Opiate emits a dull, sunken glow as it rises up from its humble ambient beginning. Awakening itself slowly, the light, ambient colours flutter in the soft Autumn light from which it came. Ghostly’s SMM series conjures up a filmy vanilla mist that safely cocoons the listener.

Snaking its way through the opening is an ambient trail that slowly glints in the sky. ‘Water Shadow’, by Simon Scott, is the perfect, peaceful opening. An open expanse becomes home to the fog, like that of the silent countryside on a cool November morning; it’s a natural sound for a natural environment. The drones lay low in their natural habitat, streaked with tiny, chiming interludes that project brighter notes.

The follow up to SMM: Context, Opiate is a carefully selected collection that revels in solitude. At its heart, Opiate focuses on texture and its subsequent development, but it is so much more than that. Featuring some of the finest musicians inside the genre, it is an incredible ambient experience that occupies many different levels.

‘Ti Prego Memory Man’, by A Winged Victory for the Sullen, is another beautiful piece of music. The music is spacious without feeling prone, bare or sparse. Inside the music, unfolding sheets contain deep ambient textures, the shimmering flourish of the piano bringing together the drones that make up the duo’s distinct sound. Clouds lift, and the sweeping, dense light that takes over obliterates the incredible sight of a vast panorama. The music elevates as much as it levitates. The drones are the kind that take you to another world – peaceful to a point, but progressive enough to keep the listener interested. It’s a dreamy place, but it’s one that borders the Arctic. Opiate can be incredibly dark – it’s the opposite of the warm Wonderland or the Magic Kingdom – but the clouds still hang like inverted fluffy pillows. Celer’s ‘Nothing So Mystical’ is a prime example of the spectacular light; the light that shines through the cold like the January sun.

Black Swan’s ‘Passings, Heartbreak’ unfurls a Cathedral-deep, gorgeous harmony, and as it does so Opiate’s darker side opens up. Its shy, reserved infancy has gone. Voices seem to echo out of the quiet divide, the void that separates the light from the dark. Black Swan’s beautiful harmonic swells rub against the unsettling, creeping static as old as the Big Bang itself. Inside the pitch-black chasm, breathing operatic tones have suffocated in the dry dust. The decaying beauty is an inviting doorway to the dark. ‘Passings’ narrates in sound the crossing over of the spirit.

Opiate is an introvert. Many standout releases in the ambient field, both individual and compiled, share this quality. They appear shy to the stranger. To the uninitiated, the sounds may be cruising – but if you go deeper, you will see that every sound has its purpose predestined, designed to lead up to a specific point so that the ultimate emotional impact may be felt, like a quiet, powerful shock-wave. Just because the drones seem shy, it does not necessarily mean that the music is in any way reserved or conservative. The ambient-tinted music prefers to conceal its beauty until the right moment.

There is a clear arc – like the jet trails in the sky, the ambience leaves its own trajectory. Opiate’s course is invisible, but it is carved into the music. You know where it’s come from, but its final destination is uncertain. It jumps from pure light, walks into total darkness and then ends up facing the cautionary light of dawn. The vanilla coating pales to black, but it doesn’t become an exercise in the dark ambient arts. ‘This Is Radio Sweden’ lifts the dark, rushing past with what sounds like a fierce jet’s afterburners, skimming against a cool green drone.

The icy drones are cold to the touch, occasionally flashing from beneath like hidden, gleaming treasure; it is the faint glint of a gemstone left under the ice for too long. The dull rhythm is just above the surface, the muffled sound of inner circulation as the heartbeat pumps warmth against the chilly atmosphere.

The gorgeous light is sedated as it pours into ‘37th’. The music, wrapped up in the flow of cool air, miraculously turns transparent and liquid tones gush out in a fountain of sound; it’s the sound of water, without the sound of water. The flowing loop picks up a little grit as it cycles.

SMM: Opiate is a sequel that not only outshines its predecessor but leaves many sole endeavours out in the cold – tune in to this sedate selection for a taste of winter.


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