“I’m basically re-launching a new career,” admits Sal Abruscato in regard to his new band A PALE HORSE NAMED DEATH. The Brooklyn, NY native is best known as the original drummer for TYPE O NEGATIVE, having played on their first three albums: Slow, Deep And Hard, Origin Of The Feces, and the groundbreaking Bloody Kisses. After departing “The Drab Four,” Sal sat behind the kit on four LIFE OF AGONY releases: River Runs Red, Ugly, River Runs Again Live, and Broken Valley – after which he essentially disappeared from music.
Now, having regrouped with sound engineer and SEVENTH VOID guitarist Matt Brown, Sal is poised for a triumphant return. On June 14th, SPV/Steamhammer will release the debut album from A Pale Horse Named Death titled, And Hell Will Follow Me. This 13-track opus heralds a new chapter for Sal as it marks his first foray into playing guitar and singing lead vocal.
Sal began his exclusive interview with BraveWords.com by explaining his five year absence. “Yeah, that was due to Life Of Agony’s inactivity. The band stopped touring full-time; not by my choice but things changed a lot after the last record. So I was just kind of hanging in limbo, and that was one of the catalysts in me saying it’s time to do something on my own. Do something different, do what I like, do it my way and do it for myself first and foremost. It’s frustrating when you’re hanging on a bunch of guys, you’re just part of something and not in full control of your destiny. In January 2009, I was pondering the idea of writing a record, with no high hopes.”
Those musings led to Sal taking a page from Dave Grohl’s book as the former NIRVANA drummer became a frontman, leading FOO FIGHTERS. Sal has since achieved the same transformation. “I kind of always wanted to do it. I’d pondered it for years; I wanted to switch it up. I’ve been a drummer for 30 years; I’m going to give it a shot. The way I looked at it was, I’m going to do this record, I’m going to write this music, I’m going to create these melodies and lyrics… how I see the world and how I feel. My first step, I looked at it like, let’s track the vocals; let me give it a shot recording-wise. Then you have this whole other aspect of going up there live, which, you’re in front of people and you’re putting your heart on your sleeve. You’re opening yourself up to tomatoes being thrown at you. You’re putting yourself out there. The transformation was, I got one life; I see my friends dying here and there, I’m going to give it a shot. If people like it, awesome! If people don’t, I tried. Really, that was my attitude. Music is a very tough business, it’s very fickle. There’s millions and millions of bands trying to go somewhere… I just did what I did. It wasn’t contrived. The next thing you know, there was interest and I was stoked! It seems like it’s been on a steady incline since the day I finished recording. It’s nice – slow and steady – no flash in the pan, building real fans is cool.”
The band moniker, A Pale Horse Named Death, is also a lyric in ‘When Crows Descend Upon You’. “I threw it in there just to have the band’s name somewhere on the record.” It also has a Biblical connotation to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the Book of Revelation – “I looked, and there was a pale horse. His rider’s name was Death.” According to Sal, “It all started in January 2009 when I was already tinkering with the idea, recording stuff on my computer. I was watching The History Channel, about The Revelations. I always find that kind of stuff pretty interesting, I like watching educational TV. So I’m watching it, I’m laying there by myself, they’re talking about Pestilence and The Four Horsemen and how the one revelation when the end of the world is coming is Death comes in riding on a pale horse and Hell followed him, all that stuff. I just twisted it up in my head; it was one of those blah moments late at night – A Pale Horse Named Death. I didn’t even verbalize it, I just thought of it. It was like I got hit over the head with a hammer; it stuck with me. A year before I even completed the album, I believed that it was such a great name I got it tattooed on my collar bone across my neck. I got it tattooed over in Denmark; that was when I had just begun going through some rough stuff – divorce and all that. I knew the name was super original; the saying is of course Biblical, but the play on words I knew was original. When I did the abbreviation of APHND, it just rolls off the tongue. And the fact that there’s five syllables, all the great bands that I’ve been in, their names are five syllables (Type O Neg-a-tive, Life Of Ag-on-y). I’m kind of superstitious in certain things, so I just went with it. Everybody I told it to thought it was an awesome name. And it fits the darkness that I like to exhibit and talk about and write about, this whole global depression of everyone’s misery.”
The aforementioned “rough stuff” Sal experienced during the making of this album included a divorce and the death of Type O Negative vocalist/bassist Peter Steele, who passed away on April 14th, 2010 from heart failure - two monumental events that undoubtedly affected the final product. “It was no holds barred as far as doing anything experimental. Even the intermission in the middle of the record, ‘Bad Dream’, it’s not a song, it’s just a thought. I was having nightmares and stuff; these things just compounded – the darkness and the emotion came out on the record. I was doing vocals when Peter died. I thought of him every time I was doing vocals, even saying to him, ‘hey, back me up today.’ Doing vocals is a tough job, especially when recording, you’re doing 100 takes. The angst and the anger that was coming from the whole nonsense I was going through with the ex-(wife) definitely fueled a very dark, emotional moment that goes on from beginning to end on that record.”
