In 2010, your pal Gel-Sol aka Andrew Reichel returned with his second proper Ambient album called K8ema, released on the Irish label Psychonavigation Records. Yet again does he explore the concept of space travels and galactic journeys without ever giving an audible sample-related hint in this regard. No traces of launching rockets or jokes about astronauts are to be found on K8ema, but the track titles give a good hint or two about the overarching concept. Whereas his 2008 album IZ is based on a similar style, but is undoubtedly much mellower and brighter, K8ema is a heavier album. The mood is not overly crestfallen and intimidating, but one thing is for sure: Gel-Sol exchanged the mellifluous melodies with both hazy drones and iridescent scintillae, shuttling from weighty synth washes over slightly friendlier space opera compositions to pitch-black synth stabs. You can count the lighthearted and comical moments of the album on one hand, but there are more than a few stylistic surprises to be found, one of them consists of a particularly successful metamorphosis that is so mysterious and unexpected that I cannot put my finger on the actual start of this process, but more about this later. Eleven tracks made it to the album, and if I interpret the signs correctly, Gel-Sol will continue to reside on the synth-heavy spectrum of the Ambient genre, despite being a devoted Prog Rock fan. Find out more about the dark worlds of K8ema and its brighter parts below.

Abyssinia is the auspicious name of the seven and a half minutes long intro track. And it begins as you expect a spacey Ambient to launch off, with slowly pulsating bass drones fading in which are eventually completed by tremendously mellow blurred synth washes. They are rising and falling incessantly, resulting in ethereal structures that are accompanied by glitzy cascades of galactic sparkles, square lead spirals and alto flute-like melodies which carry a few New Age remnants – but don't worry, it's the good New Age stuff that adds a pinch of an enigma to the dreamy atmosphere. This is a proper Drone track, and such being the case, the listener is literally washed away and deeply encapsulated in-between the synth streams. It's a terrific opener, and while similar tracks are created all the time – the first compositional triptych of Shambala Networks' The Last Winter beams itself into my mind –, this phantasmagoric track that turns gloomy and dark during its last minute is all the more important, as it lets the listener know: "look, I am a space Ambient album!" This effect is even achieved without the clichéd but usually welcome transmission-and-lift-off messages of NASA origin.


After the great opener, the title track K8ema morphs right into Abyssinia. Its signature element is a rising auroral three-note synth pad motif with a beautiful glittering sustain that merges with the backing synth sweeps, quirky pulses and synthetic wind chimes. Even though this motif leaves far too soon, the remaining ingredients succeed in maintaining an oxymoronic theme of cold warmth, a concept that was already depicted on the front artwork of Gel-Sol's debut of 2003/04 thanks to its entanglement of lava-red glass with a glacial-blue foil. The ambience is put into a rhythmic pattern once a dubby bass line enters. A woman announces "Today you're all girl, and being a girl was never nicer." Agreed! The mood is very deep, but the ubiquitous glitz and the coruscating bits are formidable counterparts which offer plasticity, depth and fragility. The song ends with the playfulness of a simple and fuzzy synth melody. Another huge track, and by now the listener should have adjusted him- or herself to the heaviest, deepest surroundings Gel-Sol ever came up with.

The deepness continues, but in the next two tracks, it is traversed by several clicking, zipping and popping curlicues. While Spirit Guide is rather thin and doesn't rely on rich synth textures rather than warbled metallic sounds and incisively eerie synth strings that are complemented by seraphic synth choirs in its second half, the scintillating Glade merges bouncy galactosamine droplets with deep multitextured drones, quavering violin-esque strings and crystalline space flutes. Even though the backing synths contain multiple layers and morph all the time, the splutters, pulses and crackles in the foreground are lively devices which triumphantly distract from the pompous synth maelstroms. The next two compositions move into Space opera solar systems in Ambient style (so spare me with John Williams, please).


The ginormously vivacious Halo Of Stars has been tested for several years in live sets and changed its shape every so often. Luckily, we're receiving the full Ambient treatment for over seven minutes on the album version, as multiple layers of jocular synth bells merge with solemn string sections of pure bliss and happiness. These ornaments are further enhanced by gleaming sparks. The strings later grow in numbers and become incredibly warm and friendly, and once whirling synth pads and laser-like sounds enter, this song becomes utterly mellow, reminding me of the warmth off Gel-Sol's third album IZ. A sample of a male voice is used in the outro section and leads into Peacetime Fortress, a static noise-laden, frizzle-heavy track of wonkiness. Despite its name, this composition depicts the darker side of space opera themes with dusky, prolonged synth stabs, cavernous drones and spectral figments of iciness. The fuzzy string textures in the background, possibly created with warped steel guitars, are the only illuminating device in this spacey alcove. Once a male announcer makes the remark that "the air was filled with beautiful music", the darkness of Peacetime Fortress slowly declines and makes room for rose-tinted, good-natured synth eruptions and lofty jitters. A steady beat is juxtaposed, but it is played in higher regions and doesn't count as a proper club-oriented ingredient. 

