An image search for Ben Frost will pull up more than a couple photos of the Icelandic-by-way-of-Australia experimental composer’s intimidating visage, with hypnotic eyes and facial hair that make him look like a descendant of Rasputin. It’s the look of somebody who wants to be viewed seriously as an artist, if not downright frightening. The Centre Cannot Hold, Frost’s fifth studio album, is an incredibly harrowing work. To listen to it from beginning to end is to feel yourself gradually seduced into a mysterious realm before trying desperately to escape it.

Like his recent Threshold of Faith EP, Centre was recorded with Steve Albini. Anyone who’s tracked Frost’s career from the depressed seance that was his full-length debut, Steel Wound, knows how much he’s pushed himself, not only with adding more layers but also through balancing tranquil elements like strings and piano with bombast. After 2014’s AURORA, which reached peak intensity levels for Frost and often felt like several minds at work at once in any instance (collaborators Thor Harris and Greg Fox aside), it was hard not to wonder where he would (or could) go next. That album raised his profile significantly and with Albini in tow, the pressure could’ve been on to make the next one an endurance test, both for its creator and its listeners.

Centre is not an endurance test, but it’s a taxing listen. Dread drops in from the moment “You are rolling” is heard on opening track, ‘Threshold of Faith’ (which also opened the aforementioned EP), before elephant stomps of percussion, sounds like breathing courtesy of a worn-out respirator and venomous synths enter the fray. While effective on the EP, the more organized nature of the album’s tracklisting makes ‘Threshold of Faith’ feel like a trip down the darkest of voids. It’s a ticking time bomb, but rather than use up his arsenal all at once, Frost wisely opts for an abrupt, but earned, conclusion. For the whole of the album, he acts as an omniscient deity, one who takes pleasure in total autonomy over his subjects.

A fully vengeful god, he is not. Frost keeps things grim but not always calamitous. Haze coats much of the album, like on ‘A Sharp Blowing In Passing’, which sounds like ambient dub retrieved from a dust-ridden floppy disk, even when seemingly impossibly-polished synths burst through. In an album not lacking for potent uses of low end, the churns and swells of ‘Eurydice’s Heel’ could call for especially sensitive listeners to take this album with a dose of Dramamine. ‘Meg Ryan Eyez’ forges a desolate landscape through a weary drone, but delicate notes arise and act like new species, ready to create their own civilization from the remnants. The album’s title is taken from a line in W.B. Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’, completing a line that begins with “Things fall apart.” Yeats is only getting started at that point in the poem, and Frost honors him through imbuing every moment of this work with drama and purpose, so much that even thirteen-second interlude, ‘A Single Hellfire Missile Costs $100,000’ has an understated value, acting as a buffer between ‘Eurydice’s Heel’ and its equally-nauseous predecessor, ‘Trauma Therapy’.

The album could work purely as a theoretical powder keg that tortures through the uncertainty of whether the expected final assault is a matter of “if” or “when.” ‘Ionia’ begins with a nimble yet cryptic melody before leading you into a jungle of tones and textures. More precisely, it makes you feel like you’re sprinting through the unknown in the most remote of wilderness in the dead of night, with only the notion that everything is supposed to work out for you as the protagonist of your life story keeping you from keeling over to accept your fate. If Frost wanted to really drive home his sense of pessimism in one sentence, he does so with ‘All That You Love Will Be Eviscerated’. Here, every initial layer works on its own terms but also in conjunction with the others, from the slow and sparkling metallic melodies to the liquid-like foundation and popcorn-like textures. Following a woodwind cooldown, a deep synth drone glowers like Frost in so many photos, and frantic brushing sounds provide a source of apocalyptic dread I haven’t experienced from an album like this since Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath, 1972. If that penultimate track is an ultimate requiem for the societies and species that crumbled as Frost looked on, then closing track, ‘Entropy In Blue’ is a glimpse inside the mind of the one who knows all and sees all. Sounding at first like a doom metal track with tones reminiscent of The Body frontman Chip King’s anguished howl, it moves methodically from one point to another, sounding serene in one instance before coming unhinged in the next. Most compelling is the percussion, which throbs like the heartbeat of someone with everlasting guilt and no one to share it with and offset the burden.

Frost has never like felt so powerful of a force on a studio album as he does here. He’s erected a monolith of monoliths. Rather than betting the farm on a couple showstoppers while keeping everything else relatively muted and inconspicuous, Frost pushes himself further and further and creates an incredible experience. He plunges more depths in a single track than most composers are able to on a whole album. The Ben Frost of ten years ago might not recognize the Ben Frost of now, and his current work might register as completely foreign to him in 2027. The Centre Cannot Hold acknowledges instability as a universal truth, both in title and practice.