[reviewed by: vitriol]
Alphaxone is the moniker of Iranian artist Mehdi Saleh, who has been releasing since 2010 in various netlabels. I first became acquainted with his work from his “Curtain Of Silence” album on Kalpamantra in 2013, soon after which he was picked up by Cryo Chamber, where he has already released another album, “Living In The Grayland”. Besides that he has participated in the epic CC collabs “Cthulhu” and “Tomb Of Empires”. In “Altered Dimensions” he tackles the theme of sensory perception manipulation, treating us with an 8-track long psychedelic dark ambient journey that feels as if the image of the outside world is being seen through these distorting mirrors that exist in the horror tunnels you find in amusement parks.
Odd as it may seem to some when bearing in mind the warm, Middle Eastern climes of Iran, Alphaxone is cold, calculated, mostly dark ambient with sharp tones and slowly building atmospheres, very soundtrack-like in the way that it handles suspense and environment architecture. Things are done carefully, gradually, in a subtle yet at the same time majestic way. There are no significant escalations to speak of, but the music turns and twists and its colours and shades melt into one another – the listener is left wandering in the haze, much like a character in a painting where the colours are beginning to dilute in splashes of water. His world is coming apart around him, and the combinations he sees are in some occasions nightmarish and frightening, in others beautiful and serene.
However the music is imposing, even austere at times. Sombre, enveloping, sometimes stifling layers of sound with just a touch of the organic in them; not enough to be emphatically suggestive, but enough to ignite a suspicion of a basic organic function, like that of the chemical processes of the brain. The music has an impressive range; from the empathic, emotional electronics of the opening and closing tracks “Distances” and “From The Passages” to the trippy, droning minimalism of “Encounters” and introverted suspense of “Midnight Waves”, that begins in bright tones and gradually drops down the scale to hues of deep blue, grey and black, it always maintains a high level of originality. There’s never a boring or predictable moment here, as the artist uses elements from modern and traditional electronics, drone, space, deep and dark ambient, soundtrack music, industrial and organic sounds, applying them like daubs of paint to his canvas of emotional and mental stimuli. My favourite is the third track, “Passing Through”, a bleak suite consisting of layers of shrill dark ambient and a hint of melody over organic background sounds. Its aura of death and desolation along with the despairing melody and distorted vocals in the final segment would chill the heart of the most cynical of listeners.
A few hours before writing this review – and perhaps subconsciously influenced by continuous listens of the album – I had the following dream: I was wandering in the streets of an undefined city, trying to get from point A to point B. The distance and route were specific and clear in my head. Yet during my walk reality started to dissolve around me, and I was unable to see my path, not due to blindness or some external factor, but simply due to the fact that my vision could no longer tune into my surroundings. They had ceased to transmit on that particular frequency – or I had ceased to pick it up. In this mental and visual fog I imposed on my mind the will to see things properly, and the surroundings became once again clearly defined. But even though I was walking a straight line, and I knew where I was going, I was unable to get to point B, and I somehow knew that I never would. There was something essentially distorted in this new reality, because once you have unseen it you can never see it again as it was before. The blueprints don’t match, the pattern has been broken. There is something unhinged, something foreign in it – an essence not of this world.
I kept waking up in the dream and following the same path, with the same result. I was stuck in this loop until I actually woke up. And when I did, I understood much better how to approach this work, the concept of which may seem somewhat unconnected to the music at first. You listen to this very beautifully made, atmospheric deep/ dark ambient and unconsciously launch into the typically ensuing imagery that normally accompanies the genre, so that its basic abstractness is lost. These landscapes, though partly or wholly fictional, exist in some form or other in the realm of our imagination. The strength of “Altered Dimensions” lies exactly in its fluidity and lack of definition; in the fact that its universe is not static or tangible. It is unstable, malleable, continuously altering, teeming with cycles and functions that begin or end their life, just like the cells of a constantly evolving organism. It’s matter in its primal form, before it begins to take shape. It’s even the idea and spirit that infuses the primal matter with life. The artist seeks here not simply to help shape an alternate reality, but to tweak the way your very mind constructs one.