Dark ambient (especially in the 1980s referred to as ambient industrial) is a genre of post-industrial music that features an ominous, dark droning and often gloomy, monumental or catacombal atmosphere, partially with discordant overtones. It shows similarities towards ambient music, a genre that has been cited as a main influence by many dark ambient artists, both conceptually and compositionally. Although mostly electronically generated, dark ambient also includes the sampling of hand-played instruments and semi-acoustic recording procedures, and is strongly related to ritual industrial music.
The term dark ambient was coined in the early 1990s by Roger Karmanik to describe the music of Raison d'être and related artists that are heavily associated with the Cold Meat Industry record label.
Dark ambient has its roots in the 1970s, with the introduction of newer, smaller, and more affordable effects units, synthesizer and sampling technology. Early genre elements can be found on Throbbing Gristle's 1978 album D.o.A: The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle. Important early precursors of the genre were Tangerine Dream's early double-album Zeit (1972), which was unlike most of their subsequent albums in abandoning any notion of rhythm or definable melody in favour of "darkly" sinuous, occasionally disturbing sonics, and also Affenstunde (1970) by fellow krautrock band Popol Vuh.
Projects like Lustmord,Nocturnal Emissions, and Zoviet France, 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 magick, as expounded by Aleister Crowley, and chaos magic, often giving the music a ritualistic flavor.
Among the artists who produce ambient industrial/dark ambient are Controlled Bleeding, CTI, Coph Nia, Deutsch Nepal, Hafler Trio, Lustmord, Nocturnal Emissions, PGR, Thomas Köner, Zoviet France,Cabaret Voltaire, SPK, Lab Report, Akira Yamaoka, Robin Rimbaud, Endura, Vidna Obmana, Daniel Menche, Lull, Hwyl Nofio, Hieronymus Bosch, and Final. Many of these artists are eclectic in their output, with much of it falling outside ambient industrial. Dark ambient has vibrated also into contemporary classical music.
Dark ambient 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. For example, 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).
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 Brain/Mind Research inspired by audible-frequency plasma waves recorded by the Voyager unmanned space probes, can also be considered an organic manifestation of dark ambient.