By The Throat is why I want to spend the rest of my life writing about music. There is an incredible feeling that comes along when you hear an album that you don’t want to put into words, not because it is some euphoric, beautiful or joyful experience but because it literally pins you down to your chair and does not let you come up for a breath. This is an album to be lived in. Avant-garde composer Ben Frost has completed something that is equally terrifying as it is breathtaking, claustrophobic as it is expansive, squarely rooted in the 21st century as it is timeless.
An Australian native, Ben Frost has been channeling the frozen expanses of his adopted home of Iceland for four years now. Frost is by far one of the most creative forces working between the margins of classical music, electronic and noise . Following his critically lauded 2007 release Theory of Machines, and a Risk-like takeover of almost every continent, Ben Frost returns with a diverse list of sonic co-conspirators that range from NY Golden-boy Nico Muhly to Swedish Death Metal band Crowspath, Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara and Iceland’s best string quartet Amiina. Ben Frost also returns to thickly processed waves of brutal noise processed through the nihilism of Black Metal over traditional compositions and ephemeral electronics. Sort of like Machinefabriek remixing a Sunno))) track. Or Swans recording with William Basinski.
Teeth-baring wolves stalk both the front cover and provide moments of loaded punctuation to an equally teeth-baring screed of processed noise. By The Throat never really lets you come up for air. Compositions move from ominous to downright night-terror inducing in the blink of an eye. The album opener “Killshot” starts with layers of skittering electronics until a tidal-wave of harsh noise overcomes your headphones in precision terror. The move is so deliberate and ferocious you literally feel the sound being sucked in from all available outlets to announce the initial noise burst. The most ominous and understated track on the album is “The Carpathians”, a 3 minute ambient piece punctuated by howling and snarling wolves, manically bowed strings, and waves of thick processed guitars over the low rumble of pounded major chords on a deeply buried piano. The cacophony gives way to the repeated motif of a field recording of someone gasping for breath while an EKG machine beeps menacingly in the background on the following track “O God Protect Me”. The breaths eventually become more labored as the electronic beat slowly pulsing as a heartbeat eventually becomes more sporadic until it stops, dead in its tracks.
“Hibakusja” starts with a slight reprieve of mournful trumpets and plucked/strummed claviers before surrendering to darker territory. This track is the most evidently influenced by Neo-Classical composer Nico Muhly. the collaboration is spot on with Muhly directing the repeated themes in the style of classical minimalism while Ben Frost layers heavily processed Cellos and field recordings of fractured breathing and harsh feedback. Of everything that Nico Muhly has contributed to this year from Antony & the Johnsons, Mew to Grizzly Bear, his collaborations with Ben Frost allow his sophisticated melodies to run their full course, not being restricted to pop music.
Ben Frost has the uncanny ability to announce clearly what his intentions are yet leave you completely stunned in the process. A super-low electronic bass hit announces without fail when the track is about to make an abrupt shift between themes. Between the two tracks “Peter Venkman I & II” there are about a dozen tempo changes, introductions of various instruments/sounds, a vocal choir that comes lapping in and out of the audio field like waves. Every such change is marked by a similar low bass hit, a pretty gutsy move seeing that most musicians shock by pulling a weak slight of hand before switching a tempo up. The effect is not unexpected but it is still awe inspiring.
I compare this album very favorably to Sunn o)))’s last track “Alice” on Monoliths & Dimensions. The track starts off as a metal track and ends as a piece of classical music, the change comes so subtly it takes a few minutes to realize the change. Ben Frost follows a similar course, a track that 30 seconds ago was so brutal and terrifying gives way to a beautiful coda of classical music before you can gather your battered senses and begin to recognize what is happening. The seemingly ease in which Ben Frost moves between genres is one that displays Frost’s virtuosity in each chosen genres and re-contextualizing the disparate parts into a distinct patchwork of 21st century ideas. This is minimalism for the post-apocalypse. This is the best album of 2009.