Sal Abruscato is best known for being the former drummer of metal legends Type O Negative and Life Of Agony, but after playing behind the kit for more than 30 years, he decided to embark on a mystical new journey.
Enter A Pale Horse Named Death, a gothic metal project he started in 2009. The band—which features vocalist/guitarist Sal Abruscato, guitarists Matt Brown and Eddie Heedles, drummer Johnny Kelly and new bassist Dave Bizzigotti—released their incredible debut album, And Hell Will Follow Me, in 2011. Experimental, relatable and utterly depressing, APHND picked up right where Type O sadly left off.
Gothic metal enthusiasts around the world have been raving about the quintet, which resulted in the band touring Europe after just one release. In May, they dropped Lay My Soul To Waste, an enthralling follow-up to And Hell Will Follow Me. They are now on a nationwide tour opening for legendary singer Glenn Danzig before heading back to Europe early next year.
I recently talked with Abruscato about Lay My Soul To Waste, his decision to move on from Life Of Agony, what to expect on the tour and how he started this project in the first place. The transcription is below:
It feels like Lay My Soul To Waste is really a continuation of And Hell Will Follow Me, but it seems even darker, more aggressive, and much more refined. Would you agree?
I would completely agree with that. That’s what we were going for. We wanted to do like, the next logical step in evolution, but still retain all the elements that people liked about the first record and not change too much, because a lot of bands with their sophomore records, sometimes they change too much and end up losing fans instead of gaining more fans that way. So we wanted to retain that sound from the first record, but just refine it with bigger production and, you know, explore certain elements with the newer songs, but not go too extreme where it just turns people off.
Was it harder trying to come up with new material this time around or was it easier since you started becoming more comfortable?
I kinda like, work all the time on material, so basically I had started the writing process, just with tracking ideas, in late 2010 actually, and so it was a couple years while And Hell Will Follow Me was doing its thing and my head was already on the title, the songs, and all that good stuff.
A perfect example of all that is actually I’ve been working on new song ideas for the next record already, so whenever I have a moment and I have a thought and it feels right, I’ll track an idea and just leave it alone for a little while and just accumulate melodies and stuff like that and title ideas and concept ideas as I’m going along so I’m not faced with that last minute task of, you know, like certain people might wait. Like, “I got the touring cycle ahead of me, the record just came out, I’m good for a couple years, I don’t have to think about a song.” And then all of a sudden when it’s time to go into the studio, when the record label says, “Well, the cycle’s kind of over, it’s time for a new record,” then they’re under the concept of, “Oh crap, I gotta blast out 10 songs.”
So I like having songs hang around for a while just so I can scrutinize and really decide if it’s up to par and whether it deserves to be on the record or not. Sometimes when you rush at the last minute, you end up throwing material on the record because you need to fill it up, and maybe that material might suffer or be lacking in certain ways because you didn’t have the time to really think about it and make the right decision if it is qualified to be on the record. You know what I mean?
And Hell Will Follow Me’s lyrical content seemed to focus primarily on destruction and drug abuse, but Lay My Soul To Waste takes that a step further with darkness, storms, depressing weather, etc. Did you pen these lyrics from a different place or in a darker environment this time around?
You know, these lyrics were actually written at my new home in upstate New York, where I’m surrounded with forests and wild animals and stuff like that, so when the weather gets foul over here, it can get more terrifying than when I lived in the city, for example, because it’s a little more intense, and that definitely caused an influence.
For example, the song “Day Of The Storm.” When Hurricane Irene hit us a few years back, I was sitting up in my studio, which is on top of my garage, and I was sitting up there during the storm and I was laying down drum ideas, and the song just invoked the material, the music, the vibe and the feeling and the lyrics, because it just felt very apocalyptic to me at that moment. The house was shaking and all that stuff. I actually began that song and wrote that song during that storm. A lot of the lyrical content ideas came to me and I already knew where that song was going to go.
And over the course of the year, finishing it and then recording it again, I was doing vocals for the song right before and after Hurricane Sandy, because Sandy was so bad I couldn’t even fool around being upstairs. I thought we were going to blow away, actually. That had more intense wind, more than water for us. So that song just rings true and what I’m talking about rings true about, you know… It just gave us the canvas we needed to create this apocalyptic type of song, the end of the world and things like that. But I just have a dark mind. I think no matter where I am, it’s not too hard for me to think of crazy thoughts and stuff, so yeah, that’s the difference.
The first record, I wrote it and did the lyrics when I was living in Queens, and then from Queens, I moved up here in 2010 and I knew I felt it, too. I was like, “You know what, this is a great environment to write because it’s silent. Also, there’s no city traffic with people out on the sidewalks. Here, there’s nobody.” And I have lots of 17th century cemeteries and stuff around me, and it’s cool. There’s some cool stuff in there. A lot of Civil War armies are stationed here. There’s a lot of hallowed ground areas, so it’s a little bit of a spooky vibe overall, even on a beautiful day.
