Have you ever had an out of body experience? Have you ever felt as though your spirit or soul has left your body? Personally, I haven’t but I know individuals that have. What they have described to me varies wildly, so much so that none of the stories really had anything in common other than they went to a place that was not quite this earth. While I have never experienced anything close to this, I am fascinated by peoples’ retelling of theirs. What causes it? Is physical death really death? Where do they go in these trips? Why does it happen to them? I have myriad philosophical, metaphysical, and spiritual questions regarding the entire sensation. I’ve read books where people recount their journey (oddly those all seem to center around that person going to hell) but I’ve never heard an album, or at least a good album, that tells that same kind of story. Until now. [Ab]Solution, by one of my favorite, and most prolific, dark ambient artists, Xerxes the Dark, recounts his own journey into the realm that exists between life and death, limbo. I read the description of the album before listening to anything and I was immediately intrigued, for reasons I already stated above. If there is anyone who could fully articulate such an experience as well as create a beautiful soundscape, it would be Xerxes the Dark. After three albums that I’ve listened to now, I trust him to me take on the journey.
Let’s take a look, just for a moment, at the title of the album “[Ab]Solution.” We can take two words from that: absolution and solution. Both terms have a profound effect on the overall experience of the album but both are profoundly different in nature. “There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has the right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution,” as quoted from Oscar Wilde. This album, as much as it’s a journey into the great wilds of oblivion and back, is the take of a drug overdose that nearly killed the user. This is Xerxes the Dark’s confession and thereby his absolution. It is soul seeking and soul cleansing. The absolution the user finds in the creation of the album can be a powerful force that the listener can feel and relate to. The second part of the title, Solution, takes the album’s meaning in a different way. I cannot, and moreover should not, make any assumptions as to what the artist’s take away is here, meaning what he found and what he plans to do with what he found. I do content that he did find a solution. He did find something in his mind altering trip that changed him. Solutions are changes after all.
Now onto the album proper. As I stated before, I trust Xerxes the Dark and his ability to tell a story through his use of drones, field recordings, loops, and reverb. He’s not only a master story teller but he’s a damn good musician. Many of the sounds and their origins as well as their method of production escape me. Yet, I remain utterly fascinated and transfixed by their ability. It’s something I envy because I know that I wouldn’t be able to produced something like this. They have had years of practice, of knowledge, and of application and their hard work shows.
Xerxes the Dark, coming from a surprisingly strong dark ambient scene in Iran (something I recently discovered and am fascinated by), stands out amongst his peers because of his ability to blend traditional sounds with distortion to create a supernatural feel. The album tells the story of something that only took a few moments to complete yet there are hundreds of complex sounds to pick through to find meaning and narrative. Xerxes the Dark also stands above his peers in that even though he uses heavy distortion and drone, none of the music ever gets irritating in volume. That’s one of the things that I’ve learned, that with those two volume is sure to be there and while it has merits in the right places, has a habit of taking me out of the listening experience. [Ab]Solution and most of Xerxes the Dark’s work managed to keep the volume at a medium while still set the scene with ghostly, inhuman sounds. None of that is to say, of course, that the album lacks for intensity. Remember this is the story of a drug overdose and the following out of body experiences. Those two things alone scream for intensity. There is no other way to tell such stories. [Ab]Solution is a vibrantly told story with moments of harsh clarity and subtle nuances. A high volume on the listener’s end is required to catch all the sounds and the voids. Xerxes the Dark mixes space ambient, his strong suit if you ask me, with industrial ambient, a choice that felt as though it were out of left field but he manages to pull it off. He mixes genres of music to mix genres of storytelling. I think it’s commendable and I think the experiment is an overall success. I love seeing artists branch out and do new things and I think Xerxes the Dark is progressing in both musical abilities and storytelling.
In the story, life is circular, death comes before life, and life follows after it. Reversal is the key here. Look at the album and notice that time flows one way in the album but the events seem to happen backwards. “Death” occurs at the beginning rather than the end and full “Life” is achieved at the end, a rebirth. The album is a frame story, one that deals with the catabasis of the artist. We, the listeners, follow him through limbo through purgatory, to the depths of the subconscious in search of a question without answer. We follow him as he looks back on his life, looking as flashback appear, his life before his eyes. We see the death throes as they come searching for him, beasts without faces that seek not to enlightened but to enshadow him. The search is both spiritual, for its meaning, and nihilistic for is apparently lack of meaning. Meaning, on [Ab]Solution, takes on many forms. Does the searcher wish to find life after this false death? Is this false death really a true death? What is the difference between the two? Is there any difference? Once we have those answers, what do we do with them? In a sea of unknowable depth, what is there to grasp onto? We, or at least I, waited for the inevitable moment that the sojourner gazes into the abyss and the abyss looks back. But it never happens, the listener is kept at the very brink of the confrontation but it never happens. Utterly nihilistic. Even the void is nothing without meaning. Even oblivion must have meaning to spur on the sojourner. Can he find that meaning? Should he? Does he even want to? At a certain point, the album feels as though it’s straddling religious proverb and trippy sci fi. I had to wonder, as I wandered through an empty landscape filled with flashes of memories not my own, is it both? Xerxes the Dark has managed to blend, to a certain degree, two genres I didn’t think could be blended. Hats off for that one!
As the album began to wind down towards the conclusion, I began to think. Is this album, this journey for forgiveness? Is the confession of what happened his attempt to seek such forgiveness? If you believe the quote from Oscar Wilde, which I do, then this recounting is both the search for and the finding of forgiveness. It is never asked of the audience, it is never stated within the journey, but that’s what I believe the artist is seeking here. And by seeking it, he found it. [Ab]Solution is by far the most experimental of all the Xerxes the Dark albums I’ve heard and it’s by far the most personal and intimate. I was able to hear “Longing to Return” again and having heard it in the context it was meant I like it even more. [Ab]Solution is beautiful, bleak, and surprisingly full of life. The ending moments of the album, I won’t spoil them for you, are some of the best I’ve heard since my dive into dark ambient. This album is a success on so many levels. While the album is far from short, I felt as though I could listen to if for quite some time. If it were twice as long, I would still enjoy every second.
Highlights: Longing to Return, Deliverance (by Light), Departing Scene
For fans of: DeepDark, Apocryphos, Phragments
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