Ben Frost – A U R O R A (Bedroom Community/Mute, 2014)


Ben Frost has made some commanding and awe-inspiring music in the past. Firmly rooted in Dark Ambient, Noise and Industrial musics, past albums like By The Throat and Theory Of Machines have all been punishing but breathtaking affairs, focusing strongly on both physical pain and psychological trauma. While it may all be doom and gloom there has always been a balance between the cathartic, obliterating walls of sound and the chilling, dark ambient textures; that still remains on new full-length A U R O R A but something of the cohesion has been lost.

Opener “Flex” arrives on an initial, quiet wave of drone, a distant but quickly closing glimmer of light that before long is on top of us, a piercing light in the darkness that has brought along some of its friends with throbbing pulses of bass and stuttering percussion edging it closer and closer until it’s directly overhead, kicking up dust and framing us in its glare before it passes abruptly, the fear dying away rapidly as we move quickly into a forgetful future with “Nolan”, one of my favourite tracks of the record. Swirls of some heavily processed and entirely unnameable instrument growl overhead and smother the underlying but fundamental driving percussion before falling away, leaving us to slowdance alone with these heady beats for a time. It segues into the main riff, a collection of  gorgeous synth notes awash in a slowly parting storm of white noise, the fading remnants of some electronic dance fragment framed for one final moment in an apocalyptic future.

This briefly romanticised and simultaneously scorned moment passes into the dark void of “The Teeth Behind Kisses”, a much simpler and more terrifying beast in its limited instrumentation, powered briefly by cymbal slaps and distal, echoic bells before slowly circling into a quiet, juddering and menacing hole of barely there drone. It’s the lifeless, senseless and powerless sound of the teeth of its namesake, just caught up in the larger actions of the bodymass behind it, uncaring. And just like that it topples into the behemoth of “Secant”, reviving “Nolan”‘s primary theme but with a fresh, dark twist. It arrives on a fresh batch of pained, wailing guitar drone and thick, deliberate drum beats ultimately arriving at the crescendo but taking their own sweet time to do so, savouring each stroke. A moment of barely restrained panic as the music parts for a brief time before “the cut” happens sees a thin slice of drone stutter into a stellar tumble of breathtaking synth catharsis, a luminous and all consuming tumult of sound but one that only has a short time in the limelight like everything else.

More allusions to luminosity and dance clubs continue in the strobing chemiluminescence of “Diphenyl Oxalate”, named after the material within glowsticks, and at just 1:31 it lives up to its name. Nothing more than a brief burst of energy and light, it comes and goes violently, mirroring those same short but energetic lives in its crushing noise and jarring flickers of piercing drone. Pre-release single “Venter” relishes the fresh darkness with its simplistic, percussion driven beginnings, these creatures of the night given free reign for a vast majority of the piece slowly gearing up with mob-like mentality towards the explosive and destructive finalé as the pent up energy is spun out in rather anticlimactic waves of devolving, aggressive cymbals and empowered synth lines. A moment of welcome reprieve arrives in appropriately titled “No Sorrowing”, to the tune of the rising buzz of a delicate synth note, suspending on careful currents of beauteous drone. It evolves delicately with just the merest hint of melody breaking through the distortion, emotional trauma buried and hushed away in this glorious piece of Drone work, sad and melancholy but expertly hidden away.

A little divot marks the end of our coast and the start of penultimate “Sola Fide” whereupon we are brought right back into the fray. In many ways it feels like A U R O R A has nothing fundamentally left to surprise us with but the lack of a truly consistent sound throughout (rhythmically) does keep things fresh and exciting as the predictable crescendo of high speed percussion and white noise rushes spirals into growling, shimmering but incomplete sequence of distorted synths that only satisfy the build up to the next track, bottoming out dangerously to the brief sonic void at the start of closer “A Single Point Of Brilliant Light” only to be rapidly taken up again to really seal the deal. When they return there’s no fucking around, no circling drone fragments and no obfuscating noise, just relentless percussion and the core of the distorted riff rushing out as fast as the music will take them in an undeniably potent rush of cathartic and huge sound, dying gloriously in an exploding mass of shimmering, descending fragments.

I like this record, I actually like it more now that I’ve carefully reviewed it, but, and it’s only a little “but”, there’s still something just slightly holding me back from going head-over-heels. Some tiny lack of a consistent theme and generally repetitious sonic structures of rise and rise and fall in each piece just made it seem slightly stale, and it felt more like a collection of a few very excellent singles rather than a complete record, but when this does come together and really strike out it’s absolutely incredible, future nostalgia done without being gauzy and soppy. Deliciously crushing record.