Sal Abruscato Still Influenced by ’90s Accomplishments on New A Pale Horse Named Death Album
A Pale Horse Named Death mastermind Sal Abruscato was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. The former Type O Negative and Life of Agony drummer explained how he still draws from his experiences dating back to the early '90s when writing new material, which he's had plenty of time to focus on amid the pandemic.
Infernum in Terra marks the fourth full length from the band, though Abruscato has suggested that another new record may not be far behind is touring does not look feasible and if he remains at home over the coming winter as the pandemic continues to impact the lives of everyone worldwide.
Read the full chat below.
Your lyrics touch on the balance between darkness and light. Musically, what conveys that sense of balance, especially on the new album?
It's just my focus on things of a dark nature and death. I strongly believe that if you believe in God, you have to believe in the devil — for there to be light, there has to be darkness. Whether people want to call it a God or a devil, it's the yin and the yang of the universe — we need to have both to have balance.
I'm always fascinated with these subjects and it's just a quirk of mine. I always look at it as something good is going on and I look at the opposite side and something bad is going on.
I look at the opposite side in a nutshell and maybe it has a lot to do with my Catholic upbringing. Having parents from Europe, I really had that instilled in me as a child and then I kind of rebelled against all of that.
You started working on this record as the pandemic took hold of the world. How did that global impact change the course and message of the album?
Just like anybody, it impacted me quite a bit.
Infernum In Terra in Latin means 'Hell on earth' and I really felt this is what the world was going through. At the same time, we were approaching the 10 year anniversary of our first album, And Hell Will Follow Me, so there was a lot of correlation with all that.
The media, the hype, the death, everyone being shut down, people being financially interrupted or hitting destitution and despair... I found myself alone and I saw it as a perfect opportunity to retreat and work in the studio. I've always been at the helm of recording [and I perform] 90 percent of the instruments on all these records.
I started aggressively sketching and took some time off. Then, in the fall of 2020, I reopened everything again and wrote like the latter half of the record — about three or four songs fell out in October and November.
For me, lyrically, [it was rooted in] depression, sadness, or people losing loved ones due to this virus [which] affected some people, but [not others] — it depended on your physical being and condition if you were healthy or not [editor's note: COVID-19 can also negatively impact healthy individuals].
It really destroyed the industry, especially for the musicians that were relying on somewhat of an income and living off of this business.
I have tons of friends who were contemplating suicide sitting at home and it was time to do the record. Normally, I take a lot longer in between records, but I've been itching to work on another record this winter because I'm going to be sitting at home again and touring is still an issue. It just correlates with all the bad things that are going on and the record doesn't touch directly on the pandemic, but it definitely relates to it in a depressing way.
A Pale Horse Named Death, "Reflections of Death"
The record is rooted in the same style as the first three records, but sonically, it sounds a bit different. Why was it important to evolve how your music will be heard?
I felt it was time for change. I completely engineered and produced this record myself in my studio and I tend to get a little bit bored sometimes. It was important, being the fourth record, to change things a little bit artistically and sonically.
I did get a little more influenced by doom bands that I've gotten into the last few years, so that had a bit of an impact on me. I'm going towards being even slower and darker and I wanted to approach things with more diversity instrumentally. There has always been a little bit of piano here and there on all the records, but this record seems to have a lot more composed piano.
I brought in percussive stuff. Tubular Bells kind of became my thing — it reminds me of church and it seems natural to have those elements on the record.
I didn't change the sounds too much, but the guitar got grittier. I feel it's important to retain your root elements with a bit of something fresh because people can get bored. I figured I'd take a chance and change it up a little bit — throw a little extra pepper and salt in what we're making. I like being a little different, but not to stray too far because I don't want the fans to be like, "Oh, it sounds too different, they sold out."
I'm into fuzzbox and a lot of retro sounds and we ran everything through old analog tubes to contain that warmth that you would hear in an early '80s or early '70s record versus being completely digitized and sounding too perfect.
I allowed feedback to happen — just a rawness that sounds like you're in the room with me. It feels real and natural versus being too polished and slick like like a pop record. I don't want to be perfect. I'm okay with variances, a little bit of droning or feedback or noise.
A Pale Horse Named Death, "Shards of Glass"
Before A Pale Horse Named Death, you were in Life of Agony and Type O Negative. As a musician, what has changed most about you over the course of your career with different bands?
I got older and definitely much more seasoned as a musician and a writer. Like anything, you become better with age. There's so much young talent that's just bursting out there right now. Time, although it works against you, as a musician, time also gives you wisdom and knowledge through experience of doing record after record.
I'll do a record now and I'll recall moments of sitting in the studio with [Type O Negative keyboardist] Josh Silver, picking up the ideas from his techniques or the exposure of how he picked up an instrument and we would write. These are the things that get locked away in the vault in the back of my mind and when it's time to write something, I'll go back to something or I'll pull a trick that I learned a long time ago out of a bag.
You only gain these things through experience and being in the scene. Unfortunately though, time isn't on my side because we're getting older and it gets harder to have the ability to be out there. You have more responsibilities, a family and other things that pull you in different directions. It's a trade off.
I have no regrets. I've learned amazing things and I could say I've been part of a couple of monumental records that have gone down in history and long after I'm gone, like for the rest of us, people will go back to those records and say, "Wow, those guys were off the hook. They were onto something amazing the early '90s."
The wisdom and experience only adds to that next record I do. The best thing you can do is learn from it and retain that in your memory and utilize it to the best of your ability to make good music, even in the future. Despite [the inability to tour] the beauty of having this in my home is I can continue. If they shut us down again, which is possible, maybe I'm going to sit here and make another record.
I know I can keep writing music, which is going to be a blessing as I get older. I feel fortunate to be around the people I was in the '90s and all the experience of being in these other bands that have made monumental marks in the business and with fans.
Thanks to Sal Abruscato for the interview. Get your copy of A Pale Horse Named Death's new album 'Infernum In Terra' here and follow the band on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Spotify. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.