Living In The Grayland
Discovering Mehdi Saleh’s work as Alphaxone has been one of those happy accidents that keeps me trawling the net and milk crates of vinyl for bands I’ve yet to hear. In this case, I was stumbling somewhat aimlessly through dark ambient label Kalpamantra’s extremely affordable and extremely daunting catalog, and came across and enjoyed Dark Complex, Saleh’s 2013 record. Taking friend of the site and dark ambient guru Danica Swanson’s advice to check the Alphaxone back catalog, I kept hunting, and in the process found out that another Alphaxone LP had been released not two weeks previous. That’s kismet for you.
Out of the gates, Living In The Grayland feels more active than Alphaxone’s extant releases. Rather than the gloomy heaviness of Dark Complex, the listener is met with a foundation of synth pads which, while certainly subdued and sustained, somehow feel more fresh and vital than the foggy haze of many earlier compositions (not that I’m knocking those, as they were what drew me to the project in the first place). That said, this is still dark ambient we’re talking about: for all of its slowly shifting, cosmically-minded parts, Living In The Grayland is still a heavy listen.
There’s a good sense of arrangement in the mix, with individual elements being placed in clear spatial contrast to each other; Grayland‘s work never merges into singular, all-encompassing drone. Phased tones trickle down from above, mingling with more abyssal pads in the depths on “Cold Spring” (I swear I was thinking of it in aquatic terms before I noticed the title). This isn’t far removed from one of Saleh’s main techniques on Grayland: secondary layers of more disquieting noise layered overtop of core compositions. There’s a buzzing fly, then an odd scuttle on “Overwhelm”, and a particularly uncanny sound on “Into The Silence”: light footsteps on wet pavement echoing in a tunnel? Something frying extremely slowly in a pan of oil? Maggots being birthed from an abandoned pile of leftovters? Evocative and unsettling to be sure, which is what you sign up for with this type of record, to be fair.
It’s been a treat to hunt down earlier Alphaxone records (many of which are free) recently, but those not up to tackling a full ten hours of dark ambient out of the box are getting the best of Saleh’s world in Living In The Grayland. It pokes at some of the borders of what’s expected in the genre while staying true to its roots, and more importantly communicates a distinct artistic voice in a genre which can often feel bleakly anonymous. Recommended.