Ambient is such a misleading term, relating, as it does, to the immediate surroundings of a more prominent object. It suggests background music; music that carries no weight or substance and that is little more than a sonic backdrop to a more appealing activity. Yet ambient music, whether the dystopian shimmer of Future Sound Of London or the unnerving darkwave of German artist Martin Sturtzer (A.K.A Phelios), has always been far more than a simple backdrop. Rife with imagination and rich textures, Phelios acts as a gateway to your imagination and, over seven tracks, ‘Gates of Atlantas’ positions Martin as an architect of dreams, the ebb and flow of his music offering to expand the remit of your dreams if you allow it to wash over you.
Unlike conventional SonicAbuse reviews, a track-by-track guide is of little use here. Indeed a track guide on an album such as this would be like plunging someone into the pitch black of an abandoned coal mine with a torch in their hand but no batteries to power it. The work here is intended to be consumed whole, the music first surrounding and then consuming the listener. Martin creates a deeply unnerving world awash with the metallic atmospherics of industrial combined with the drawn out subtlety of Trent Reznor’s recent soundtrack work. Indeed, the nearest conventional relative to Phelios would be Trent’s ‘girl with the dragon tattoo’ soundtrack, a similarly minimalist piece that still successfully conjured images even if the listener had never seen the film. Here patience is key and Martin slowly builds his atmosphere, like a spider building a web around its victim, out of lush synth drones and occasional bouts of doom-laden percussion. If Sunn 0))) were to be covered by Mark Snow it might sound something like this, the slightest shift in sound tainted with a dark and sinister meaning. Inevitably it is a record that requires some element of acquiescence, the listener needs to be wholly engaged, listening with the light turned low and all other distractions kept to a minimum, so that when the music does burst into a wheezing gallop through the dark underbelly of a world inhabited solely by Richard James’ perma-grinning face and Skinny Puppy the effect is somewhat akin to being physically hurled into a new and alien environment.
This is a necessarily brief review because dark ambient is a style of music that requires participation not elucidation. Each person’s experience of it is different, because each person will treat it in a different way. Superficially it is ambient – a background rumble that would undoubtedly augment the experience of Silent Hill (a game whose grubby, frozen atmosphere the music evokes most successfully) or the reading of a good book – but for those willing to truly allow the music to capture their consciousness it is much more. It is a gateway to the darkest reaches of the imagination, a shimmering, twisted, dark-hearted ride into the unknown constructed of carefully developed textures and spun around the listener like the finest gossamer web, as beautiful as diamond and as unyielding as Tungsten steel. Darkly atmospheric and beautifully malevolent, ‘Gates of Atlantis’ is a mesmerising voyage into the depths that is well worth undertaking.