Review Summary: Ben Frost tries to branch out by simplifying his overall approach, but ultimately gets trapped into the vacuum that he works inside of.
Ben Frost is a drone, ambient, and electronic producer/artist coming out of Australia. He has done pretty much anything one can imagine as a producer and artist. He has taken on full-length albums, soundtracks, and some shorter EPs just to diversify his discography. While his soundtrack work is the weakest of his released music, his full-length albums have received critical acclaim. By the Throat is regarded as one of the finest works in drone and ambient music in the last decade, managing to create both hopeful soundscapes but never taking it easy on the listener while throwing them into nightmarish depravity as well. AURORA attempts to limit the scope of his sounds by going for a airy and space-aged concept album, but sadly the whole idea has a few malfunctions.
Frost's idea to narrow his sound palate down to a smaller scope is worth commending. This record features some really cerebral sampling, massive drums, and dread-filled drone work. There are smaller elements sprinkled throughout such as bells that really add to the compact mixing in the vast majority of the tracks. Bells and drums are easily the highlights from beginning to end. Drums are the real driving force, with recorded work from Thor Harris(Swans) and Greg Fox(Liturgy) that is masterful. Bells are only featured on two or three tracks but they make for such an enticing and creepy atmosphere that it is impossible to not fall in love with the minute layer they add.
AURORA is a mixed bag when it comes down to creating compelling concepts and songs. As a concept, the smaller scope of sounds make sense but the flow of the album is askew badly. Every sound holds its moment in time well, feeling almost too calculated for the insanity Frost tries to create. The flow is terrible though, failing to elevate the material anywhere special. None of the tracks have a real logical motion into one another that is tangible or interesting. The mix early is solid, utilizing two slower songs into a bombastic track that busts the doors open on the record and wakes up the potentially sleepy listener. This exact process is copied twice, making the track listing too predictable to really elicit a pulse-pumping experience.
As far as songs go, Secant is a near masterpiece and one of Ben Frost's most brutal offerings yet. Following two much quieter songs, Secant is a real head rush. He takes his loudest approach here with deafening drums and loud beats that create a chilly atmosphere. The middle dies to a near humming only to come back louder and more brutal than the opening. The first track, Flex, is also note worthy. The pulsing drums present throughout are powerful, emulating a racing heart beat that ramps up throughout. The electronic mixing has a nasty and ominous feeling that never lets go to boot. Venter is the most accomplished song of the bunch, mixing the most sounds together on the record. Drums kick off the mix with a slowly building bass line that looms in the background, waiting to strike at the right moment. An eerie tone creeps in as bells add another layer of intrigue, just in time for the disorienting sample to finish off the mood. The only problem with Venter is the predictable and sudden ending that is not convincing enough, even with the beautiful and cavernous tone.
There are far more disappointing tracks than positive ones though. Nolan is probably the most disappointing song of the group, failing to lift the record off into the stars. There are some astounding and mammoth drums throughout and the abrasive samples are amazing. However, the harmonies are too muted and dull to build Nolan into the masterpiece it should become. The Teeth Behind the Kisses has a solid opening half, showing off skillful drums and a drone that invokes fear but the second half fails to keep the blood flowing. Diphenyl Oxalate is ultimately too short to mean anything, even if the fevered and textured sound mix is truly off-putting. The real killer is just how weak the closer, A Single Point of Blinding Light truly is though. The weaker songs would be forgivable with a positive note to put the bow on the concept. Instead we are given a beautiful song that features the best organic drums and bass on the whole record, only to be suffocated by overly noisy electronics that do nothing to build the thrill ride. The closing track is too anti-climactic, especially for a moody artist of this caliber.
Ben Frost deserves a lot of credit for taking a leap by limiting the scope of his work to create an intriguing concept of this nature. However, it also makes for his least diverse and interesting experiment yet. Despite three songs that are truly massive for Frost and a good mix of hopeful and dark tracks, there are too many weak points. The mixing is disappointing on the second half, the sequencing makes for a weak concept, and the smaller scope makes his work too predictable.