With Gates of Atlantis, Phelios (the solo project of Martin Stürtzer) has created a soundtrack in search of a film. It has a distinctly cinematic tone and structure to it, and even follows a loose narrative structure. However, there is far more than incidental sounds and music cues here, and it simply is too complex and varied to function with any other media.
The opening title piece does exemplify this film-like structure right off the bat. Liberal applications of reverb and plucked synth strings set the stage before oppressive, dramatic crashes herald the arrival of monolithic kettle drums and intense dramatic flair. Intentional or not, it makes for perfect opening title credit music in its sound and bombast. Similarly, the closing "Ascension" both exemplifies its title and an uplifting ending to an apocalyptic narrative. Lighter synths abound, and when darker moments show up they are quickly battled away.
Between these two exceptional mood-setting moments, there exists a combination of both dynamic oriented grandiose compositions and more restrained, moody ones that keep things flowing for the album’s duration. "Spiritual Possession" takes the connotations of its title literally, beginning with what sounds like a distant open door banging from the wind (or other forces) and bleak ambience. Things soon come to a head, with banging ritualistic percussion and what almost sounds like a fuzzed laden guitar squall that comes to a climax, and then ends peacefully.
Other moments are scaled back and understated. "Temple of Yith" is all murky synthesizers and bass heavy rumbles that are the very definition of dark. A slow progression of noise and distortion comes and goes, but never does it become too aggressive. "New Stellar Age" is cut from a similar cloth in both its sound and mood. Again keeping the drums away, it opens in a subtler, haunting way as the surging keyboards build tension in a slow burn development.
Phelios may be one of many in the nebulous subgenres of dark ambient and death industrial, but his guile at composition puts him head and shoulders past most of his contemporaries. Not too many albums manage to capture such intense moods and conjure such powerful imagery based upon its sound alone (even though the packaging is rather Spartan, it has its own movie-like presentation). Gates of Atlantis is clearly a high water mark for the current state of the genre.
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