The precursor to Progressive Trance, Ambient Trance is a dreamy, hypnotic and intelligent style of trance, mostly German, that utilizes atmospheric pads, epic melodic progressions and occasionally symphonic arrangements. It is not to be confused with commercial, mainstream trance from artists such as ATB or Darude. At times borrowing elements from the earlier acid movement, such as rezzy 303 leads and minimal percussion, but based more on the spiritual experience that Goa Trance has since trademarked, Ambient Trance is an often-forgotten but extremely influential style that took rave music to a higher and more profound level. Sometimes called "Oldschool Trance" because it has since been left behind for the harder styles popular today.
Ambient Trance is not as much a specific genre as it is a period in the history of dance music's most notorious style. When The Orb and other early dance pioneers were mixing ambient records with current club-oriented sounds, many producers and DJs in the UK and Germany began taking notice. As early as 1990, German musician Harald Bluechel (aka Cosmic Baby) was experimenting with classical piano and synthesizer melodies contrasted against techno rhythms, and in 1993 released one of the most popular trance songs of all time, "Cafe del Mar" (under the pseudonym Energy 52) which is still being remixed today.
Perhaps the most prolific figure in trance, then and now, is Oliver Lieb. Recording under the aliases Paragliders, The Ambush, Spicelab and LSG, Lieb remixed almost every trance producer of note during the 90's and continues to do so today. His albums spanned entire genres, from tribal, ethnic fusion to spacey trance to rough and tough techno. Considered by many to be one of the gods of trance alongside Paul van Dyk, Lieb was a huge reason why the style remained powerful and important in dance cultures around the world.
As with all styles, Ambient Trance eventually morphed into something different and by the mid 90's, it was almost entirely abandoned for harder and more progressive sounds. However, a few producers of that time still remain today producing intelligent trance, among them Humate, Salt Tank, Lieb and Paul van Dyk, albeit in a more modern setting. But most fans of dance music will fondly remember the early and mid-90's as the "good old days" of trance, with some of the most beautiful and profound tracks produced during this time.
This trance is generally more laid back than Euro, it tends to be a lot deeper and has a less commercial edge. It is also usually slower (130 - 140 bpm) and has a wider variety of sounds - many progressive tunes use a lot of tribal techno and breakbeat sounds. The rifts in progressive music are much more subtle than that of Euro and never as uplifting. Progressive music relies more on subtle builds and drops guided by the DJ throughout the night, whereas Euro builds and drops in each individual tune. Recently much progressive trance has moved towards deep tribal sounds and breaks. This is often referred to as "progressive house".
Hard Trance, as the title suggests, blends traditional
trance sounds and structure with harder
elements more reminiscent of Acid
and Techno. The tempo is generally
increased to between 145 and 155 and
the kick drum and bass is usually
a focus for a clubbing audience.