Release Date: Nov 10, 2009
Record label: Bedroom Community
Maybe it's By the Throat, the savagery-suggesting name of the fourth LP by Australia-born, Iceland-based producer Ben Frost, that gives the album its menacing reputation. Perhaps it's the three wolves stalking its cover, the threatening title appropriately scrawled above in a slanted, action-film font. Or it could simply be the music, which doles out new anxieties with each turn: The harsh noise and dissonant strings lashing above and around the beat of "Peter Venkman Pt.
"The Carpathians" greets us with the sounds of the wolves; their voices, snarls, growls, and howls have been edited and perhaps blended with the sounds of other animals. But in the low-register piano chords, discordant strings, and ambient drones, there is something so inherently foreboding here that the music is almost scary. On "O God Help Me," the medically assisted breathing sounds accompanying a heart monitor tone are annotated with some slowly thudding percussion amid a minimal synth melody, and add to the feeling of dread.
Instrumental music tends to conjure images as well as purely aural sensations; colours at the very least, if not more representational forms. Australian born Iceland resident Ben Frost had influenced what By The Throat 'looks' like to me before I'd even heard it, memorably telling the Krakow Post its visual palette is “like the glow from a lava flow, or a burning church. ” Add the screams of the dear currently departing echoing in your ears, a blind run through a snowbound Romanian forest pursued by a pack of ravening wolves, and only the Mystery Man from Lost Highway for company and yes, that’s pretty much what By The Throat, a relentlessly hostile construction, conjures in your mind’s eye.
[a]Ben Frost[/a] has swapped southern hemisphere for northern, leaving his Melbourne birthplace to set up his noise machines amid the hissing grey rocks of Iceland. This sense of displacement can be heard on these 11 transportative, multi-instrumental pieces that evoke a natural landscape recovering after some future mechanised apocalypse. The soothing drones of a new dawn in [b]‘Híbakúsja’[/b] give way to abrasive industrial sounds still echoing across the wilderness.
There are a vivid collection of misgivings and terrible gut feelings that seem to go along with Ben Frost’s By the Throat. Markedly, Frost’s approach to ambience calls to mind a harsh blend of dark wave aesthetics and black metal noise honed to sublimity. Exploring what could only be called the “negative space” around his conceptual leanings, Frost uses By the Throat to traverse down a deliciously dark path of post-rock, white noise revelations, and ominous justifications.
Most people, I imagine, tend to associate the word “ambient” with a form of soulless pretentiousness that only high-brow music snobs are able to relate to. It’s the sort of fad that fills gallery and performance spaces, kind of like elevator music for the erudite—it is “curated”, “acquired”, and all sorts of things that the more generic music aficionado simply couldn’t dream of understanding. The Australian-born/Iceland-based Ben Frost is one musician who fills said spaces, but on the contrary, manages to denounce such notions.