Yen Pox – Between the Horizon and the Abyss (CD, Malignant Records)

I’ll be honest – writing for a noise/drone review blog, I hear a lot of dark ambient works. At this point, it’s difficult to get excited for most of them, even if the idea behind them seems solid. There are many artists working in the field who are prone to dropping a few long, sustained synth notes into a track and calling it dark ambient, and it’s the kind of oversaturation that is really hurting the subgenre. Yen Pox, however, are not newbies to this kind of music, and it truly shows on their latest album Between the Horizon and the Abyss. This isn’t a couple of notes alternated over an 8-10 minute track; it really is an ambient experience, full of moody sustained chords, swirled instrumentation, with a tension apparent from the first minutes of the near-80 minute album.

They start things off with “The Awakening,” which focuses on those sustained notes – the kind of thing that can often make for an underwhelming listen – and then integrates a wavering complexity to them. And morphing right into “White of the Eye,” it’s clear that Yen Pox understand that dark ambient’s atmosphere takes more than just dreary, held-note progressions; the swirls of sound ebb and flow, and nuance takes precedence here. There’s a reliance on the minimal within their sound that one should not mistake for a lack of complexity, because a close listen rewards with a number of subtle changes in the wavering tones of Michael J.V. Hensley and Steven Hall’s compositions.

It’s not always so quiet, though. “Cold Summer Sun” finds Yen Pox hammering on the chords, breaking out chains and rattling whatever metal was on hand – it’s almost like an updated version of A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s theme from the boiler room scenes, even complete with ghostly giggles in the background.

The flaw with Between the Horizon and the Abyss, which I would argue is a flaw with almost every album of this style, is that the listener begins to get desensitized to the flowing darkness within each of these tracks. While Yen Pox spice things up with new ideas within each song, the central idea remains mostly the same – plodding tones, sweeps of sound, and an ambiance that forces the listener to feel uneasy. That’s really the intention, to overload the audience with the abyss, but Between the Horizon and the Abyss feels a tad overstuffed. The tracks are a bit too long, or, there are too many of them. At 80 minutes, this will be a difficult listen for all those save the lover of the subgenre.

Still, Yen Pox delivers exactly what’s expected of them, with some seriously dark and brooding tunes. The vocal deliveries and the clangs of distant metallics combine with the swarming synth textures for an album that is brimming with ethereal darkness. With Between the Horizon and the Abyss, the listener finds oneself in a limbo that feels tense and uneasy – an album that showcases the best of the dark ambient genre.

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