner label. Of Dead Again’s 10 tracks, three—”The Profits of Doom,” “An Ode To Locksmiths” and the album’s centerpiece, “These Three Things” —contain direct references to biblical passages and themes. “These Three Things” even goes so far as to blatantly condemn abortion: “The child is torn from the womb unbaptised/There’s no question it’s infanticide… /At the end I’ll escort you to hell, the dark one’s forces lock your flaming cell/To murder the ones unborn, the worst sin you’ve ever performed.”
“I’m not going to tell you that I agree with all of the lyrics; I like a lot of the lyrics, though I couldn’t quite possibly ever agree with the moral message,” says Silver, noting that despite his Jewish heritage, he remains an atheist. “My concern is not necessarily with the views expressed in the lyrics, but with the quality and professional level of the lyrics. The lyrics for “Profits of Doom” [which deals with the Old Testament’s Book of Revelation and a coming apocalypse via the asteroid Apophis, which reportedly has a 1 in 45,000 chance of hitting the Earth in 2036—Ed.]—I don’t agree with them; but metaphorically, through the use of language, they’re very clever. Honestly, I’d rather deal with a guy whose views I don’t agree with than a guy who has no views. Probably 90 percent of music today is mediocre, view-less shit. Type O has always had opinions; sometimes they’re horrific, sometimes they’re depressed, but we’ll always have opinions.”
Type O Negative fans have their opinions as well and some are expressing their bewilderment—and even disappointment—with Steele’s conversion. In his typical matter-of-fact tone, Silver defends his friend.
“Peter is the writer of the lyrics, and he is entitled to have his opinion,” he says. “Every album has different messages, because different shit happens to you in your life. This time around, these are the messages. I know some of the fans are bitching about it, but hey, that’s life.”
But what is so unusual about Peter Steele, Type O Negative’s mouthpiece, becoming Roman Catholic? Don’t people convert to new religions every day? In order to understand why Steele’s resolve has shocked so many, a bit of context is in order.
THE ORIGINS OF THE NEGATIVE
As the 1970s came to a close and disco (thankfully) began to die its polyester ensconced, cocaine fueled, sequin encrusted death, a Brooklyn-based metal band by the name Fallout formed to little fanfare. Four teenagers—Steele, Silver, John Campos and Louie Beato—bashed their way through three years of gigs and one EP before the quartet called it quits in 1982.
Remaining friends, Silver went on to form the band Original Sin, while Steele launched the three-piece metal-meets-hardcore-punk act, Carnivore. Though little is known of Original Sin’s history, Carnivore achieved a strong cult following within New York City’s underground metal scene in the mid-1980s. If pummeling songs like “Jesus Hitler,” “Male Supremacy,” “Race War” and “Sex and Violence” didn’t warrant the band’s status as one of the most brutal on the NYC circuit, their unabashedly violent, politically incorrect lyrics did.
“You gang raped mother nature/blood poured from the earth/she suffered and she died/rusty scissors still in hand you castrated father time/feed his balls to the hounds that drink his cum like wine,” exclaims Steele in the Carnivore track, “God is Dead.” Tongue-in-cheek? More like a bitten and bloodied tongue spewing venom at various targets, including societal ills, organized religion, and anything or anyone else—including himself—that drew Steele’s ire.
Despite the modest success that Carnivore enjoyed, the band folded after just two albums. Steele relinquished his bass guitar and traded it in for gardening tools, as he began a stint working for the New York City Parks Department. But just as another era of music was about to close— this time, it was hair metal’s turn to exit stage left— Silver lured Steele into another band, this time with childhood pals Kenny Hickey and Sal Abruscato. While they toyed with such names as Subzero and Repulsion, the band eventually dubbed themselves—you guessed it—Type O Negative, a moniker that has proven to be appropriate throughout the band’s history in sound, style and attitude.
