Album review: Ben Frost – The Centre Cannot Hold

Perhaps better known for his work with theatre, dance and TV producers rather than any Top 40 material, Ben Frost – the Aussie tucked away in Reykjavik – is back with new studio album, The Centre Cannot Hold.

Frost may not be a charting artist, but an artist he remains. The album is the fourteenth since 2001 on his discography and yet he finds time to collaborate with artists, choreographers and producers, but how will his unique blend fare in our demo room?

Now, depending on which of Frost’s points of geographical lineage you wish to draw from, “Threshold of Faith” starts as what this reviewer is interpreting as a nod to his Australian heritage, as a heavily dissected and deconstructed didgeridoo solo, replete with the breaths being taken, leaves us with a hair-raising bass line. Or alternatively, he is giving way to his Icelandic home base, and is trying to capture the Northern Lights. Not in the glistening, ethereal sense that we get from Sigur Ros, but the more static, raw solar side of the experience beyond the visuals.

You may agree with either of these, or you may just think this reviewer is being wordsy for the sake of it. What is undeniable though, is how much Frost can do with so little. The piece is bass-heavy, at points sounding like a subwoofer frequency test. Bass rolls and drops rumble their way across the stereo separation before dropping away totally for a short while at the end, leaving with naught but MIDI soundboard-esque effects before the piece swells into “A Sharp Blow in Passing”. It’s jarring and scintillating in equal measure, and if I’m honest, I hadn’t noticed the change in track due to the gapless change and being so lost in the musical equivalent of a tundra that Frost has created.

Steer away from the wilder and more natural pieces found here however, and we’re still met with pieces that really show off Frost’s ability to create a scene. Quite literally in many cases, as much of his work can be heard on TV dramas such as Fortitude. If there was ever a musical artist to sculpt you a soundscape to suit the isolation and emotions of a small Alaskan town (admittedly, beset by a killer), Frost would be that artist. Tracks such as “Meg Ryan Eyez” and “Ionia” build a detailed and ominous scene around you as you’re listening (headphones or larger speakers work best for this, we’ve found) and then try to crush you with it. The sense of isolation and power they’re capable of evoking is hugely impressive. It’s not all about world-building however, the minimalistic, ambient approach that can be heard in several of the songs gives way to something more industrial, and altogether darker and more sinister, showing off influences of black metal.

The showcase here is another set of songs, gaplessly linked from “Trauma Theory”, a heavily industrial piece, filled with jolting hits of distorted bass and chaotic crashes of sound. It’s not the strongest material on the album, or in general, feeling a bit messy by the standards of the rest of the album. It is however, linked somewhat pointlessly, by the 12-second track, “A Single Hellfire Missile Costs $100,000”, to the staggering “Eurydice’s Heel”. The latter of these two tracks is simply massive. The sheer range of frequencies that can be heard, and indeed felt, at any one time threatens to overwhelm the listener, but teeters masterfully on the edge of that precipice.

If you find yourself seeking more of that on your listen through the track, take yourself through to the 8:16 monster that is “All That You Love Will Be Eviscerated”. Quite comfortably this reviewer’s favourite track on the album, it weaves from glistening minimalism all the way through to thundering industrial, almost exhausting Frost’s arsenal of music.

Overall, the album is an excellent effort. It’s not solid to the core, with weaker moments in the previously mentioned “Trauma Theory” and unfortunately “Entropy in Blue” is not the best track to lead out on in my opinion. However, you’re left with a sense of realism in this music that is hard to replicate with many forms of music that rely on vocals as a centrepiece. To try and replicate the world as Frost intends, why not come down for a demo at your local Richer Sounds?





Author: Steve, Southgate store