The eighth track, “Devil Came With A Smile,” seems to be a direct stab at the music industry. Was there one thing in particular that triggered this or was it an accumulation of things?
Well, an accumulation of over the years, especially when we all started out young and we got fucked over and over, and over, and over. Obviously with age comes experience, so getting screwed is much more unlikely because you have experience and people know that you know what you’re talking about.
It’s kind of like that general spinoff of that crossroad type of vibe like Stevie Ray Vaughn’s version. Young guy wants to make it bad enough that he makes a deal with the devil and he goes up and then comes crashing down. And it has a lot of parallel lines with how the industry operates. You’re the flavor of the month and you’re doing good, they’re pumping you up, but then all of a sudden, they’ll do the next band that’s the flavor of the month and then you just get forgotten because they just go from one band to another.
And especially here in the United States, where people seem to be very disposable with music. It seems like especially with MP3s and stuff how people just chew right through bands and don’t really take the time to get to know them maybe, and just all the hardships bands go through when they do sign a bad deal with a manager or a label. To me, it’s a classic topic that has been going on since the beginning of the business, so yeah, I wouldn’t say it’s directly, specifically at anyone particularly, but it’s an overall compilation of the experiences from the early days of Type O to the past 20 years.
How long of a set are you expecting to have on this tour? Will you play primarily the new songs or ones from And Hell Will Follow Me as well?
Well, I know we are getting a 30-minute set, which to me, you know what, that’s fine. It’s long enough to make an impact on people opening up for somebody and we’re going to probably… I don’t know what the ratio will be, but there will definitely be a mixture of the new stuff and the old stuff. We’ll definitely try to keep it a little bit up-tempo because if we get into the slower songs, they’re kind of longer in time and so that would, you know, you play two slow songs and almost two-thirds of your set is done, so we want to just pretty much have more of the upside of energy and more of the upbeat side of the band performing those 30 minutes so we can get in at least six songs. Two or three from the first record, four or five from the new record. Maybe we’ll do a 50/50 ratio, but I think we’re also going to experiment and switch songs in and out based on reaction and how we feel, so what we may play on the first night of the tour may not be the same set a week later. But that’s the plan.
We know a lot of people don’t know who we are, we’re not well known here in the United States as compared to Europe, so they’re going to hear us and they’re just gonna think like… They’re not going to know what record these songs are from. To us, it’s great, so if we play a mixture of the stuff, they’re going to seek out both albums, and hopefully that results in some sales and downloads and stuff like that with the two records.
We never got to tour in the United States with the first record. It was just so new. We were so small that the funds just weren’t there to make it happen. Now that we’re kind of establishing more credibility, because, you know, a lot of people were saying, “Well, here we go, another one-album project by somebody from another band.” That was something I wanted to defeat and show that was not the case, so I think with the second record and now that we have an official video [“DMSLT”], I think it establishes more credibility that, “Hey, this could be a band that’s much more serious and looking to reinvent themselves and create a new career,” basically. I mean, that’s what this is really about.
I wasn’t cool with the way things were going to be finalized with Life Of Agony and I was like, “I’m not letting these guys be responsible for the end of my career, no way.” And I saw the writing on the walls and that’s why in 2009 I came up with this concept. Two years before the band disbanded, I knew. And I wanted to do music that I wanted to do. It was music that I could not bring into the room with those guys and I knew I had a lot of ideas and I said, “You know what, you better start just doing something different and see what happens.”
And again, I had no hope, but I was hoping in a way for this to happen so I can continue as an artist, because I wasn’t interested in playing drums for anyone else, neither. I didn’t want to join another band, play drums for them and be a chump back there. I did it for 30 years. It was like, time to just reinvent ourselves, give it a shot. It’s like a bucket list type of thing. I was going into my 40s, I had to change it up a little bit. Midlife crisis. I’m a singer now, hello (laughs). And that’s it.
I knew I had the ideas. I always wrote songs in the past. Like I’d written a couple songs for Life Of Agony and I always played guitar in the privacy of my own home and sang in my own home, but it just took a certain amount of time to get the knowledge, confidence and experience to say, “Alright, I’m ready to run this shit myself.”
What’s it mean to be touring with someone like Danzig?
I’m very excited. To me, Glenn Danzig is a legend. I mean, I was 18 years old listening to his first record when it came out and Misfits, of course, was a big impact on us back then when we were kids. I find it to be a huge honor and I have the utmost respect for him. I’m really excited and I think it’s actually a really good blend, you know. Like, I think that we fit with Danzig, so it’s very ideal and to start out in the United States as our first official tour, doing a tour of this caliber, I mean, really, I can’t ask for anything more right now. So I’m very excited and very happy about the situation, and we’re really looking forward to it.
A Pale Horse Named Death hit Roseland Ballroom on Oct. 18. Lay My Soul To Waste is available now through SPV/Steamhammer. For more information, go to apalehorsenameddeath.com.