Ben Frost – Scope Neglect (Mute, 2024)

In the world of cognitive biases, there’s a phenomenon where we under appreciate the difference between values of growing magnitude, especially with lots of something. For example, the perception of the difference between 1 million and 1 billion: we struggle to grasp the enormity, the scope, of large numbers of things. 100,000, ok-ish, a stadium full of people. 100 million? A country of souls, sure, understood on an intellectual level, but how can one really visualise that? Or ten times that? How can one connect and empathise when so many of something exists?

Many studies have shown that as the scale of numbers grows, our capacity to relate and also scale our concern and feelings does not: hence, scope neglect, or scope insensitivity. We have, it seems, limitations on the boundaries of our understanding of size, and the capacity to emote, to care, to worry, to solve. Perhaps this is a protection mechanism to set internal boundaries, prevention against the overwhelm; perhaps it’s simply a cognitive limit humans inherently have.

In modern time the numbers we’re faced with boggle the mind. The magnitude of the strife faced in the world today by so many humans and animals is difficult to comprehend. We start to use terms like existential depression and ecological grief and solastalgia to diagnose the very real and overwhelming feelings faced when considering reality, and psychologically it would seem to me that these feelings are only perhaps a small fragment of what we should experience without scope insensitivity.

I’m reminded of the Total Perspective Vortex from Hitchiker’s Guide, a device that would show one’s smallness in the infinity of the Universe, causing them to die of shock. Experiential overload.

You would think, after all that, that Frost’s latest (his first in seven long years) would be an excoriating, blistering force of nature, a saturation of the senses to underscore the enormity of the crises we stare down the barrel of. But Frost is surprisingly more tempered here than on previous efforts, constrained as he is by the human mind in the face of enormity.

It starts, admittedly, with its heaviest moments as calamitous Metal chords jerk haphazardly into the system through a series of belting shocks in “Lamb Shift” and reverberant “Chimera”. These jilting forces begin to right themselves come “The River of Light and Radiation” as strafing overdriven guitar rips alongside urgent percussion: its urban noir force could have been an offcut from battering A U R O R A, but here it’s more raw, more personal.

Slowly it begins to sink inside itself, under some great external weight, beneath an invisible strangling force that holds its edges in. “Turning The Prism” loses itself to grinding and strobing drones as it blinks in the heavy light of pain; it finds itself sandwiched between the floating oblivion of “_1993” and the tortured hums of distant “Load Up On Guns, Bring Your Friends”.

Its finest moments arrive towards the end like the Doomsday Clock ticking ever closer to midnight: centerpiece “Tritium Bath” scours and glides oppositely, metronomic tones phasing in and out of view as synth waves carry the boiling guitar on its surface, crushing the senses only for us to expand back into its space, sympathy and understanding growing its envelope. Then it cooly slinks away into listlessness and unblinking depression, finale “Unreal In The Eyes Of The Dead” a spent force counting down its looping hours in suspended fugue.

There’s something murkier here than his last efforts, the overt Metal imprint feels grungier, dirtier, more oppressive than the clean politics of The Centre Cannot Hold or the sharp post-industrial raving of AURORA, and perhaps more reminiscent of earlier tortured By The Throat just with more forward guitars. Frost once again reveals his fluidity in sound and continues his pointed finger at a world in spiral.