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Is Sal Abruscato the Dave Grohl of NY metal? He was only 21 when Type O Negative, the band he helped form, put out their Roadrunner Records debut. He drummed with the NYC goth-metallers for three records and tour cycles before joining Life of Agony in 1993, staying until their 2011 demise. Then, much like Grohl, Abruscato boldly emerged from behind the drums to lead his own lineup, A Pale Horse Named Death. He proved to be an adept singer and guitarist, even though, the Brooklyn-born musician quips, “I’m not as successful as Dave Grohl.”
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That said, A Pale Horse Named Death–a name rife with gloomy, darkly religious overtones–does not disappoint. Following 2011’s debut And Hell Will Follow Me comes the group’s second outing, 2013’s Lay My Soul to Waste, featuring the APHND lineup–drummer Johnny Kelly (Abruscato’s replacement in TON); bassist Eric Morgan, guitarist/sound engineer Matt Brown and guitarist Eddie Heedles. Songs like “Shallow Grave” and “The Needle in You” smack (no pun intended) of early Alice in Chains, while the gothy metal of “Devil Came with a Smile” and grandiose “In Sleeping Death” owe a debt to TON, though sans the smirks and sexuality that characterized that band’s later work.
“Peter Steele (TON frontman/bassist, who died in 2010) is the reason why I started playing guitar in 1990,” Abruscato says. “I took a lot of influence from him musically and analyzed him a lot when I was in the band–how he’d do his key changes, the orchestration, between him and Josh (Silver, keyboards). I had a big mouth and I was a young kid, but I did learn a lot, and I became a better drummer and musician because of working with him.”
He also has a good overview of where he now sits–or stands–thanks to 20 years in the music biz. Or maybe, as noted in Spinal Tap, “a little too much fucking perspective.” “I’m part the last generation who watched the transition from selling albums and CDs in the early 90s,” he observes. “Now you can have 50,000 ‘followers’ or ‘likes,’ and if those 50,000 people bought your record, you’d be doing pretty darn good by today’s standards. That’s considered huge these days, when that was considered a failure 15 years ago.”
While A Pale Horse… is rocking into the future, Abruscato is not above waxing nostalgic about the early NY metal days. “In 1983, Metallica, W.A.S.P., and Armored Saint played L’Amour, with Metallica opening. Their Kill ‘Em All demo was sold at Zig Zag records on Avenue U in Brooklyn. They’ve shut down so many iconic places; [now] you have bigger venues and it makes it harder for new bands to play. We used to play Beowulf, Pyramid Lounge, and the Ritz with Overkill and White Zombie.” That said APHND are gigging at the Ritz, albeit now in the room known as The Studio at Webster Hall, and this time around, now, as one of the “complicated” frontmen he once drummed behind, Abruscato is enjoying a much better view.
A Pale Horse Named Death play the Studio at Webster Hall Thursday, January 16.