Adjacent to the fortress there's The Mechanical Garden, and although this is the shortest track with a duration of just three minutes, it leaves a hazy impression due to the wind gust-resembling synth veils in the background and the mechanical pulses that form a 4/4 beat. Thunderous bass drops and swirling storms make this a dankly Drone track of spacey proportions. There is no distinct melody to be found, but that's the nature of drones and isn't meant as a complaint. The constant oscillation between misty whitewashed parts and darkly bubbling sections should be intriguing for Drone fans who like a strong slice of grim pompousness in their music. The next duo of tracks pushes the darkness even further; Gel-Sol is as far away from the melodious coziness of IZ as possible.


Panta Rhei shoots the earthen gothic horror of Svarte Greiner into space, at least in its first half. Terrifically (or terribly?) abyssal strings and walloping drones depict a shadowy blackness. Not even the gurgling water can cause relaxation. Slowly, however, it becomes clear that the dark strings aren't that eerie, as Gel-Sol is playing a trick on us. The mood changes when the former darkness changes for the better, making room for a enormously friendly melody. It is worth listening to this track repeatedly, time and again, because even though I know Panta Rhei by heart, I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when the pitch-black mood is penetrated by colorful, heartwarming melodies. It remains an astonishing effect for me to this day. When the composition ends with floating 8-bit melodies, the cheekily titled Gels' Hole puts itself on. Fierce, almost clichéd synth stabs hit the listener, while György Ligeti-esque beams of tension trap the spectator. Robotic beeps and frosty streams dribble over the listener, and once the unexpected addition of chirping birds is heard, a piano-accompanied children's choir ends the darkness on a blithesome note.

The last two tracks don't turn things around per se, but are among the most exquisite and very best Ambient tunes Gel-Sol ever came up with. Energy Pools starts with a monotonous dark string and a sample about a man being mystified by radios, elevators and other gadgetries. Bleeps, gurgling water and beautifully intense synth washes waft through the song, the latter reminding of the opener Abyssinia due to their multiple textures and various colors. The distinct feature, however, is a free-style performance on a classic drum kit that is towering over the synthscape all the while sirens, nightbirds, crickets and rumbling bursts change the scenery. All synthetic devices have now left the song. At first, this tune seems arbitrarily stitched together, with a vocal sample here, a few laser sounds there and earth-shaking ravines at the end. While this might be the case, it is still a refreshingly honest track that moves from one definite point of departure to an entirely different ending. A cinematic song like this has been missing thus far, and its inclusion is a great benefit. The final aptly-titled Last is a pure Ambient track of melancholia with multicolored legato streams and a strong feeling of floating in space or through a thick fog. It is the calmest track with no distraction whatsoever. An aerial staccato synth sweep is entangled and perfectly audible despite its crystalline structure and the bold flow of the monotonous strings. It's a very serious track but it manages to inject the feeling of contentment and loneliness. A superb closer of a deep album.

I have to admit: sometimes, it hurts. Gone are the days when Gel-Sol placed genuinely funny samples in rhythmic Ambient House skits. A few remnants are scattered in-between the occasional fissures through which the past enters. Gels' Hole and Energy Pools rely on obscure samples, and the magnificent shine of Halo Of Stars functions as a mediating device between the vibrant melodies and jocular joy of IZ and the arcane mystique and intimidating darkness of K8ema. It is quite clear that even die-hard Gel-Sol afficionados cannot like both of his Ambient albums equally. They depict the concept of space and galactic travels, without ever relying on rocket sounds and Houston messages. However, the track titles and the spiraling swirls leave a pretty good justification for such an interpretation. It is hence up to the listener and not the cruddy reviewer to decide which album is better suited. I am usually fond of melodious, Far Eastern-flavored Ambient compositions, but then again I'm constantly reviewing Dark Ambient material of various kinds as well. I'm really fond of Gel-Sol's threatening, cinematic approach which I see as a clear-cut counterpart to IZ. Naturally,


I'm voting for the synth-heavy pieces like Abyssinia, Last and The Mechanical Garden plus the warm bubbles found in the title track K8ema and Halo Of Stars. The remaining arrangements are skillfully crafted additions as well. K8ema is Gel-Sol's most coherent album at the end of the day (or universe). It is dark, and the scattered glistening bits are usually of the frosty kind. It is my strong top pick in regard to eerie Space Ambient albums, whereas IZ remains a benchmark that delivers the very same concept in neon colors. I like IZ a bit more, as its melodies are carved out more clearly, but the spacey drones of K8ema are tremendously appealing and a good foreshadowing device for Gel-Sol's forthcoming album Terramecha, another ambiguous term that lets me hope for an opulent entanglement of counterintuitive contraries.


Further reading:

  • Gel-Sol has a cool blog where he explicates his further music-related projects. If his double album Terramecha – again keen on depicting a journey through space – ever becomes reality, I'll be drooling all over it!
  • On Gel-Sol's SoundCloud page, you'll find his latest experiments of the aural kind. He will probably never weave them into an album, but they are top-notch anyway.


Ambient Review 121: Gel-Sol – K8ema (2010). Originally published on Sep. 12, 2012 at