A belated Happy New Year to all. But the genre at the core of today’s review may not be conferring that same wish on its listener; namely, atmospheric, Gothic metal. And there is surely but one obvious band when we consider Gothic metal from Brooklyn, NY; namely, Type O Negative (“TON“). Given the clear limitations of a specific sub-genre of metal in one borough of a city, it’s no surprise to learn that Sal Abruscato, the Brooklyn goth behind A Pale Horse Named Death (“Pale Horse“), has long-standing ties to that late but great band as a founding member of both. When the World Becomes Undone (‘When the World‘) represents the third full-length release under this name but does Pale Horse boast that pedigree for warped but memorable song-writing?
An atmosphere is built which feels appropriately “Gothic” and similar to TON. The quiet introduction on “As It Begins” features distant effects and church bell while the interlude called “The Woods” descends into cultist chanting with a woman sobbing. The conclusion “Closure” returns to the church bell and recycles some of the sound effects used to build the quiet soundscapes of these thematically-tied tracks. Silence or near-silence is also deployed to frame a number of the tracks and which confer a more measured, deliberate feel. Abruscato uses an almost relaxed approach for his clean vocals, which I have styled as “back foot” singing. It’s understated and not particularly emotive—I think deliberately so. Furthermore, repetition is a part of the dark atmosphere sought, hammering down chugging rhythms which endure for minutes on end and only utilizing a handful of consistent riffs per song.
While, therefore, an atmosphere is generated which is akin to TON, the song-writing is several leagues from that quality. These same tools detailed above consign When the World to filler territory, falling very far from required listening. The “back foot” singing sounds lackluster and the guitar melodies are dragged out through repetition to the point of boredom. I suppose that the aforementioned silences and quiet interlude parts contribute to the atmosphere but from a song-writing perspective they grind things to a halt and simply add minutes on to an album which exceeds an hour. While the record easily slips to the background if you’re occupied with other tasks, I had to take listening breaks when writing review notes as the same was occurring even when I was trying to commit attention. Wandering in your own mind with whimsical or open-ended music is one thing but losing my focus when trying not to says to me that I am largely bored during When the World.
Aside from the glum vocals, the performances are fine and even good in places as one of the three potential guitarists proudly demonstrates some surprisingly squiggly solos. While repetition blunts their impact, opening riffs and key melodies often start fairly strongly which at least demonstrates that the writer knows their way around a guitar. In fact, the guitars are highlighted in the mix to the detriment of the other instruments, but in particular, the vocals. The “back foot” effect is exacerbated by their being buried behind the meaty leads. It’s odd, as if the volume slider was accidentally lower for the vocal tracks when arranging the album, and is especially noticeable in the quieter moments as background effects sound too loud by comparison to the singing. This is a small quibble considering that I don’t love the the vocals but is worth noting.
I have no doubt that the dispirited approach is intentional to support Pale Horse‘s doomy, atmospheric credentials. Abruscato is quoted on the one sheet saying that the music “allows you to drift off and zone out.” He’s correct but I’d wager that boredom and lethargy were not what he intended to invoke. When the World makes for a dreary opening review of 2019 and I’m unsure that even the most ardent TON fans would glean much from this.