A Pale Horse Named Death wandered into doom metal’s brooding Asphodel Fields back in 2011. The poetically-named outfit was formed in New York by Sal Abruscato, a former drummer with Type O Negative, on the back of the collective outpouring of grief - and consequent dissolution of the band - following the tragic death of frontman Peter Steele. While Pale Horse’s offerings are suffused with all the moody, gothic broodiness the masters of doom were renowned for, Abruscato serves up his apocalyptic heavy metal with some smudged-eyed blues and a scattering of torrid scrapings from the dirtiest, darkest corners of grunge. Their singular offbeat style echoes with Type-O’s distinctive black melancholia, but Abruscato has moved to the fore to provide his syrupy, Brooklyn-twanged vocals and eliminated some of the more self-indulgent Steele traits to craft quite a different beast, toughened with a hide of catchy, hard-edged gothic rock.
This dedication to finding pastures new has paid off; Pale Horse have already trotted out two full-lengths that have been met with universal acclaim in their own right. Their latest album release, the glorious ‘When the World Becomes Undone’, has further cemented their uncommon sound. Perfect post break-up fare, the resulting playlist is all thorny beats, clashing cymbals and moody, sludgy riffs as the band plunge into a purgatory of their own skilful making.
Each song title betrays a preoccupation with death, despair and existential angst which sets the tone for the whole album, with such gems as ‘Die Alone’, ‘Shallow Grave’ and ‘End of Days’ in the mix, while ‘Vultures’ and ‘Lay With the Wicked’ anticipates the sinister spirit underlying the slightly more upbeat rock. The album begins with the band’s pre-released single, ‘When the World Becomes Undone’, tiptoeing in with soft, synthesised keyboard notes, before repetitive, flinty beats strike up and an overwhelming, spiralling wash of dirge riffs. The next few tracks really ramp up the hard rock, but while ‘Love the Ones You Hate’ and ‘Fell in My Hole’ are foot-tappingly catchy, the lyrics are weighty with Pale Horse’s familiar soul-searching self-analysis and anguish: “I tried to figure out what’s wrong with me… how did I end up with this hole inside of meeeeee…”
‘Vultures’ draws out rich seams of agonising hopelessness, while the deliberately artificial, drawn-out electric beats of ‘End of Days’, in the best tradition of doom, seem to emphasise the emptiness at the core of everything. The slow tempos of ‘We All Break Down’ create a sense of impending calamity, while ‘Lay with the Wicked’ focuses on the darker side of romance and throws in some ardent guitar solos. The album closes with the introspective ‘Dreams of the End’, deepening to sludgy, grunge-infused doom and highlighting the contrast from the earlier, buoyant rock.
The overall experience is akin to being taken on a journey deeper and deeper inside a black heart twisted with pain, and shows a band going from strength to strength. Unlike some other new ventures sprung from the ruins of former glories, A Pale Horse Named Death are no pale imitation. With ‘When the World Becomes Undone’, they have built on their already impressive achievements and continued to strike their own unique path into the night.
'When The World Becomes Undone' is out now on Long Branch Records