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Arctic Ambient

Also Known As

Cold Ambient, Glacial Ambient

Gorge Scale Rating

2 - Minor




Dark Ambient, Drone Ambient


Arctic ambient is the embodiment of the cold. Shrouded in an icy aesthetic, it attempts to capture the interminable freezing cold of Earth's polar regions in a musical form. Arctic ambient tunes often heavily feature synth drones, timestretched or reverbed-out synths that resemble a cold wind, and occasionally even assorted wintery nature recordings. The idea of ambient music capturing the the Arctic wasn't strictly novel by the 90s; The Residents predicted several sepcts of the genre on their 1979 album Eskimo, while Vangelis tackled the task in the early 80s with his soundtrack to the Japanese film Antarctica - that said, his majestic and ethereal interpretation stands in strict contrast to the lonely sound of arctic ambient. The genre was really birthed in 1990, with the release of Nunatak Gongamur, the debut album from German ambient musician Thomas Köner. While Köner is perhaps more well known for being one half of the influential dub techno duo Porter Ricks, he's also been a mainstay in arctic ambient, and his freezing drones that mimic the endless white plains of snow and the icy breeze would define the template for further releases. Arctic ambient would remain a niche ambient style, occasionally producing acclaimed albums, the most notable of which is likely Biosphere's 1997 classic Substrata.

Part of the thing that makes arctic ambient so interesting is its controversial history as a genre. While the style has been around since the early 90s, the term "arctic ambient" didn't really see much use until the mid-2010s, when a Wikipedia user created a page for the genre including a small collection of "sources" (I'm using that term very liberally) that mostly didn't reference the term at all, and then managed to somehow get it added to the RateYourMusic database through some dubiously-hidden antics involving pretending they hadn't completely made this genre up. It's nothing new for people to make up genres to describe sounds they've come across, but the sheer audacity of conning a sizeable music community into believing it was a recognized term has left something of a stain on the genre, with many people proclaiming it to not exist. Despite this, the term managed to retain some popularity, and a small but dedicated group of ambient fans kept it alive on sites like RateYourMusic and 4chans's /mu/ board. The term even sees some use in the extensive Bandcamp ambient community, with artists such Llyn Y Cwn and He Who Speaks In Silence explicitly marketing their music under the arctic ambient moniker.


Thomas Köner - "Untitled 11" from Nunatak Gongamur (1990).

Biosphere - "Poa Alpina" from Substrata (1997).

Necrophorus - "Lost Land (Part 1)" from Drifting in Motion (2000).

Sleep Research Facility - "79° S 83° W" from Deep Frieze (2007).

loscil - "Goat Mountain" from coast/range/arc// (2011).