Miserable times demand a miserable response, and A PALE HORSE NAMED DEATH have firmly established themselves as the correct men for the job. With both LIFE OF AGONY and TYPE O NEGATIVE in his creative past, APHND mastermind Sal Abruscato has little to prove at this point, but over the course of a decade and three previous studio records, he has made the uniqueness of his vision more than apparent. Admittedly, 2019's "When The World Becomes Undone" seemed rather patchy and anemic when compared to the tar-thick morbidity of debut "And Hell Will Follow Me" (2011) and its scabrous follow-up "Lay My Soul To Waste" (2013). Nonetheless, A PALE HORSE NAMED DEATH are clearly the standard bearers for the dark, doomy approach pioneered by Abruscato's previous bands, but with the New Yorker's gently lysergic songwriting approach adding fresh depths to familiar shadows.
Firstly, "Infernum In Terra" (translation: Hell on Earth) is this band's best sounding album by some distance. With all-important, crystalline separation between instruments, the magical menace of '80s gothic rock is deftly channeled throughout, and as Abruscato has played everything himself, these songs swing with authentic SABBATH-ian swagger; rich but coruscating guitar tones underpinning the funereal grooves, buffeted by the perpetual swell of abyssal bottom end. The sense that Abruscato has had the time and mental space to perfect the APHND sound is unmistakable.
Meanwhile, these are the best songs he has written since the band's debut. "Believe In Something" and "Shards Of Glass" are perfectly pitched howls of anguish, stridently mid-to-slow paced and constructed around magnificently morose riffs. "Lucifer's Sun" is a gloriously languid and sinister doom dirge, with Abruscato's blissful, blank-eyed vocal woven through circular, charcoal churn like some ethereal mantra tossed into the melee of reality. Again, BLACK SABBATH's specter fuels "Two-Headed Snake (Propofol Dreams)" and its somnambulant, morphine-drenched slithering, while "Slave To The Master" is a crestfallen ballad that veers from bewitched, organ-drenched verses to tumultuous, burnt-out skyscraper riff chorus; a refined exercise in glacial melodrama. Best of all, "Devil's Deed" and "Reflections Of The Dead" take a more languorous route to despair. The former is a slow-motion space rock freakout; the latter is both the finest song on the record, a powerful encapsulation of grief's crushing weight, the mystery of death and the low, dull ache of loss. But while it is heavy in every sense, "Infernum In Terra" is also weirdly uplifting and reassuring. Down we go together, folks, singing all the way.