Ambient music listeners should take it on faith that when they sit down to listen to something new from Igneous Flame they’ll be giving the next hour over entirely to being inside of and deeply examining the sound. On his latest outing, Pete Kelly “used some of the more ‘traditional’ instrumentation and sound sources that are commonly associated with ambient music in musically diverse and subtly different ways.” He also notes that he wanted to create an album that let him experiment beyond his “usual ways of working.” This is one of the things that has long endeared me to Kelly as an artist. He doesn’t rest. He doesn’t sit on a comfortable sound-set and reorder it. He challenges himself to reinvent Igneous Flame, even if it’s in a slight manner, each time out. Harmony Through Conflict has distinct stages to it, from the kind of warm and far-reaching ambient pad work that forms the artist’s signature sound to borderline dark spaces. Kelly says he sees the work here as “heavy” rather than dark, and I’d agree with that. The further into the disc you get, the more he loads on a sort of emotional weightiness, a specific gravity of tone. Nothing here is truly without that tenuous sense. You hear it in the animalistic sounds lurking under the pads, watery burbles and light cave echoes of “We Remember.” It resides in the bass-drone underlay at the outset of “Electric Blue.” Kelly plays with vocal samples here, too, an interesting and unexpected touch that comes in at the end as he levels the sound out to a classic ambient wash. The lush tones of “Message to the Other Side” give off the first hint of a shift toward shadow. This easily ranks with my favorite Igneous tracks, 12 minutes of the warm depths of his sound, a nicely ominous tone laced throughout. Kelly knows how to sustain feeling with a minimal soundset; in places he pares it down to thin, almost solitary sounds. In contrast to denser moments, it almost creates a sense of isolation. This track gives way to the grinding open of “Phosphorescence” and the real start of the heavier side of the disc. The weight comes fully to bear on you in “Ray Four,” a piece that wends its way into a murky abstract form composed largely in uncomfortable whispers, thick, bass-rumble washes and guttural utterances. There are moments of breath-holding tension before Kelly releases the track with rising pads. He closes out by bringing a bit of light back around in “Bluebird.” Chimes and bass guitar lift their voices and move teasingly toward a melody that never quite flourishes. But the hope of it is enough, a sign that we’ve passed through.
Harmony Through Conflict is another winner in the Igneous Flame stable. As Kelly suggests, this is very much a headphone listen. He’s a master craftsman with a strong focus on sound texture. The deeper you listen, the more your mind’s eye sees. Take the time to really focus on this disc. It’s worth it.
Available from LuminaSounds.