Phelios is the dark ambient project of Martin Stürtzer, and Gates of Atlantis is the most recent album, released last year. The project has been active since 2006, but I first heard Phelios on the Dark Ambient Radio series of compilations. The track, Cloud Sector α, stood out as being a step above the general level of quality on those albums. I didn’t get round to giving the rest of his work any proper attention until I saw that he’d released this album, and I thought it would be worth my time to take a listen.
Gates of Atlantis sounds like it was recorded in deep space. (I know, I know. Space is a vacuum; there are no sounds. But you know what I mean.) Long reverbs and airy drones give the impression of vast distances and giant nebulae.
Most of the tracks combine this with tribal drumming. In the title track this builds up to fast, intricate rhythms. In other tracks, such as Hibernation, this is slower and more subdued. And there are some subtle melodic elements in all of these tracks too. Spiritual Possession has dark, menacing bassline, with subtle distortion, while in Gates of Atlantis, a gentle harp pattern combines with a slow chord progression.
A few tracks contain no drumming at all, such as Temple of Yith and New Stellar Age. These are my least favourite tracks on the album. The slowly pulsating drones of Temple of Yith sound like the breathing of the universe, but while there are subtle changes in intensity during this track, there isn’t quite enough movement to sustain my interest for the whole seven minutes.
The album ends with Ascension, which, with its major chords, brings in the only notes of optimism here. The celestial feel remains, of course, and there are some subdued bass drums softly beating in the background.
Also included in this release is a bonus alternate version of the opening track, Gates of Atlantis. To my ears though, it sounds so similar to the original that I’m not quite sure why it was included. Martin Stürtzer is clearly a man of subtle distinctions, though, so I guess that it made sense to him.
The production on this album is sparkling. Despite the layers of sound, the mix never becomes muddy. Indeed, it remains crystal clear at all times. There is plenty of space for every element. The quality of sounds is also superb throughout. The drums are mixed between acoustic and electronic, but always sitting together convincingly. And the drum rhythms have a natural, tribal feel, with some exceptional moments, such as the subtle off-beat tapping in The Shadow out of Time.
Gates of Atlantis is not as dark as some of the dark ambient music that I like. I’m a big fan of the Cold Meat Industry bands such as Raison d’être and Desiderii Marginis, and this release doesn’t have that sense of sadness and, as a result, doesn’t touch me quite so deeply as those musicians do. Nonetheless, this album is an effective piece of cold, spacey ambient music, and judged by those standards, it is a very fine piece of work.