Glacial EP






A work called Glacial EP? Now that’s the right choice for my annual Winter Ambient Review Cycle, I presume. And indeed, Larne, Northern Ireland-based Lee Gorman aka Ambientsketchbook comes up with five intriguing Ambient vignettes of the Drone-accentuated, New Age-oriented kind. Self-released in October 2013 and available to purchase (name your price) and fully streamable at Bandcamp, Gorman splices the concept of his EP, as he takes it to a metalevel: not only is the overarching atmosphere coherent, it is also the track titles which explain what is happening as the sound waves unfold. And yet, the EP is not self-explanatory, especially not when its title is considered. Glacial it is alright, but there is more to it than just this adjective, as each and every track is based on the unison of two anatgonistic timbres, namely said glacial formations… and wondrous warmth. This enmeshment is not anything strikingly unique per se, but it undoubtedly minimizes the perceived cliché level. Instead of plinking bells, water droplets and stormy gales, there are (also) silkened guitar licks, warm rivulets full of bass, and synth structures – or processed/filtered real instruments – reigning in the songs. These warm particles help to face the abandoned no man’s land. And once you know it, signs of life are beginning to materialize when one least expects them. Here is a meticulous look at Ambientsketchbook’s Glacial EP.


As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the tracks themselves are vignettes and constituents for the overarching unfolding of events. In the case of the opener The Retreating Glacier Revealed An Ancient Forest, not everything is straightforward though. What the prosaic title does not reveal is the ecclesiastic peacefulness and majestic tranquility that is emanated by the wave-like synth washes. Thermal heat, sepia-tinted cloudlets of fugacious haze, powerful chord structures and mildly piercing stringed coils traverse through the diorama and depict the formerly covered tendrils of said ancient forest. The fret afterglow of the guitar, the strong radiance and gurgling water fit perfectly well. Like a holy sanctuary, the opener lets Slow Dancing Society’s Priest Lake Circa ’88 (2008) come to mind. In a way, it also resembles the contemplation of Datura Notes (2013) by The Ashes Of Piemonte. A grand opener, but not particularly icy.


Frostiness, however, is all over the second track: While The Oceans Rose We Drank, Oblivious is a sternly melancholic piano arrangement, with the long sustain phases reversing the plinking coldness of the piano tones in higher regions, thus adding a source of heat to the forsaken wasteland. Even an electric guitar gyrates around the lachrymosity, genteel and cautious. Cinematic because of its sharp focus and carefully chosen set of textures, Lee Gorman creates a haunting composition that is truly compatible to that certain winter mood. So far, each track of the EP spawned a duality that could be coined as the unison of coldness and warmth. Whether it is the glacier that is melting in the first track or the bittersweet tranquilizing and warm feeling after one too many drinks in the second one, the different temperatures coalesce gracefully. The third composition especially depicts this impression qua its title: Northern Lights & Western Fires is about the simultaneity of these natural phenomena, transformed into music by means of superimposed translucenct synths and an omnipresent whistling that sounds like a gas flame heating up the aura. The track is a tantamount appendix to the opener in that the same solemnity and grace is presented, but Northern Lights & Western Fires is not as deserted; a diffuse lecture is given by a child, and all of a sudden, the Glacial EP shuttles between the infamous Scottish duo from the turquoise highlands and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s IBM 1401: A User’s Manual (2006).


The fourth track All Is Not Lost is a guitar-driven arrangement and would have been a splendid closer due to its uplifting title and especially so its warmhearted sinews. This is almost Pop Ambient territory. Deep and melodious bass twangs and crisp scintillae resemble a cozy evening close to a fireplace, only the droning mélange of comparably iridescent and heterodyned guitar specters invokes frostier temperatures. The actual apotheosis Rebuilding The Stratosphere takes the concept to new heights figuratively speaking, as it is a sub-zero icescape and lifts the listening subject ever higher, up until a point where the troposphere is anything but a mere greenly glowing filter. This is an adamantly hollow yet ethereal Ambient track, with upwards spiraling spheroidal cherubims and amplified backing strata. Everything seems so celestial and surreal. A New Age concoction of the cyber-oid kind, Ambientsketchbook embroiders the duality of coldness and warmth one more time; the textures and surfaces of the synths are hibernal, the euphony and overtones, meanwhile, are benign and amicable.


On his Glacial EP, Ambientsketchbook does not take the concept of winter to a new or completely unexpected level, but successfully manages to stay away from stereotyped formations and textural entanglements. The name of the EP is, in the end, subverted and partially neglected, for there are rays of warmth found in each track, and even when the textures themselves are indeed chillingly glacial as in the aeriform closer Rebuilding The Stratosphere, the elasticized melodies lessen the harshness of their temperature. Naturally, this is my personal interpretation, Lee Gorman could have had something completely different in mind with his EP. The possibility remains, as there are no liner notes or explanatory thoughts attached, but it is unlikely for it to differ immensely for one important reason: the track titles. These showcase movements, motions and events that unfold before the inner eye, most of them involving warmth, and wherever this is not the case, the composition itself gives this notion away. The prime example of a convincingly antagonistic depiction would be Northern Lights & Western Fires, but even While The Oceans Rose We Drank, Oblivious implies the observation of a cataclysmic event… followed by the numbing impact of alcohol. Merging Drone and New Age with vestiges of Shoegaze and piano-based nuclei, the Glacial EP is a great work. Its title is oh so fitting; it is then splendidly neglected. The result is a stringent mélange of crystalline snow and balmy warmth. Ambientsketchbook’s winter loses its threatening implication. I obey and bathe in its wadded fibers.



Further listening and reading:

  • You can purchase (name your price) and stream the Glacial EP at Bandcamp
  • Ambientsketchbook’s Twitter account is @ambientsketchbk.



Ambient Review 297: Ambientsketchbook – Glacial EP (2013). Originally published on Dec. 18, 2013 at