Ben Frost - A U R O R A
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I find terror to be a fairly underrated quality in music. Whether it's the noise and screams of Pharmakon, the visceral guts and bones of Swans, the full on aural and visual assault of Black Dice or the unsettling story telling of a guy like Josh T Person, I sometimes like to be scared by what I'm listening to. And often there's a little melody, or a catch, or something just underneath the white-hot wall of sound to hold on to; that's certainly the case with the work of Australian born, Iceland-based composer Ben Frost.
Frost's work is marked with the sort of blistering, upsetting noise you'd normally associate with the black metal community, minimalism that comes from electronic and classical pioneers like Eno, Glass and Reich and industrial music from the likes of Coil and Throbbing Gristle. Through his records he's created an immersive world of unsettling electronic music, ambient passages shot through with ear-splitting sonic scars and pulsating rhythms that could knock you off your feet. For his latest record, A U R O R A it's the latter that pushes to the fore, not least thanks to the presence of two incredible drummers: Greg Fox, formerly of metal upstarts Liturgy and the bare-chested legend that is Thor Harris, drummer with both Shearwater and Swans. Frost is also joined by multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily on a record that was apparently written in the eastern parts of DR Congo.
The terror isn't instant on A U R O R A; opener 'Flex' comes in relatively quietly, if you find the sound of an aircraft taking off in your face to be soothing, that is. It's a slow build of white noise and crackle that peaks and drops off fairly quickly before 'Nolan' just batters right in. Church bells can be heard underneath a cloak of dissonance but they soon fade to be replaced by pounding drums, painful stabs of synth noise that veers between some kind of twisted house music crescendo and Brian Eno's Apollo if it had been recorded in the bowels of hell. It's bloody genius and it's unrelenting for six minutes, getting louder for each of those minutes until the needle is worryingly in the red.
Harris and Fox have the time of their lives on that track, and again on 'Secant'. On this one, Frost conducts his rhythm section with military precision while he bends horn sounds and ambient noise: one moment you find yourself assured by the exactness of the drums, then once you realise the electronics are doing something completely without borders you're left unsettled and blown away by the moment the track lifts off in the most pulsating way, like John Carpenter gone black metal. The same trick is pulled on the ice-cold 'Venter'; astonishingly unforgiving drumming incongruously paired with witch house atmospheres and chimes before the build explodes in the most unforgiving of manners. It's exhausting, it really is - which makes the comforting ambient washes of 'The Teeth Behind Kisses' and the high-pitch white-out of 'No Sorrowing' something of a relief.
Ben Frost has pulled off something quite remarkable with A U R O R A in making a record that's pretty terrifying in places yet so utterly irresistible. While you can make the argument for this being a drummer's album, and there's no doubt Thor Harris and Greg Fox should be hailed for their superhuman efforts, the wild and bearded Frost is the conductor and man in charge. He's the one who commands the noise to fall away or to rise to incredible volumes, he's the one asking us to confront his music and come away standing. To be honest, he might be the winner nine times out of ten but for that one time you face up to the terror, you'll be richly rewarded.
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