A U R O R A by Ben Frost (Review)

This is the sound of musical equipment being tortured and pushed to its limits until the envelope isn’t just breached, but rather, punctured, shredded, and burnt to a crisp by the exit velocity.
Aurora, Ben Frost

After listening to Ben Frost’s monolithic, overwhelming A U R O R A, the first thought that came to mind was, ​“I’d sure hate to be one of his synthesizers.” I imagine Frost walking out of the studio after finishing the album’s sessions and leaving behind a steaming pile of slag where once there’d been keyboards, circuits, and other gizmos.

A U R O R A is the sound of equipment being tortured and pushed to its limits until the envelope isn’t just breached, but rather, punctured, shredded, and burnt to a crisp by the exit velocity. You could file A U R O R A under ​“electronica,” ​“experimental,” ​“industrial,” or some other genre that relies heavily on electrical gizmos for its sound, and while any of them might be technically accurate, such categorization seems flaccid compared to the sheer visceral-ness of Frost’s music/​sound/​atmospherics.

Back in college, I had a job maintaining the school’s multimedia classrooms and ensuring that the computers, projectors, etc. were all functioning properly. One day, I turned on a classrom’s equipment and was instantly blasted by a wave of noise and feedback unlike anything I’ve ever experienced (and I’ve seen Mental Destruction live). Perhaps a professor forgot to switch something off and a feedback loop had been building ever since but whatever the cause, I was overcome by shock and sheer terror that took on an almost physical aspect as I scrambled to turn everything off. Afterward, I stood shaking for a few minutes from the experience, an experience created by nothing but sound.

Listening to A U R O R A creates a similar experience for me because Frost is so adept at creating stunning, overwhelming, and simply massive soundscapes whose sheer magnitude threatens to undo you at your core. But therein lies a paradox. There is something stunning and even transcendent about ​“Secant” and the way its clattering percussion (which sounds like a factory coming apart at the rivets) and crushing synth melody (believe it or not, there is a surprising musicality in Frost’s work) washes over you like an ocean wave of chrome, steel, and fire. Or how ​“Diphenyl Oxalate” collapses in on itself from the very beginning, and for 90 seconds, sounds like every copy of Loveless in the world is falling into a black hole.

There’s hardly a moment of respite in A U R O R As 40 minutes. Even ​“Venter“ ​‘s chiming church bells are underscored by restless cyber-tribal drumming and growing waves of noise, signaling that it’s only a matter of time before all breaks loose. The best you can do is try to find a good grip and hold on for the love of all that’s holy.

Is there something masochistic to listening to A U R O R A? Perhaps, but that seems like too puerile a word to describe the reasons for subjecting yourself to the album. Once a storm has passed, there is always a rush of adrenaline at having survived intact. I still recall the relief that washed over me in the stillness of that classroom after I’d managed to shut everything down. When A U R O R A is over, there is peace, and in the subsequent gathering of wits, a realization of the beauty — yes, beauty — that exists at the shuddering, burning, tortured heart of these songs. Songs that I can only assume were built on the remains of an untold number of keyboards. Their sacrifice was not in vain.

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