The second of Wolfgang Voigt's Gas albums released by Mille Plateaux, Zauberberg is stylistically uniform whereas its predecessor, Gas (1996), is stylistically varied. The uniformity of the music is key, for this is ambient music and the sustained motifs and sounds enhance the overall mood, which -- taking a cue from the album title, which is the title of a novel by Thomas Mann and which translates to "Magic Mountain" in English -- could be described as mysterious and ominous, though one's sense tends to be subjective when considering music as evocative as this. The tracks tend to carry on for extended periods of time -- anywhere from six to 14 minutes -- and aren't structured as songs but rather as soundscapes, and though there are melodies and rhythms to be heard within these soundscapes, they're minimal and often fleeting. The rhythms start thumping away on the second track, titled simply "2," and consist generally of a low-volume, somewhat muffled series of looped kick drums. Another rhythmically standout track is "5," which is as banging (as in metal-on-metal banging, albeit distant and echoed) as the album gets. In fact, the intensity of the music increases from track to track, peaking on "5" and "6" before the beats drop out for the soothing final track, "7." The melodies of Zauberberg are more accessible than the partial rhythms, as they swirl in the foreground of the tracks; reportedly, Voigt sampled dusty old vinyl records of classical music, namely Wagner, for these melodies, and while there's no sure evidence of this, it's a reasonable assumption, given the textural hiss and static that is heard in the music and given the traces of what certainly sounds like it could be Wagner. Zauberberg is arguably the most definitive Gas album, and indeed some consider it the best. The others -- Königsforst (1999) and Pop (2000) -- are also great, but sometimes they seem like variations of Zauberberg, as if Voigt set the standard with this album and then sought to alter it on subsequent releases, so not to repeat himself. Consequently, Zauberberg is the ideal starting point in the Gas discography, not only because it's stylistically the most representative of the albums, but because those that preceded and succeeded it tend to be measured against it. Taken on its own terms, Zauberberg is a remarkable album that all serious aficionados of ambient techno should hear; not only is it among the most accomplished works of Voigt, who is one of the true legends of German techno, but it set the standard for ambient techno going forward, most notably setting the stage for Kompakt's popular series of Pop Ambient releases as well as subsequent Gas albums.
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier