Igneous Flame, IonOrcus

When an ambient artist notes that a work is “long form,” it usually means it’s one piece that takes up an entire CD–73 minutes or so. On his two latest releases, Ion and Orcus, Igneous Flame (aka Pete Kelly) set his sights higher. At 130 minutes and 95 minutes respectively, these offerings require DVD format to accommodate their heft. (Kelly wisely uses the ample disc space to offer both MP3 and WAV options.) Taken together, the two releases stand as contrasting meditations, one built on a dreamy lightness and the other on grim, often stultifying darkness.

Ion is the lighter of the two. Here, Kelly sets aside the processed guitars that have formed the bulk of his past few albums and instead calls all of his floating forms from keyboards. The feel here is classic ambient: cloud-motion drifts in airy, angelic-choir pads and soft bass exhalations that lazily nudge each other along for two hours. In that regard there’s nothing groundbreaking happening here; it’s just that it’s all done extremely well. Ion is one of those listens that creates moments where you suddenly realize that your breathing has sympathetically slowed to match the music and that you’ve allowed yourself to wander off somewhere, mentally. Sometimes you’re brought around by a Kelly shimmer or a shift in tone (as at the beginning of “Earth Metal”) that tugs at your attention, but soon enough you’ve returned to that quiet section of headspace Ion has been gently hollowing out for you. Obviously, this disc truly comes into its own when it’s looped quietly, as the artist intends. Kelly’s meditative, time-stretched imaginings will simply curl around the space and make themselves at home.

By stark contrast, Orcus grabs hold of all the right dark ambient memes and proceeds to hammer them into shape. Kelly’s web site notes that the sounds and sonic images herein are meant to call to mind “the current corrosive energies unleashed into the world,” and they do. Metallic sounds grate and rasp against one another. Static spatters the soundscape. A sense of unrest pollutes the space–by design. Kelly effectively varies the work from overloaded sonic detritus to sparse nuclear-winter stretches of near-nothingness. There is loneliness and there is noise. I’ve been listening to Igneous Flame for several years now, and this is absolutely the densest and darkest he’s ever gone. It’s to his credit that there’s no sense of pretension here or the feel of an artist overstepping his bounds. Kelly is clearly comfortable making listeners uncomfortable. Given its length, Orcus isn’t something I’m likely to put on often for a full listen–I have a hard enough time getting through dark ambient CDs of normal length. But it will certainly stay in iPod rotation for those times when I need a little blackness and despair.

Kudos also go to Kati Astraeir for her stunningly detailed cover art on these discs–particularly the swirling, Necronomicon-ish depths of Orcus.

Ion and Orcus are both excellent discs that showcase the breadth of Pete Kelly’s talent. Whether you’re in the mood for light sounds or gripping darkness, Igneous Flame has what you need–and plenty of it.

Available from LuminaSounds.

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