It’s an irony that the same qualities which make dark ambient easy to approach for more casual listeners are also the same one which can create impasses when those same listeners want to dig deeper. Inviting and soothing drones and pulses can be a welcome invitation for those checking out dark ambient for the first time, but there can be difficulty in parsing differences in their use, or noticing how specific artists or records make slight changes or add subtle ticks to it. Die-hards can relish the opportunity to compare and contrast such intricacies, but that can produce a listening experience different from the all-encompassing sonic wash dark ambient promises, as the latest release from Alphaxone demonstrates.
Iran’s Mehdi Saleh’s prolific pace hasn’t prevented him from exploring differing aspects of dark ambient from release to release, and the touches of organic field recordings around the edges of Altered Dimensions create a softer initial impression than previous release Living In The Grayland. Time and texture are also meted out somewhat differently on Saleh’s latest. Opener “Distances” is built around pads repeatedly cycling overtop each other, with a minimalist, somewhat technoid influenced drum program marking measures before phasing out to a single, muffled drum stretching space between itself.
As the album progresses, however, it becomes increasingly difficult to flag these individual dynamics. Light creaks, croaks, and chirps laced into the back end of “Human Frequencies” require careful attention, as does the subtle opening up of the mix in the penultimate moments, almost as if the track is wholly transitioning over to the field recordings which might have provided it with samples. Things slowly shift into lower registers and slightly gloomier territory towards the second half of the record, but this is again a question of inches. Closer “From The Passages” seems to buoy back up from the depths right at the end, with finely filigreed sine waves that almost crackle with texture.
While not nearly as menacing as Living In The Grayland (which itself wasn’t nearly as antisocial as much of the genre), I wonder if Altered Dimensions signifies a trade-off Saleh’s made by playing his cards closer to his chest. An attention to detail indicative of the strength of his work is certainly present, but is so finely blended into larger strokes that it can be difficult to hold on to a sense of the whole while trying to locate them. One can see the trees, but not at the same time as the forest.