Albums such as 1991’s Slow, Deep and Hard, 1993’s Bloody Kisses, 1996’s October Rust and 1999’s World Coming Down waxed and waned between hardcore metal, synth-driven goth, straight up rock and bludgeoning doom, all woven together to produce a truly unique formula. Lyrically, Steele enjoyed employing his sarcastic and biting sense of humor at the familiar targets. The most glaring example of this can be seen in what may very well be one of the band’s biggest “hits,” Bloody Kisses’ “Christian Woman.” In this nine-minute epic, Steele’s lyrics vividly portray a woman who is sexually infatuated (and that’s putting it mildly) with the image of Jesus Christ on the cross. But all’s well that ends well— Steele is able to gain the woman’s affections because, as he puts it, “Jesus Christ looks like me.” Blasphemy be damned.
On this and other albums, tracks like “We Hate Everyone,” “Kill All the White People,” “Everything Dies,” “All Hallows Eve,” “World Coming Down” and “Unsuccessfully Coping With the Natural Beauty of Infidelity” (aka “I Know You’re Fucking Someone Else”) touched on such, shall we say, “less-than-Christian” topics as suicide (Steele attempted it), infidelity, Halloween, paganism, atheism and substance abuse.
But in the past few years, two of these lyrical themes may have provided the impetus for Steele’s role reversal. After learning that his girlfriend had cheated on him, Steele reportedly beat the guy badly enough that he was forced to endure a brief stint at New York’s Rikers Island prison. At around the same time, Steele entered a rehab facility for his cocaine and alcohol addiction, and also spent some time in the psych ward at the Kings County Hospital. Dead Again’s “Some Stupid Tomorrow” seems to sum up the experience: “I can’t play god, forgiveness is hard/Punching in walls to prove I’ve got balls only got me busted knuckles/Therapy is slow, and jail is a no, a rotting tit on which I suckle.” Sunday mass became Steele’s elixir.
Still, as is clearly evident on Dead Again, while the some of the lyrics may be different, the band’s signature musical style remains blessedly intact.
“He’s still angry and neurotic,” muses Silver, adding, “now he’s just an angry, neurotic Catholic.”
THE DEAD AGAIN DEMOCRACY
Upon first listen, Dead Again appears to showcase the familiar and successful Type O formula. But although it may be subtle, there are, in fact, two major differences between Dead Again and almost any other Type O Negative disc. First, unlike all previous Type O efforts, Steele did not walk into the studio with completed songs. Instead, the album took on a “jam” vibe as the band actually wrote the songs in the studio collaboratively. This approach has given Dead Again a separate identity in the Type O catalogue, one that Silver admits was lacking with their last studio effort, 2003’s Life is Killing Me.
“Life is Killing Me was like the summation of all our previous works, but it did lack its own identity,” says Silver. “But (Dead Again) has that. It has more of an early ‘70s, late ‘60s hard rock edge; it’s a little more jammy. After having put out so much material in our lives, we left things a little more open-ended this time. We had less of a definitive idea going into the studio; as it turns out, it was kind of a good thing to do. So (Dead Again) is a little closer to hard rock and classic rock. I hate to use that term “classic rock” because it makes me sound old. But I am fuckin’ old, so that’s life.”
The second major difference involves drummer Johnny Kelly— actually, the fact that Dead Again involves Johnny Kelly is the difference. For the first time since 1993’s Bloody Kisses, Type O Negative utilized live drums in the album’s recording process. On the last three Type O CDs, the drums were actually programmed in the studio and allowed no room for creativity from Kelly, who joined the band in 1994. On Dead Again there are several tracks, such as “Tripping a Blind Man,” “Halloween in Heaven,” “Some Stupid Tomorrow” and the catchy title track, that seem to be set up by Kelly’s up-tempo beats.
“I’m not going to contribute all of (the direction of Dead Again) to the live drums, but it did bring in an element that pushed things in a direction that was good; the songs became a little more upbeat sounding,” says Silver, though alluding to the notion that he may have liked some of Dead Again to contain more of the “doom” elements that Type O has become known for over the years. “Ultimately, I think it’s just harder to play slower (with a live drummer); it’s harder for a “live” drummer to pull (the tempo) back to something that’s just so slow … which I missed also, songs like “White Slavery” [from World Coming Down], which is one of the most brutal songs we’ve ever done in our lives. I want to die when I hear it. And I like that.”
