AMN Reviews: Various Artists – Visions of Darkness (In Iranian Contemporary Music) (2017; Cold Spring Records)

Visions of Darkness is a new 2CD release from Cold Spring Records that documents underground music from Iran.  As the album’s liner notes state, “[i]n a country where youth culture has been heavily restricted for so long, it’s significant when a cultural form such as this has an opportunity to reach a wider audience – aided by the abstract nature of dark ambient, drone, and noise.” The artists have suffered through limited funding opportunities due to economic sanctions, but have nonetheless persevered to offer their unique takes on a range of musical styles.

Several of the tracks recall early (1985-1995) Steve Roach, with slowly layered drones evoking a desert atmosphere, as well as echoing sequencers. Not necessarily dark, but fitting the “ambient” moniker quite well. But, in addition to these aspects, some artists include whiffs of techno, middle-eastern chants, spoken word, and electroacoustic elements. As an example, Longing to Return by Xerxes the Dark begins with throat singing that rapidly evolves into a scratchy palette of droning soundscapes. Industrial percussion and machine noises join in for the second half of the track, which ends with a distant choral chant. Hossein RangChi provides windswept synth work over a melancholy piano melody on Mute. Narcissa Kasrai’s Articulation sounds as if it came from the GRM school, while Nyctalllz’s Daeva is an oscillating set of post-modern background drones with subtle foreground pulses and crackles.

The sheer variety and consistent quality across this compilation make it a notable release. Combine that with its cultural importance, and Visions of Darkness is a welcome and enjoyable addition the collection of anyone who is curious how non-mainstream artists of an under-represented country express themselves.

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