V/A – Visions of Darkness in Iranian Contemporary Music

Unexplained Sounds Group is the parent label of Eighth Tower Records, whose occult themed compilations we’ve reviewed on Archaic Triad (#1, #2, #3). This Italian “platform”, run by Raffaele Pezella of Sonologyst, has been active for about two years now on a self-undertaken mission to investigate the international underground music scene(s). This the label’s latest effort, released just in time for the Iranian elections of May 19th, contains well over two hours of Iranian experimental music. A few familiar names appear, as well as more than a dozen of acts completely unknown, at least to Archaic Triad.

Like much of Unexplained Sound’s fare, this compilation is dominated by ambient and atmospheric music. The darker variety is represented by several artists. Xerxes the Dark’s “Longing to Return” is an unusually concrete piece, where shadow drones, manipulated voices and echoing object manipulation all serve to conjure an extremely obscure and beautiful mood. Alphaxone’s “A Dystopia” could have come straight off of one of their Cryo Chamber releases, with vivid pads and lucid, slow melodies building a brilliant sonic milieu. Soheil Soheili is another dark ambient effort, whose peculiarly titled “Labrotary” explores the fine art of drones, soft electronic hiss and nice pads to create a very interesting piece of dark ambiance.

Among the darker acts, Announaki Signal and their “Father” should also be mentioned – if I were to guess or suggest another Iranian act for inclusion in the above mentioned Cryo Chamber roster, this would probably be it. The thick layers of melodies, chords, strings and shadows are nothing short of superb. Furthermore, Nyctallz and their god/demon themed “Daeva” also do some very interesting things with the dark ambient genre, mixing traditional drones with rasping, mystical noises.

Many compositions go other routes than dark ambient, though, and while most could be described as “ambient” without stretching the truth too far, there is ample leeway for all sorts of experiments here. Limen’s “Wherefore the Worm Universe” contains bouncing, light synthesizers, a cold sampled woman’s voice and minimalist beats. Ali Phi with “condition.III” mixes urgent, subdued noises and rhythms with simplistic but dreamy keys to create an atmosphere all of his own. Crows in the Rain with their “…(For A Film)” have managed to create music that would fit a film of the underground rather than the mere “independent” variety. A sad, somehow fragmentary melodic structure sounds like it should accompany a surreal movie featuring hedgehogs and catatonic women, broadcast on some rightfully underfunded public broadcast network. It’s cool.

The closing track is called “Tehran Moonlight”, and it is a collaboration of Mehdi Behbudi and Vahide Sistaani. It is an example of underground experimental music at its finest – wet, dripping sounds, low-key synths and a female voice speaking in Persian. Despite the overall high quality of this mastodon compilation, this is probably my favorite here. It is very strange, and I won’t pretend to understand even a fragment of the spoken word, but the atmosphere built is somehow similar to Nový Svět or Death In June’s “The World the Summer”, despite the fact that the sound is even more minimal and, in a way, “arty”.

Visions of Darkness in Iranian Contemporary Music is a great download, and while it will cost you 7 Euros from the Unexplained Sounds Bandcamp, you still get almost two and a half hours of truly interesting music. Four Autocrators out of four!

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