AMBIENT MUSIC GUIDE
CLASSIC AMBIENT STYLES
Pioneered by Brian Eno and Harold Budd, this is the original form of Ambient music. Soft, lush, flowing sounds and melodies. Calm atmosphere, very serene and detached. Perfect to relax to. Can be repetitive. The sequences and rhythms are usually absent. Lots of reverb. Sometimes very ethereal.
Examples: Brian Eno: "Discreet Music", "Music For Airports", "Apollo"; Harold Budd, some Roger Eno, Rudy Adrian: "Subantarctica", etc.
The more minimal form of the above. Bright flowing textures, often consisting of just one chord. Suitable as background music for creating atmosphere but hard to concentrate on. Sometimes chilling and abstract.
Examples: Brian Eno: "Thursday Afternoon"; Stephen Philips, some James Johnson, etc.
This is the style developed by Steve Roach almost single-handedly. The essence of this music is the combination of ambient atmospheres and tribal drums, along with other elements of native cultures. The music is sometimes a bit on the dark side. This music is usually more rhythmic than the above styles and also features some sequences from time to time. It often incorporates atypical (for Electronic Music) instrumentation. Ethnic Ambient can also be filed under this category.
Examples: Steve Roach from around 1988 on, Amir Baghiri, some Jorge Reyes, Suspended Memories, some Solitaire, etc.
DARK AMBIENT STYLES
Pure and original Dark Ambient music as played by Brian Lustmord. Dark, menacing soundscapes, very abstract, sometimes mechanical, but with no rhythm per se. Deep murky sounds and rumbles, devoid of any melodic structure, except for some short snatches of melody from time to time.
Examples: Lustmord, Jeff Greinke: "Cities In Fog", Endura: "Liber Leviathan", etc.
This is basically ambient industrial music. Can be divided in three groups:
1. NOISE AMBIENT
Very ambient and relatively calm but intense industrial and noise music. Machine-like ambiences, sounds of factories, radio transmissions, machinery, broken equipment, processed concrete sounds, etc. Think Aube or Quest. There is a slight difference between Noise Ambient and Ambient Noise, which is heavier, rawer and with "noise" dominating, whereas with Noise Ambient it's more about "ambient" than "noise", although I must admit that the boundaries are somewhat blurred.
2. CLINICAL AMBIENT
This is related to the Power Electronics scene, as many PE artists have also composed more ambient works, resulting in clean and alienating analog soundscapes. Very clinical and septic sound which concentrates on formaline-drenched hospital and morgue ambiences.
Like the above two genres, this one was born out of industrial / noise scene. The artists working in this genre try to recreate with sound the feeling of being in a confined space (i.e. room, prison cell, gas chamber, isolation tank etc.) The music is often harsh and really scary. Not for the faint-hearted.
This is scary, horror Dark Ambient, with death ambiences, i.e. graveyards, crypts, tombs, catacombs, haunted houses, dungeons, voices of the dead. Low atmospheric sounds with death-related samples.
Examples: Check out the composition by Endura called "The Left Hand of the Dead" from the album "Black Eden" for a perfect example.
Dark Ambient with ritualistic and religious atmospheres. This form of Dark Ambient music usually incorporates more acoustic instruments and voices than any other Ambient Music form. Elements of various ancient rituals are abundant, with appropriate samples, obscure instruments, chanting voices, some tribal rhythms (that can get quite manic and intense at places). Sometimes (but seldom) with Satanic overtones. Often epic, with Pagan ambiences, i.e. crackling fire, singing bowls, voices from the woods, etc. I would call this separate, but somewhat related subgenre Pagan Ambient, which is generally much brighter and focuses of natural ambiences and pre-Christian traditions.
Examples: TUU, Alio Die, Matthias Grassow: "Awaken the Empire of Dark Wood".