While certain facets of Type O’s world have changed on Dead Again, Silver’s substantial contributions remain the same. Along with producing every aspect of the recording process, Silver’s keyboard work, though perhaps more subtle on Dead Again than past efforts like October Rust, is nevertheless a key component to the quartet’s sound. Silver’s skills are showcased most obviously on “September Sun,” a rare ballad (of sorts) and disc highlight; yet on other tracks, he challenges the traditional definition of “keyboard player.”
“On October Rust, for example, a lot of the stuff that people think is keyboards is guitars and the stuff that people think is guitars is keyboards,” says Silver. “It doesn’t really matter what instrument does what for us; we use every instrument every way we can, and we don’t really worry about who’s doing what as long as the vibe gets through and the feeling gets across. Even a song like “These Three Things,” those leads at the end are keyboards and not guitar. There is no set job for any instrument, at least in the traditional sense. Even in some fully distorted parts, there’s some keyboard in there. It just has distortion all over it. The keyboards (on Dead Again) are less obvious. But in a rock environment, we do what feels normal. We use anything we can do to put it across.”
START THE ENGINGES ON THE ROAD MACHINE
After more than three years off from touring, the band finally hit the road in late March 2007 to support Dead Again. Silver readily acknowledges that Type O Negative would not be where they are today without the constant touring they’ve done throughout their career, especially in their earlier days supporting Bloody Kisses and October Rust with such acts as Ozzy and Pantera, and their thousands of headlining dates around the world. Though Silver suggests with indignation that the record industry is a “dead industry”—adding that he prefers the studio to the road— he accepts the fact that it’s the grueling tour schedule that has kept Type O Negative thriving for almost two decades. It also gives the band the opportunity to play songs from Dead Again live, which Silver explains is more challenging than most might think.
“There’s a lot of technical bullshit involved in putting a song together (to play live); I have to retrieve samples and put them into foot pedals so I can play them on tour,” says Silver, noting that the band is currently playing three tracks from Dead Again, “These Three Things,” “Halloween in Heaven” and “Profits of Doom”, at each show “It’s a bitch to get them ready. We may try to put some other new songs into the set, but it will mean that I’ll have to spend a lot of time at soundcheck trying to get them ready and incorporate them in. And it really interferes with my drinking.”
All kidding aside, Silver also acknowledges the challenge Type O Negative has of putting together a set list that both they and their fans will be satisfied with. And with six full studio albums to choose from—many of which have very long songs—it becomes an even greater challenge with each tour. The reality is, not everyone will be happy. And Silver isn’t— at least with the inclusion of one song in particular.
“Can we play a Type O show and not play “Black No. 1” [from Bloody Kisses, perhaps the band’s biggest single—Ed.]? To be honest, I’d like to,” admits Silver. “I’m fucking sick to shit of that song. Do fans expect it? The rest of the band seems to think so. Me, I would love to leave it out. I would be delighted if I didn’t have to play “Black No. 1″ for the rest of my life.”
Which leads to the next, obvious questions: Is there one song that Silver could ever see the band not playing live? And are there some songs that he’d love to play but, for whatever reason, the band cannot?
“One song I would never not want to play is “Christian Woman,” because even though “Black No. 1” may have been the more popular choice off of Bloody Kisses, I think “Christian Woman” is a much better written song in my mind,” says Silver. “There are a few songs that are brutal that I’d love to play; songs like “Prelude to Agony” [from Slow, Deep and Hard]. But that’s 12 minutes of dirge; you’d kill people with that song. Actually, my dream is to come out and do a set that injures people sonically. They’re on their knees, begging us to stop playing—but we lock the doors so they can’t get out.”
Thanks to Josh for taking the time to chat with Dread Central! For more information on Type O Negative, be sure visit their official website or their MySpace page. And don’t miss them on their latest tour, dates for which can be found at both locations!