|Stylistic origins||Industrial music, Ambient music|
|Cultural origins||1980s and 1990s, Europe and United States|
|Typical instruments||Electronic musical instruments, field recordings|
|Ambient noise - Black ambient - Illbient|
|List of dark ambient artists - List of electronic music genres - Dark psytrance - Drone metal|
Dark ambient is a subgenre of ambient music that features foreboding, ominous, or discordant overtones. Dark ambient emerged in the 1980s and 1990s with the introduction of new synthesizer and sampling technology in the electronic music genre and other technical advances in music. Dark ambient is an unusually diverse genre, related to industrial music, noise, ethereal wave, and black metal, yet generally free from derivatives and connections to other genres or styles.
Dark ambient evolved partially based on several of Brian Eno's early collaborations that had a distinctly dark or discordant edge, notably "An Index of Metals" (from Evening Star (1975)), a collaboration with Robert Fripp that incorporated harsh guitar feedback, the ambient pieces on the second half of David Bowie's Low (1977) and "Heroes", Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics (1980), a collaboration with Jon Hassell, and particularly the fourth installment of his ambient series, On Land (1982).
Ambient industrial projects like Kunst Grand, Coil, Lilith, Lustmord, Zoviet France, and Nocturnal Emissions evolved out of industrial music during the 1980s, and were some of the earliest artists to create consistently "dark" ambient music. These artists make use of industrial principles such as noise and shock tactics, but wield these elements with more subtlety. Additionally, ambient industrial often has strong occultist tendencies, with a particular leaning toward Chaos Magick, often giving the music a ritualistic flavor. Ambient industrial is one of several directions that post-industrial music took on after the breakup of Throbbing Gristle in 1981. The last material that TG recorded in the studio, In the Shadow of the Sun and Journey Through a Body, was ambient, and pointed in the direction that several of TG's offshoots (notably Coil and CTI) would take.
Among the many artists who produce ambient industrial are Coil, CTI, Lab Report, Lustmord, Hafler Trio, Nocturnal Emissions, Zoviet France, PGR, Akira Yamaoka, Thomas Köner, Controlled Bleeding, early Techno Animal, Robin Rimbaud, Final and Deutsch Nepal. Many of these artists are eclectic in their output, with much of it falling outside of ambient industrial. Ambient industrial often consists of evolving dissonant harmonies of drones and resonances, low frequency rumbles and machine noises, sometimes supplemented by gongs, percussive rhythms, bullroarers, distorted voices and other found sounds, often processed to the point where the original sample cannot be recognized. Entire works may be based on radio telescope recordings (Arecibo Trans-Plutonian Transmissions), the babbling of newborn babies (Nocturnal Emissions Mouths of Babes), or sounds recorded through contact microphones on telegraph wires (e.g. Alan Lamb's Primal Image).
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, an ethereal wave trend emerged within the dark wave movement, that tended toward moody atmospheric pieces rather than jangly minor-key rock. Ethereal wave was mainly associated with the Projekt record label, with bands like Black Tape for a Blue Girl composing moody ambient soundscapes.
By the mid-1990s, a large number of artists were working in ambient industrial, ambient noise, ethereal wave, illbient, isolationism, and other emerging "dark ambient" styles. Among these artists were Autopsia, Vidna Obmana, Daniel Menche, Lull, Raison d'etre, Hieronymus Bosch (band), Velvet Cacoon and Shinjuku Thief. In the same time dark ambient vibrated into contemporary classical music. Example of this can be project Aghiatrias or solo works of composer Vladimír Hirsch.
Generally the music tends to evoke a feeling of solitude, melancholy, confinement, and isolation. However, while the theme in the music tends to be "dark" in nature, some artists create more organic soundscapes. Examples of such productions are those of Oöphoi, Alio Die, Mathias Grassow, Tau Ceti, and Klaus Wiese. The Symphonies of the Planets series, a collection of works by NASA and Brain/Mind Research in which planetary electromagnetic waves are captured by the Voyager unmanned space probes and converted into audible sound, can also be considered an organic manifestation of dark ambient.
Noise music is often regarded as a 'relative' or 'sister' genre to dark ambient, or vice-versa. Noise is considered unpleasant and dark, as is dark ambient. Some noise artists create almost ambient soundscapes, such as Aube, Junkielover, MOZ, Daniel Menche, Kiyoshi Mizutani, Iszoloscope, and some Merzbow. Some, for example Iszoloscope, also compose ambient on the side, such as his Les Gorges Des Limbes album. While the two genres can't really compare sound wise, many labels, such as Ant-Zen, release both ambient and noise, as well as combinations of both, taking both avant-garde genres further.
Ambient black metal (also known as black ambient) is a style that combines elements of black metal and ambient/dark ambient music. Typically the electric guitar is played together with synthesizers and keyboards, or simply in an 'atmospheric' style with much use of reverb. The Norwegian artist Burzum may be considered a pioneer of black ambient (having also performed in traditional dark ambient). Other prominent artists who have performed in this style include Velvet Cacoon (US), Abruptum (Sweden), Wolves in the Throne Room (US), Xasthur (US), Leviathan (US), Nortt (Denmark), Blut Aus Nord (France), Summoning (Austria) and Striborg (Australia) the female solo artist Hecate as well as space/black metal band Darkspace (Switzerland).