Slightly more active than most of the classic Dark Ambient stuff. I think this form of music was born thanks to the black metal scene, whose artists often experimented with more ambient styles of music. Pitch-black and no-way-out ambiences, hellish ambiences, low-pitched textures, voices of tortured souls, hard, pounding but slow "metal" beats, some chants and sometimes even "demonic" vocals. Often has "diabolic" / pseudo-satanic overtones. At times this music sounds like a soundtrack to a horror movie and incorporates dark symphonic anthems. Another variation of Black Ambient is the evil-tinged calm music with barely heard hummings, distant rutual chants and subtle unidentifiable noise.
Examples: The album "Black Eden" by Endura - tracks "Satanas ex Machina", "The Devil's Stars Burn Cold", "When God Was A Snake", "The Sun No Longer Sets Me Free" and "A Golden Heresy".
This style was born out of the doom metal scene. It's basically Dark Ambient with funeral atmosphere. Slow, sad sounds, low drifting melodies, lots of drones and occasional drums straight out of funeral procession. This style is characterized by cemetery ambiences and an atmosphere of tragedy and inevitability.
Endless dark droning textures, usually very minimal, consisting of just one or several basic drones. Very dark, sometimes evoking images of mystery or Buddhist meditation. Can be also described as Meditative Ambient.
Examples: Think Oophoi and Maeror Tri. Think Troum.
The deepest form of Dark Ambient music. Very low, very deep sounds, sometimes on the edge of hearing. Extremely immersive and atmospheric. No melody, no rhythms, just the monolithic and quiet flow of sound.
Black Space (also known as Dark Space)
If you've heard "Zeit" by Tangerine Dream, you know the essence of this music, although this was made long before the term was coined. Or take the atmospheric moments of "Phaedra" as an example. This is basically Dark Ambient on space themes. Echoing, dark synths, bubbling effects, incorporating space ambiences like signals from celestial objects, noisy transmissions from spacecrafts, etc. Makes you feel as if you're on a desolate spaceship orbiting a planet in the darkest region of space. At other times sounds as if you are locked inside the engine room of an UFO. Or as if you are staring at the night sky in awe. Or as if you're looking inside Darth Vader's dark soul. Ok, enough imagery, Black Space is the "sound of space itself".
Examples: Tangerine Dream: "Zeit", em, Ozma.
For want of a better term. Take "Fauni-Gena" from the album "Atem" of Tangerine Dream or the atmospheric moments of Edgar Froese's "Epsilon In Malaysian Pale" and imagine an expansion on those ideas using the Dark Ambient formula. Dark and forlorn neo-classical themes, pretty haunting and sometimes abstract. At times incorporates hypnotic female vocals. Another type of "Neo-Classical Ambient" is the one that makes use of digital orchestral samples instead of mellotron, creating a lush but darkish sound influenced by Modern classical composers such as Bartok, Stravinsky, Shostakovich and so on. This style overlaps with the somewhat related genres of Martial Ambient and Neofolk.
Examples: Mauve Sideshow.
Can be also described as Gothic Ambient. This is no "Ambient Goth", though, which is essentially quiet and serene Gothic music with female vocals, while Medieval Ambient is dark and spooky. Medieval Ambient (I've never heard of the term, but this music had to be indicated somehow, so I coined the term which is as accurate as it could be) combines elements of Neo-Classical Ambient with medieval and cathedral ambiences with voices, church bells, spooky church organ, etc.
There are three styles of modern martial music mainly coming out of Europe. The first style is neo-classical martial music, the second is martial industrial (harsh industrial music on war themes) and martial ambient which combines elements of both, adopting a more ambient approach. Musically this is a mixture of dark ambient textures, forlorn atmospheres and war ambiences (most often related but not limited to WW2), like distant marching drums, horns, occasional neo-classical or folk anthems, firing, fight vessels, grim transmissions from the front, wireless talks, historical samples, war screams, air raid sirens, etc.
Return to Subgenres page
Top of page