The year is 1995 and an extremely young label from Maryland has just begun to open its eyes to the world. Prior to this moment, its entire three-year existence had been dedicated to a ‘zine/compilation combination known as Audio Drudge, with a more official birth coming with a compilation of a different kind in 1994 that featured noise/industrial artists that ran the gamut from celebrated veterans in Illusion of Safety, Maeror Tri, and Contrastate, to what was at the time excruciatingly obscure in Söldnergeist, Vromb, and Kirchenkampf. It was an artist from the latter side of this list that was destined to give rise to one of the most important labels that post-industrial music has seen to this day—a label that, in the absence of Cold Meat Industry, has rightly taken its place at the helm as the leading name releasing the new generation of old-school industrial and dark ambient music today. That label is of course Malignant Records. And the artist? Yen Pox, the duo of Steven Hall and Michael J.V. Hensley, who tomorrow (May 5th) will be making their return after a full decade and a half of silence, save for a notable collaboration with another seminal dark ambient duo in Troum, Mnemonic Induction, and a little-known two-track 10″ on Drone Records, Universal Emptiness. This also requires one to overlook their respective solo projects in Veil of Secrecy and Blood Box, both of which have also been agonizingly slow to realize new music over the years.
Yes, this is the project that began the maelstrom of high-quality releases that would make Malignant the monolith of the genre that it has become today, and that in itself should leave expectations at an absurdly high level for any curious ear. For the uninitiated, the project’s name should be enough of a hint to bring about hallucinatory visions of slow-rolling drones and desperate metallic chatter. “Yen Pox” was famously written by William S. Burroughs in Naked Lunch as being “the ash of smoked opium,” which should immediately lead one towards assumptions of the surreal brilliance held therein. Indeed, “The Awakening” arrives with a bass-end rumble that moves with enough sluggish grandeur, complex drones, and vastly cinematic space that it warrants comparisons to some of the finest names in the genre including deep audio extraordinaire Bad Sector and the aforementioned Troum. It is with this impressive track that Between the Horizon and the Abyss opens with the full force of a black hole, slowing down time and stretching it infinitely over an unimaginably monstrous mass, ripping metallic atoms apart with the pulsing black heart of the cosmos. Even “Tomorrow in Ruins” somehow leaves a similar astral impression as that of Ben Frost‘s incredible recent work with A U R O R A.
There is a ritual edge present on some tracks as well, from the percussive clamoring and distant feedback howling of “Cold Summer Sun,” to the distant whispers and unnerving climaxing noise of “Grief Ritual.” However, this is only a minimal part of Yen Pox’s identity, as everything about Between the Horizon and the Abyss feels about as purely nihilistic as anything I’ve heard in recent years. The apocalyptic atmosphere present on the album is almost overwhelming at times, imparting an unforgiving amount of dread upon the listener as they float not through dreamy ethereal dimensions, but rather through the smokey black veils of what lies at the end of our journey. The intense album artwork and concise yet visionary track titles certainly don’t help one get an opposite impression though the radiant golds are an interesting and effective choice for such an atmosphere, but the music stands on its own as one of the most defining albums for dark ambient music of the past decade. Truly, at least to some degree, it sets a bar that leaves other modern releases from the genre sounding dry at best.
Between the Horizon and the Abyss is one of the few releases of the past few years that has simply come as advertised. It is a triumph of the genre and is destined to be a celebrated gem. One can only imagine that it is the lack of quantity that has provided such astounding quality on Between the Horizon and the Abyss, but with this reminder that there are still new levels to achieve, we can only hope that it isn’t another 15 years of near-dormancy before another full-length surfaces.
01) The Awakening
02) White of the Eye
03) Cold Summer Sun
04) In Silent Fields
05) Grief Ritual
06) Ashen Shroud
07) Tomorrow in Ruins
08) The Procession