Ben Frost : The Centre Cannot Hold
Ben Frost is in the midst of a productive period, the endpoint of which we likely haven’t seen just yet. Earlier this year, the Australian-born, Iceland-based producer released the excellent Threshold of Faith, the first official product of a highly prolific recording session with Steve Albini that ended up yielding two hours of material in just 10 days of recording. With material as dense and climactic as Frost’s—built on sheets of noise, an almost unbearable level of tension and a palpable menace that’s hard to conjure in a controlled environment—that’s not easy to pull off. His music seems entirely separate from the mundanities of human routine; capturing it on two and a half inch tape seems almost like capturing a ghost on camera.
Given the fury and intensity inherent in Frost’s music, and the landscape of seemingly endless global horrors wrought over the past two years or so, it’s easy to see how he’d be able to find fertile ground in a fucked-up world. The Centre Cannot Hold, his new full-length and the second release from these sessions, is a continuation of the brief yet still overwhelming sound of Threshold of Faith, progressing from 2014’s A U R O R A into a sometimes more urgent, sometimes more spacious and meditative take on industrial and dark ambient. It’s a collection of music that sometimes veers from post-apocalyptic back to simply apocalyptic, exploding and seething while offering just enough time to survey the wreckage.
The sharp distorted buzz of “Threshold of Faith,” which also appeared on the EP of the same name, immediately strikes an urgent tone, indicating that the intensity of this set has been ramped up. Intensity is always a part of what Frost does, but here it feels more raw, more visceral. This is violent music, surging and churning, always on the verge of obliteration. It’s highly physical music, as displayed in the rapid rises in volume in “A Sharp Blow in Passing” or the nervous skitter of “Trauma Theory.” Naturally, it’s also extremely dark, with a track like “All That You Love Will Be Eviscerated” displaying in both title and musical arc a sense of doom and terror that’s poetic, even beautiful, but no less unsettling in its execution. “Healthcare,” meanwhile, might not be as immediately dramatic of a title, but the elegiac nature of it nonetheless paints a bleak portrait, a strangely topical instrumental piece that evokes sadness and human frailty in a series of electronic drones.
The Centre Cannot Hold isn’t a sharp deviation in any way from Frost’s previous material, simply an exploration of its extremes. Still, it’s often in the balances between those extremes and his more subtle instincts that Frost creates his most profound material, as in highlight “Ionia,” a juxtaposition of persistent distorted drones and an eventual escalation into actual beats and nigh-pop song structure. It’s sublime. It’s also a rare moment of accessibility amid a landscape of breathtaking horrors.
Tim Hecker – Virgins
Roly Porter – Third Law
Ben Frost – Threshold of Faith
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.