Brutal and beautiful at the same time. How many albums can you say that about? Ben Frost’s latest album A U R O R A is one.
Four years may have passed since his last solo album, By the Throat, but the Australian-born, Iceland-based musician has certainly kept himself busy; directing an opera, crafting the arresting art installation The Enclave in The Congo and produced a number of albums, notably Tim Hecker’s extraordinary Ravedeath 1972. Furthermore, Frost said that his time in the Congo helped to influence the sound of A U R O R A, which is mainly evident through the almighty drumming, from Greg Fox (formerly of Liturgy) and Thor Harris (of Swans and Shearwater). Working together brilliantly, the pair provide some incredible rhythms.
Over the course of its effectively compact 40 minutes, A U R O R A takes sounds from a multitude styles and stirs them together, creating a seamless blend of black metal-esque noise, electronic ambience and industrial music. However, the album opens starkly with a single dissonant note on ‘Flex’, which instantly sets a dark and almost nightmarish atmosphere, essentially acting as an introductory track. It is followed by the fantastic ‘Nolan’, a song that is simultaneously skull-pounding and introspective. Like every other track on display here, it is perfect headphones listening. Wisely, Frost does not choose to have ‘Nolan’ followed by another loud track, instead what comes after it is the eerie ambience of ‘The Teeth Behind the Kisses’. Fourth track ‘Secant’ sounds akin to a factory at work, with its clanging percussion and groaning electronics. It winds down for a moment, allowing the listener a breather, before roaring back into life and exploding like a supernova for its climax. ‘Venter’ is one of the strongest moments on a very strong album. It’s a heady mixture of pummelling beats, chiming church bells and swirling synths, building slowly to its perfectly chilly ending. Climactic track ‘A Single Point of Blinding Light’ does nothing to dispel the foreboding atmosphere, which is all-the-better.
With A U R O R A, Ben Frost has made a record that is uncompromising, unsentimental and enthralling. Its impressively – effortless juggling of soothing introspection with sonic assault distinguishes it from countless albums currently released. It is not for everyone and it may take repeated listens for its brilliance to settle in, but once it does, there’s no going back. It demands to be listened to as whole, while also featuring a number of standout tracks that can be enjoyed out of context, like ‘Nolan’ or ‘Venter’ – a duality many albums fail to successfully pull off.
In a recent interview with The Quietus, Frost remarked that, “It was confounding to me how aggressive and dictatorial it was. It was like I created a monster”. At times, it certainly sounds like a terrifying monster crawling from the depths of your nightmares, but it also sounds strikingly beautiful, making it one of the finest albums of the year by quite some margin.
Words: Matt Jones