Saturday 10 October 2020

Dark Ambient Review: Spirits of Rhea

Dark Ambient Review: Spirits of Rhea

Review by Casey Douglass

Spirits of Rhea

Saturn is a sexy planet, there’s just no getting away from it. Spirits of Rhea is a dark ambient album from Phelios, and its theme is pretty much all things Saturn, from its rings to its moons, and the planet itself. In a loving nod to reality, the album even incorporates radio emissions from the NASA CASSINI mission that visited Saturn. This lends it that extra enjoyment factor, in my opinion, just like how a Hollywood film that featured a real alien might.

As a whole, the tracks on Spirits of Rhea make great use of smoothly flowing and ebbing tones. Many of them open with a slow swelling of drone which fades again to a quieter space, and then re-emerges again. They also play with the expectations this creates in the listener, giving some gradual overlapping and occasional discordant tones that reorient the listener’s attention. A good number of the tracks feature the blipping, sweeping tones of signals too, which adds extra flavour to the often quite isolating soundscapes.

The feeling of isolation and awe is wonderfully created by pretty much every track on Spirits of Rhea. If ever there was an album to contemplate the immenseness of space and how it might feel to be adrift around a different star or planet, this is it. It is also an album that plays well with a feeling of discovery. A prime example is the track Saturn Emissions. The tones and drones of this track gave me the impression of what it might be like to be scanning for a signal, minutes passing of getting nothing but background noise. Then, a ‘squelchy’ signal starts to sound, and the other tones that emerge, a chime-like impact and a resonance that tickles the air, create a feeling of wonder and hollow dread at the same time.

Another track that creates both a sense of wonder and the otherworldly is The Deep Sea. It opens with the lapping of sea waves, but ones that sound somehow vaporous as the track continues. There are high tones that almost sound a little like wolf howls and later, a shimmery quality to the track makes it feel a little unsettling. I guess it’s the aural equivalent to waking up at the beach and then slowly realising that the sea is the wrong colour, and that the sky looks strange!

Other tracks seem to incorporate a sense of whimsy and the otherworldly in a different style, most notably Through the Gates of the Silver Key and Signal. The former, and to some degree, that latter, has a kind of distant signal fuzz and shimmer, that create the feeling of a ‘whistley’ mirage. I know we are talking about a space-themed album here, but they are the kind of tones that had me thinking of Pan’s Labyrinth as much as 2001: A Space Odyssey. I really enjoyed this after the more cold, bleaker feeling, of some of the other tracks.

Spirits of Rhea is a truly stunning album. It taps into those big feelings of vast distances and cold realities, while mixing in a hint of the unknown and the otherworldly. It manages to do this smoothly and calmly, by recognising the power of the subtle to captivate and insinuate, and feels all the more powerful for it. If you like dark ambient / space ambient that makes you feel isolated and exposed, yet does it in a non-threatening manner, Spirits of Rhea is well worth checking out.

Visit the Spirits of Rhea page on Bandcamp for more information. You can check out a snippet of Spirits of Rhea below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Spirits of Rhea

Album Artist: Phelios

Released: 07 August, 2020