Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Ben Frost: The Centre Cannot Hold

Ben Frost opens up the next chapter of his discography with a work of stunning minimalism, relentless noise, and cinematic scope.
Ben Frost
The Centre Cannot Hold

The work of Ben Frost has always had a visceral edge. The Australian producer, based currently in Iceland, has displayed a wide range of sounds and influences within his experimental electronic music, ranging from minimal electronic to neo-classical and from drone music to black metal. This mixture has resulted in a number of successful releases, with By the Throat and Aurora standing out in particular. But, what stays with the listener is the visual aesthetic that always comes along with the manipulation of sounds and noise.

It is no surprise that Frost has also moved into scores for film and television, probably most famously composing the soundtrack for the Fortitude TV series, as well as the movies Sleeping Beauty and The Deep. This calling has been so strong that the artist composed etudes for the work of Stanislaw Lem’s, and later Andrei Tarkovsky’s adaptation of the sci-fi opus Solaris, as well as Iain Banks most disturbing novel The Wasp Factory, which Frost turned into a music-theatre adaptation that he also directed. It is this affection towards scoring and the visual capabilities of music that have encouraged Frost to move away from the structural and into the textural world. Both By the Throat and Aurora were based around the fabric of the sound, the harshness of the noise and the enactment of the atmosphere, and that is a methodology also applied to The Centre Cannot Hold.

Taking inspiration from current political events, and this period of global turmoil, Frost builds a more strenuous offering. The title itself is taken from Yeats’ “The Second Coming”, which reads: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned…”. In the same manner that Yeats was using the biblical apocalypse as an allegory to describe the atmosphere in Europe after the First World War, so Frost attempts to provide a record that mirrors the turbulence at the world stage at the current moment.

The tracks radiate with a cold and intensely cinematic tone, with Frost using the atmosphere as the focal point for each movement. The textures implemented provide an organic and breathing result, with the music becoming alive and all-encompassing through the twists and turns of the album. The visual quality of the recording and the moving element it brings are two of the most important attributes of this work. The electrifying synths, on the one hand, are applied to channel the noise in its most relentless from, as in the start of “Threshold of Faith” and the extravagant “Trauma Theory”. Turning towards melodic routes is not an uncommon practice for Frost. However, he twists the synths suddenly into producing a melodic and at the same time melancholic take, in moments such as “A Sharp Blow in Passing”. But, The Centre Cannot Hold remains an ominous record, no matter if Frost chooses to tackle this subject in direct and harsh fashion, or in a more subtle and minimal approach, while the combination of minimal progression and electrifying noise is capable of producing some of the darkest moments of the record, as in “Eurydice’s Heel”.

When it comes to the foundation of the record, the rhythmic backbone that retains a sense of progression and movement, Frost has retreated to a more minimalistic method. Aurora saw him working with drummers Greg Fox (Zs, Liturgy, Ex Eye) and Thor Harris (Swans, Hospital Ships) who aided in establishing this foundation, but in The Centre Cannot Hold, Frost goes at it alone. Frost recorded the album in Chicago with Steve Albini producing, something that allowed Frost to focus solely on the live performance. The result makes The Centre Cannot Hold a more brutal record, relying on minimal, harsh industrial-esque percussion, moments such as “Nolan” and “A Single Point of Blinding Light” are not present here, and also displaying a more open attitude towards the sound design.

But despite the grip on the subject of chaos, The Centre Cannot Hold features some of Frost most serene work, in tracks like “Meg Ryan Eyez” and “Healthcare”, producing an intricate work of sonic manipulation with meditative qualities. This aspect is extended in parts of the grand “Ionia” and the labyrinth-like “All That You Love Will Be Eviscerated”, two of the most stunning works in this album, with Frost producing a genuine tapestry-like sonic collage.

Frost has been careful in changing his working process from one record to the next, attempting to see what remains of his identity when the revolting parts moving around him are changed. The Centre Cannot Hold displays a different facade of the artist than the ones presented in Aurora and By the Throat, yet at the same time, it glimmers with a similar energy and purpose. By projecting the state of reality into his music, Frost can transcend it and produce a work of art as a result.

RATING 8 / 10