AMN Reviews: The Ambient Metal of Marla Van Horn

As far as I can tell, Polish artist / musician Marla Van Horn has released on the order of a dozen albums in the last two years. Prior to that, her offerings (if any) are much more difficult to identify. This burst of activity coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic, and represents one of the most productive artistic responses to a worldwide crisis if that is indeed the case.

Below, we share a few words about two of her most recent albums. Both are reminiscent of Sunn O))) experimentally combined with liturgical chant, and benefit from listening at a high volume to appreciate their subtle details.

Marla Van Horn – Falling (2021; Morbid Eyes)

Falling begins with layered guitar drones, heavily distorted and centered around certain chord structures. Several of these are present, each exploring a distinct minimalist theme in a slightly different register. There may be synth as well, though each individual drone blends with the others to a point that makes instrumentation difficult to discern (and the liner notes are silent in this regard). As the album progresses, Van Horn introduces multitracked ethereal voices that employ both wordless chants as well as vocalizations that resemble language. But where she excels even further is the combination of these features – layers of rough-hewn guitar structures serving as a base for plaintive intonations. Rhythmically, both sparse percussion and distinct pulses are used on several of the pieces, adding forward motion to an otherwise darkly ambient offering.

Marla Van Horn – On the Other Side of the Sea (2021; Bandcamp)

While On the Other Side of the Sea explores a similar overall sound as that of Falling, Van Horn makes extensive utilization of minimalist percussion, and her guitars growl in an even more menacing fashion. Again, where the album shines is in her ability to merge numerous drones into a mass of sound. That said, given that so many tracks are layered atop one another with underlying repetition, the album can also be more ambient than Falling. Van Horn occasionally deviates from this path with a few experimental passages that are more chaotic, exhibiting animalistic noises, bassy rumblings, and looser structures. Solo voice atop drones also takes on a larger role. As a result, On the Other Side of the Sea is the more varied of the two, more disturbing as well.

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