A PALE HORSE NAMED DEATH / REFLEXICON
Date: 29th August, 2019
Venue: The Brauer House
Ticket: $12/€11 (in advance) - $15/€13 (day of)
Studio-wise A PALE HORSE NAMED DEATH had remained silent, raising a lot of concerns whether there was something new to anticipate. Pile on this, some enigmatic and not that hopeful FB posting by Sal Abruscato a few years back, and you have the perfect storm of not knowing what lies ahead. Fortunately, the tables were turned in our favor and APHND not only got active again, but did release a solid album with the “appropriate” amount of darkness, pain and sorrow. With all this in mind, getting to see this band onstage was the next step, and this wish was granted in the context of the ‘Dreams Of The End’ tour. The show was hosted at The Brauer House in Lombard, IL, making me wonder whether it would be convenient enough for the Chicago fans who went to the last APHND concert some six years ago. Back in the day, no matter where the concert was held, the metalheads did “queue for their ticket through the ice and snow”, paraphrasing the famous lyric line from SAXON’s “Denim And Leather”.
After spending 20 minutes talking to Sal about all things APHND (soon the interview will get online) and after remembering what a gentleman and great person to talk to is, we returned inside the venue for REFLEXICON to start the show. I had no idea of this band’s musical doing but I was intrigued by the Theremin placed on the side of the singer’s mic. The five-piece band proved to be a collection of high-skilled musicians who presented their multi-layered music for the next hour or so. “Multi-layered” is a word that does not capture all the elements the Chicagoan band used in their Melodic / Aggressive Rock with strong Progressive undertones. That’s right; REFLEXICON mixed all this but it was fun to watch and listen. Melodic vocals were mixed with almost Metalcore screams and really, it took a couple of songs for all this to sink in. From the Progressive “Nightmare” to the riff-driven and catchy “Imprinting” all the way to the faster ones REFLEXICON delivered a solid set with “Grasp At The Sky” being by pick from their 9-song setlist. Singer Fred Morg used the Theremin basically following guitar riffs and in some cases as part of the intro and / or and outro but it did not have the huge impact I was expecting. I mean, if you have such a “rare” instrument onstage, it must be part of the band’s sound, right? For “Meditations” Fred used a Tibetan Singing Bowl (I am not sure if that's the exact type), while bassist Bill Dixon did some chanting. I like meeting bands that are willingly to push the envelope further in order to present something interesting, and this is exactly the case with REFLEXICON. By the way, Fred and Bill did a little “switcheroo”, Fred’s words for “Save Me” and that meant switching roles and that was also a cool feat.
03. “Save Me”
05. “Eyes Wide (Ram)”
07. “Grasp At The Sky”
08. “Life Is Suffering”
09. “Ride On”
Low attendance is a two sided coin; a) it does not help the band to perform at top energy level taking away some of the spontaneity a live concert features, and b) the ones who have come to watch the show are those who genuinely want to. I mean, there are always shows attracting more people just because of some hype built around the performing band. I am talking about all those who go to a show just for one song or just to see a performer. For the “b” point of view, I was happy but I was not at all for the “a” part. On the other hand, the US concert-going population has a short interest span, meaning that if a band does not play almost every year, will not get lots of people in their shows. And yes, six years is a lot of time for a band like A PALE HORSE NAMED DEATH that spends more time in the studio and less time on social media (and for me, this is one more reason to like this band).
No matter the number of attendees, it was a smiling lineup that showed up onstage a few minutes before 10pm. That’s right; I used the word “smiles” on the same sentence with A PALE HORSE NAMED DEATH... and the reason being is that this band went through a rough patch but came out stronger and happier. “When The World Becomes Undone” would not have been this good if the gentlemen in the lineup were not this content with the setup. However, the mood had to be recallibrated and get closer to the music’s Doom atmosphere, so with backs turned to us, APHND kicked off the set with the old favorite “To Die In Your Arms”. Sal, wearing a cowboy hat, started delivering the soaked-in-darkness lyrics with his trademark timbre, while the three-guitar setup created a solid wall of sound for the audience to fully indulge. “Devil In The Closet” remained on the same path with the set opener and it was after the end of it when Sal greeted us: “Lombard, thank you for spending the evening with us”. These words are often used in concert by frontmen to the point that do not feel genuine, but not this time; Sal said this in his down-to-earth and honest-to-a-fault way, and this is why it resonated with us. To my initial surprise, “Love The Ones You Hate” from the band’s latest album was greeted with an enthusiasm but then I realized that those who had come that night were true APHND fans and consequently knew the band’s (latest) musical doings.
Before “Sleeping Death”, Sal explained his special connection with Chicago; back in the mid ‘60s, his father arrived in Chicago to start a new life and I think it was his birthday on the day of the show, putting the icing on this “special occasion”. Of course and I love the TYPE O NEGATIVE drum undertones on “Shallow Grave” but I enjoyed more the aggression of “Vultures”. In fact, you could see / hear this aggression in Sal’s performance and this is why concerts are the best way to experience music. On the two sides of the stage were occupied by the two guitarist and I have to agree with Sal when he said during the interview that “the band has two amazing guitarists”. Sure, Joe Taylor is the most active of the two, but performing-wise are absolutely a pleasure to watch. Eric Morgan did not move much from his spot but along with drummer Johnny Keely created the solid rhythm section upon which the music of APHND lives and breathes. Plus, the minute the intro of “Growing Old” hit the speakers, wake up some more TYPE O memories and you could see several heads banging hard to the highly addictive rhythm.
“Thank you for the energy; without you, there isn’t a show and you should remember that”, said the band’s frontman, and although he could not be more right, followed this mood-lifting statement with the dark “Fell In My Hole” that puts Doom in bold letters (love the guitar solo here). Well, this is how life works, right? It gives you something good only to take it back, hitting you harder than before. Still, you get up to fight another day because you cannot be defeated if you’re still standing. The ALICE IN CHAINS-esque “Pill Head” was the perfect follow-up with its hallucinogen guitar work (wow, that fat sound is awesome live), while “Splinters” turned out to be stronger than the studio version, and once again I have to credit Sal for painting the lyrics with all the shades of grey (ok, with some green too).
It was awesome how the band ended “When Crows Descend Upon You”; Johnny took the lead and set the slowly decreasing tempo in an almost fading-away manner. The rest of the band members kept one eye on his drum-smashing to stay in tempo, being another proof of how in tune A PALE HORSE NAMED DEATH are these days. After the hair-rising and personal favorite “Die Alone” for 666 reasons, Sal made sure to thank everyone for coming to the show, but (again) not in a “I have to” way; he sounded genuine and sincere, and for this, the faster “Killer By Night” become the proper setlist closer. This was an amazing show and it was a shame that there were not more people to enjoy A PALE HORSE NAMED DEATH getting back on the horse again (pun fully intended). There is a 7” inch coming out next month with two covers, although I am not sure how many physical copies would be left when these lines get online...
A PALE HORSE NAMED DEATH setlist:
01. “To Die In Your Arms”
02. “Devil In The Closet”
03. “Love The Ones You Love To Hate”
04. “Sleeping Death”
05. “Shallow Grave”
07. “Growing Old”
08. “Fell In My Hole”
09. “Pill Head”
11. “When Crows Descend Upon You”
12. “Cracks In The Walls”
13. “Die Alone”
14. “Killer By Night”
A PALE HORSE NAMED DEATH
(click to enlarge)