Formed in 2011 by Sal Abruscato, co-founder (with the late, great Peter Steele) of the gothic metal giant Type O Negative and drummer on many of Type O's most legendary releases like Bloody Kisses, A Pale Horse Named Death carries over many of that band's themes of gloom, doom and darkness... and death, obviously. Sal joined forces with Matt Brown, guitarist for Seventh Void, in a partnership he described as a “murdering evil version of Lennon and McCartney,” and the colossal result was the band's debut album And Hell Will Follow Me. Accompanied by an ominously beautiful art booklet created by acclaimed artist Sam Shearon (whose credits include illustrations for H.P. Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu and promo art for Rob Zombie and KISS), that record was a haunting showcase of low, heavy and horror-infused hard rock with a classic horror vibe.
While the lyrical themes were steeped in grand-scale horror imagery, Abruscato says the songs still "have a line to reality… things that could and do happen every day." In a way, that makes the music even more haunting. The sequel to that first cinematic experience, entitled Lay My Soul to Waste, just dropped this week, and I dare say it's even darker than its predecessor.
This band knows how to serve up a somber, shadow-cloaked mood with style – much like Type O always did, but where that band often dosed the recipe with bitter irony and deadpan satire, Pale Horse instead offer a richer, more cinematic atmosphere that pulls you into a collection of macabre tales. The intro/title track is case in point; it's nothing but back-masked incantations amid nocturnal forest sounds, and it'll make your flesh crawl. From there we march deeper into darkness with the beefy, coarse rhythms of "Shallow Grave," the first single and a truly stunning kickoff to the record (be sure to give it a spin at the end of this review). Sal's vocals fall in the middle range, setting them apart from Peter Steele's vampiric bass-baritone – and closer to those of another fallen rock hero, Alice in Chains' Layne Staley; they are tracked and treated in a similar style to both bands, giving the songs a gritty urgency, backed by dangerously heavy instrumentation.
The guitars whine menacingly in "The Needle in You,” in a serpentine time signature; when Sal delivers the line “I am Lucifer,” it's pretty damn convincing. Creepy tremolo effects and a crushing opening riff make "In the Sleeping Death" one of the doomiest tracks; that tremolo returns for "Cold Dark Mourning," played against clean guitars for a musical eulogy, and (in my mind, anyway) a fitting memorial for the legacies of Steele and Staley. Not surprisingly, a funereal vibe permeates most of this album; church organ lends a somber dirge feel to "Growing Old," and blends with guitar for one of my favorite hooks. Beginning appropriately enough with thunderstorm effects, the ominous "Day of the Storm" is much in the mode of down-tempo Type O dirges like “Haunted,” and the pensive acoustic guitar piece "Dead of Winter" is the most evocative of Alice in Chains, but with a ghostly edge all its own.
It's not all gloom and doom, suprisingly: a tough sleaze-rock vibe permeates "Killer by Night," thanks to bluesy double-tracked riffs and gravel-voiced verses, although it's ironed out by smooth vocal harmonies on the chorus; that gritty grind gets a kick in the ass with "Devil Came With a Smile," the most mischievous and fun song here, putting the band's own spin on the sell-your-soul scenario. "DMSLT" is a more straightforward rock track, but sports some mighty guitar chugs that keep the dark energy going.
I hate to keep drawing comparisons to other bands, but it's just too fitting to overlook... and I'm also saying it's a good thing: if you want to explore the same landscape of ominous, urgent tones and themes that Type O Negative and Alice in Chains charted so expertly, then I recommend you take a ride on this Horse. I'd also love to see a video or other visual accompaniment come out of this project, just to see Sam Shearon's amazing imagery brought to life alongside the music and let the story unfold further... but for now, we'll just have to unite those elements in our imaginations. Here's the track “Shallow Grave” to help get you started.