Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Pale Horse Named Death - "Lay My Soul To Waste" CD Review

A Pale Horse Named Death
“Lay My Soul To Waste”

If by chance you’ve been missing that foreboding, decidedly goth, metal moodscape that was Type O Negative since frontman Peter Steele’s 2010 death, you’re in for a treat. Two ex-Type O members are not only carrying on Steele’s sonic legacy (although not quite intentionally) and creating new, dark clouds of grime in A Pale Horse Named Death. The band’s second album, “Lay My Soul to Waste,” is heavy, ambient, and laced with drudgery that would fit Steele’s bleak outlook to a tee.

Led by vocalist/guitarist Sal Abruscato, who played drums for Type O Negative up until, and including that band’s 1993 breakthrough, “Bloody Kisses,” A Pale Horse Named Death is not quite as outwardly satirical with the heavy-handed, morose humor as Type O, but still manages a delicate evil. Abruscato favors heavier sludge-like guitar riffs and Layne Stayley-esque, eerie vocal harmonies and tempers, just a bit, the ghoulish world-loathing that defined Steele. Tracks like “Shallow Grave” are light-impenetrable, with heavy guitar/bass sync; Abruscato’s beautifully dark voice falling somewhere between Nick Cave and Saigon Kick’s Matt Kramer as he relinquishes, “I buried you in the back of my mind, and I let the worms eat you.”

“Growing Old” begins with haunting pipe organ flourishes, before slamming into a Jerry Cantrell-approved, hundred-pound string bend – drummer Johnny Kelly, also a Type O alum, pounds out the song’s frustration at deluded life expectations like he’ll never come to terms. Tracks like “Needle In You” delve into equally unrequited hope over a bed of de-tuned, NYC hardcore riffage and dirge-like pace; Abruscato twisting the hooks with “I am the poison in you.”

Somberly heavy, draw-the-curtains metal at its best, A Pale Horse Named Death is the antithesis of the pop fa├žade defining contemporary music for the masses in 2013. Their music invites listeners to the dark side, to lick the wounds life’s inflicted.

-Mark Uricheck

A Fire With Friends - "It's Nice To See You Again" CD Review

A Fire With Friends
“It’s Nice To See You Again”

Some albums you can crank up in the car as open-windowed cruising juice; a little aural merriment to accompany you for the ride. Others are just so enthralling they’ll actually make you pull over and reflect upon what you’re hearing. A Fire With Friends’ “It’s Nice To See You Again” falls under the latter category – a celestial body of work that relies heavily on meticulous arrangement, gazing introspection, and an almost intuitive, instant listener connection to succeed.

Following up 2014’s full-length “Ghost House,” this EP consists of four tracks and clocks in at just 15 minutes – it’s economical, efficient, and utterly transfixing in its musicality. A Fire With Friends is as tight as a great band should be, but somehow sounds like a collective of instrumental explorers, never satisfied until they happen upon that musical sweet spot. The Scranton six-piece hits that spot over and over, with material that alludes to the best of faux-sulk Smiths/Morrisey, the hip, frenetic rock-ified chaos of Kings of Leon, and the organic, radio-friendly zeal of acts like The Fray – although A Fire With Friends sounds as independent as “indie” can be. Had R.E.M. been born 30 years later, experiencing the uncertainty, angst, and fallout of a couple generations removed, they might sound like this band.

Another sonic slice of heaven to emerge from the ears of Jay Preston and Joe Loftus at Olyphant’s JL Studios (A Social State’s Ed Cuozzo actually served as co-engineer), the album is true to their hallmark of adequate track separation and sheer clarity throughout.  “Keystone” kicks off the EP with a hurried rush of guitars and trembling lyricism – frontman Dan Rosler’s repeated, ascending refrain of “stone me first,” and his neatly tucked vocal weaving from near falsetto to ponderous scoff, provides incredible animation to this music, which incidentally never needs to fall back on fading whimsicality or passing topical references to be relevant – there’s a scarred heart beating within these tunes to which we all can relate.

“Brother” is a despondent, roots-inflected ballad, where Rosler’s already breathy voice is complemented by the lush vocal harmony of singer/songwriter Melinda May. The song treads delicately through profound reflections of loneliness and fear, as Rosler gently evaporates lines like “I’m afraid of you – I’m afraid of everyone,” and doles over “a face so long, you could wear it as a dress” – the entire lamentation courses over a grieving violin and reverent acoustic guitar; again, the instrumental layering is a good 50 percent of this music’s appeal.

“Emma Leigh” is also somewhat sobering in its presentation; reveling in that inward, slow build that bands like Switchfoot do so well – guitars elegantly used to synthesizing effect with mid-tempo drum fills bypassing a standard “2” and “4” snare hit, Rosler trailing off into falsetto while he agonizes that “it’s all my fault, again” after “all the chances we’ve had.” Near the end of the song, there appears to be what sounds like guitar/violin harmony runs that mimic the vocal line – truly inventive and powerful, showing the instrumental prowess this band does possess.

“Sun Alive” closes the EP with a punch-drunk take on the band’s brand of melancholy – the spritely guitar jangle better than anything this side of a Danelectro or Fender Jaguar played by the hands of Peter Buck himself, with flirtatious time signature hopping and even some trombone thrown in courtesy of Jay Preston. The song can be viewed as a sort-of redemption that picks up the pieces of the shattered self, broken during the previous tracks – a great coda to the sublimely gray tones on the rest of the EP.

Music that digs to the deepest recess of our perceptions of what it is to feel, A Fire With Friends creates beautiful imagery that at once criticizes, consoles, and contributes to whatever our best ideals of self-awareness may be – tuneful thought, for sure, and the most lucid daydream you’ll ever have.

-Mark Uricheck