An added attraction for Type O Negative fans is that the live incarnation of A Pale Horse Named Death features Johnny Kelly on drums – both Type O Negative drummers in the same band. “Yeah it’s awesome! Johnny wanted to be a part of it. It’s pretty neat and nostalgic for the fans who get to come and see the two drummers from Type O Negative up on stage together rocking out and having a good time. I have so much fun with these guys.” APHND is rounded out by bassist Eric Morgan and BIOHAZARD guitarist Bobby Hambel. “I feel like I’m 18 years old again. When you’re in a mundane situation and you’re just dragging your butt, it’s like alright, here we go, 20 years of baggage. When you’re in a fun, new situation where everyone has the same attitude, we have a blast. And because we have a blast, we get so much work done. When we rehearse, we’ll rehearse for three hours straight. There’s no reason to stop playing, everyone’s having a great time. There’s a newfound respect ‘cause it’s not the drummer vs. drummer bullshit.”
“I feel for the Type O Negative fans because Peter just dropped. No one expected it, but in a way we did expect it personally – the band members and people who were close to him because he led a crazy lifestyle in the last ten years. But for the Type O fans, all of a sudden it was just boom! They were already waiting for how many years for a new record? A long time had gone by since Dead Again (released in 2007). They had their hopes high, they were just getting their shit together, they were just going to get a deal and Peter was moving back to New York. He was talking to me, literally up to three weeks before he passed away because he wanted me to play in CARNIVORE with him. He wanted to do a little tour, a nostalgic thing. So we were talking about that and then all of a sudden – it hit everybody out of left field. I’ll tell you one thing, I’m honored that so many Type O fans are liking what I’m doing; those are my roots. I don’t want anyone to ever say or think that I’m the replacement or anything like that as far as Type O Negative. Maybe it’s just some cool new music that the fans can get into, just to get them through it. By no means, no one can ever replace that. I just happen to come from that circle. I learnt a lot of my music from Peter, I learnt how to play guitar and compose from Peter. It’s kind of like my tribute more than anything else.”
Lyrically, Sal doesn’t hold anything back. ‘Heroin Train’ is particularly striking, yet Abruscato is quick to point out, “I never banged it or anything like that. That actually goes back to the early ‘90s when we used to hang out in Alphabet City (in Manhattan), there was Tompkins Square Park that was home to a lot of junkies. In that park, you’d see cardboard houses with park animals running around them. People strung out; doing anything they’ve got to do, even pimping out their girlfriends to get drugs. Downtown was basically a few blocks over where you could get your heroin. It also ties into the fact that one friend of mine, who was actually the singer of a band called SUPERMASSIV that me and Matt Brown had back in 2002, he was a junkie. He died of a heroin overdose. Then the other scenario is of knowing Keith (Caputo, singer of Life Of Agony)’s father who OD’d. Just the experiences… but thank God I never got strung out on any of that stuff. I snorted it once or twice when I was a kid, that’s about it.”
‘Serial Killer’ will ensure And Hell Will Follow Me receives the explicit lyrics sticker: “Hey little girl won’t you get in my van?” That’s just slightly disturbing. “Yeah, it’s the fucking truth though. You put on Investigation Discovery and you watch these criminal stories about these real guys, the whole pedophiliac scene. I remember when I was a kid going to school, they used to say, ‘Watch out for the man with the van’ and things like that in the ‘70s. It’s basically a story that unfortunately has repeated itself over and over in reality because there’s a lot of sick, sick people out there who have a lot of serious issues. We’d watch these stories and I was always kind of fascinated by serial killers – it takes a lot of balls to do the follow through. And what’s going through that guy’s head at that moment? What makes him tick? What’s making him not stop at the last minute and murder someone in cold blood? It’s just insane. What went wrong in that brain? What’s off kilter? That always fascinated me. When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, we had Son of Sam (David Berkowitz). I remember my mother was terrified because something had happened not too far from where we lived. She wouldn’t let me outside and all this crazy stuff. We were living through that whole scary summer of ’77. Those things stuck with me from when I was a kid. If someone has a problem or someone finds it offensive, oh well. It’s a story. It’s just like going to the movies. But it’s a taboo and I like to push buttons. It was like when MARILYN MANSON put out Antichrist Superstar (in 1996), everyone was freaking but you know something, it’s the biggest record of his career. It sold millions because it pushed buttons and it was taboo. And the rebellious gravitate toward that. I’m sure there’ll be some flak here and there about stuff like that, but hey, freedom of speech. Whatever is left of our freedom in this country, I’m going to try to take advantage of.”
The vinyl version contains a bonus track, ‘Pick Up Truck’. “That’s another one,” cackles Sal. “That’s about a repeat offender that drinks and drives and kills people with his shotgun. Basically, he’s out driving his truck, he’s drunk, he comes home and sees his woman in bed with another guy, so he shoots them in the fucking face – that’s the chorus. Then in the bridge, he says I live on the run from time to time. He can’t control his temper so he’s got to take off. Then what happens? He does it again. It’s got a sense of humor and when SPV was asking for a bonus track, this was something that was already 70% recorded and ready because I had recorded a lot of material for the first record. ‘Pick Up Truck’ is really out there, it’s a fucking nut job song and sure enough SPV loved it. It’s one of those songs that I think every redneck in the country is going to love. Every dude with a pick up truck and a shotgun on a rack is going to blast this song while he’s going to the bar. Sometimes simplicity and hitting bare bones with your lyrics, it’s not like I’m taking myself super seriously, gets to people and they see the human side to you. It’s a good song and it’s a great riff. I actually can’t wait for people to hear that and see what they think.”