Ethereal wave

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Ethereal wave
Stylistic origins Dark wave, gothic rock, ambient
Cultural origins 1983/1984 in Europe / later continued in the United States
Typical instruments Vocals, electric guitar, bass guitar, drum machine, violin, flute, piano
Other topics
Dream pop, Shoegaze
From left to right: Robin Guthrie, Elizabeth Fraser and Simon Raymonde, of Cocteau Twins

Ethereal wave,[1] also called ethereal darkwave[2] in Europe and ethereal goth[3] or simply ethereal[4] in the United States, is a term that describes a subgenre of dark wave music.[5][6] Developed in 1983 and 1984 as an outgrowth of gothic rock, ethereal was mainly represented by bands such as Cocteau Twins[7] and the early Dead Can Dance.

Typical of this kind of music is the use of atmospheric guitar soundscapes, including sound effects like echo and delay. A second typical characteristic is the use of breathy male or high register female vocals – often with hard-to-decipher lyrical content – and a strong influence of ambient music.[6] The website describes it as being "most characterized by soprano female vocals combined with [...] bass, lead guitar, and drums which creates a surreal, angelic or otherworldly effect e.g. Love Spirals Downwards, Cocteau Twins.[...] Sometimes, a male vocalist will also be in the group along with the female vocalist. Even more rarely will there be only a male vocalist, but it is still considered ethereal if the mood created is otherworldly and surreal. The background music can also be electronic or soundscape oriented. It is currently a small division of music, and people who like this music are often called Goths."[6]

There are overlaps between ethereal wave, shoegazing and dream pop, with many artists being heavily influenced by 4AD bands, Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, and This Mortal Coil, as well as early All About Eve and Siouxsie and the Banshees. The American ethereal group Siddal, for example, described their music as follows: "A product of influences such as the Cocteau Twins, Low, Slowdive, The Cure, and Dead Can Dance, use a blend of ambient music, shoegazer style guitars, synths and sequenced rhythms."[8]

Ethereal is strongly associated with the Projekt label, which features some of the most well known names of the US scene. Other labels that feature some of the leading lights of the movement are Tess Records[9] (This Ascension, Autumn), Yvy Records (Faith & Disease) and Middle Pillar (Aenima).

Notable artists[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Glasnost Wave magazine, issue #42, p.32/34, genre classification of the bands Trance to the Sun (album: "Ghost Forest"), This Ascension (album: "Light and Shade"), Soul Whirling Somewhere (album: "Eating the Sea"), Cocteau Twins and Lycia, Germany, April 1994
  2. ^ Encyclopedia Gothica
  3. ^ a b Propaganda, issue #19, p.19, New York, September 1992
  4. ^ Propaganda, issue #19, p.49, New York, September 1992
  5. ^ CMJ New Music: The Scene Is Now: Dark Wave, Issue 68, p. 48, April 1999
  6. ^ a b c Description of Relevant Music
  7. ^ a b Glasnost Wave magazine, issue #44, p.11, interview with William Faith (Faith & The Muse, Tess Records), November/December 1994
  8. ^ Description from the official homepage of Siddal; see also their official MySpace site concerning influences.
  9. ^ Kilpatrick, Nancy. The Goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2004, ISBN 0-312-30696-2, p. 90.
  10. ^ Entry music magazine, issue #5/96, p.46, Germany, October/November 1996
  11. ^ Official Ostia website
  12. ^ Album review on CD Universe
  13. ^ Band page on Carpe Mortem Records
  14. ^ Band page on SoundClick
  15. ^ Tearwave biography & album reviews