Phantasm Nocturnes - Dark Dimensions [Altar Of Waste - 2013]
Well, another Altar Of Waste release and thus another professional-looking package from the label. Its quite simple compared to some of the more elaborate items that Altar Of Waste has been recently releasing, but smart and effective, regardless. The imagery establishes that the theme of “Dark Dimensions” is UFOs and alien abductions and, for some reason (which I can’t elaborate on), I want to say that there’s a 1950s “retro” tone to this. The cdr has six tracks: five shorter ones - all below six minutes in length, and one long, twenty-minute plus, closing track. For better or worse, “Dark Dimensions” is constructed using the one same palette of sounds. Its quite a broad palette, dominated by drones, synth washes/spurts/loops and more detailed elements (small percussion, junk sounds, water sounds); but, nevertheless, its the one same palette and across the album this tires fairly quickly. The first track has a nice eerie, woozy character to it, with water sounds and bell-tinkling sounds bedded into stuttering drones; it creates an unsettling tone and serves as an excellent introduction. The trouble is, that it introduces us to the second track, which performs essentially the same moves. In fact, in the broadest sense, the first five, shorter, tracks are all cut from the same cloth. There are variations in sounds and slight variations in tone; but the structure and composition of the pieces are essentially the same. The second track has flatulent synth sounds looping around and drill sounds, the third takes a noisier angle with junk sounds, synth washes and machinery sounds and the fourth retreads similar territory. The fifth piece (all the tracks are numbered, by the way) works in a little more space (and pace) into the proceedings, to greater effect. Whilst the sounds are little different, their deployment is carried out with greater care and thought; giving the piece room to breathe and creating (by its conclusion) an effective resting tone before the last, epic track. This piece, “VI”, is - as far as I can tell - the same essential array of sounds from the preceding tracks, smashed into a noisy twenty-three minute sprawl. Its noisy in the sense of being saturated, coming across as a lo-fi drone of noise; but one with more shiny, articulate sounds emerging from it, once in a while.
Many projects have one song or “sound” and thats not a problem at all (I like the Ramones and I like HNW), but in the case of “Dark Dimensions”, this homogeny pales pretty quickly. The first five tracks all operate on similar lines, though “I”, “II” and “V” fare better than their counterparts. The last track, “VI”, has an interesting set-up, mashing some sounds into a messy lump of low-fidelity noise and letting others dance over the top; but you can’t escape the feeling that its simply a longer, noisier version of preceding pieces. If it was split apart from those tracks, it might strike the listener more forcefully; but, coupled to them, it compounds the feeling that the whole album is constructed out of a very narrow band of sounds and ideas. Its not all doom and gloom - certainly the fifth piece shows an effective escape route - but its not a release that will be revisiting my stereo much.
(As a somewhat snide end-note, I think every single track on “Dark Dimensions” features prominent synth washes; with filtering up…. and down…)Martin P