Album Review: Ben Frost – The Centre Cannot Hold

By Sam Tornow, General Manager
[Mute; 2017]
Rating: 8/10

Key Tracks: “Threshold of Faith”, “Trauma Theory”, “Entropy in Blue”

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

William Yeats penned these lines nearly 100 hundred years ago, plagued by the anguish of war, a self-correcting social climate, and global uncertainty. The now legendary poem, “The Second Coming”, could have been written yesterday in a cafe, on a laptop flashing news alerts of artificial and natural disasters, of celebrity deaths, of tension.

The Centre Cannot Hold is the 12th studio album by electronic composer Ben Frost. Revered in the music community for intense in-your-face sounds and unparalleled control over the craft, Frost, like the centre, is at his breaking point. Shaken by the growing global war machines and the elephant in every room nowadays, Frost builds a world in this album; it’s cold, heinous, lawless and overwhelming. Not much different than the world Yeats described in 1919.

In a similar fashion as Arca’s Mutant or Holly Herndon’s Platform, The Centre Cannot Hold forces itself to life through convulsions, grotesque evolution and violence. Much of the album consists of stacked ambient layers and choirs underneath unrelenting beating and grinding of machinery, creating the sound of an orchestra performing for the end of times. The industrial energy shakes and grabs the listener by the throat (pun intended) instantly with a sound akin to a jet engine introducing the album on “Threshold of Faith”.

Frost’s grip only tightens as time beats on. “Trauma Theory,” is one barrage of broken sounding chimes and helicopter propellers after another, never offering room for air. Only after five minutes of this does an intermission show itself in the form of the airy interlude, “A Single Hellfire Missile Costs $100,000,” a track inspired by the country’s expensive drone addiction that took off under Obama.

The Centre Cannot Hold’s tension continues to tighten until the end of the album, avoiding repetition through sheer intensity. Frost’s machines scream with artificial pain until a rush of air gusts through cracks during the finale, “Entropy in Blue” easing the listener out of the album.

After the dust settles and the silence of the exterior world normalizes itself, it’s impossible to not feel dizzy, yet relieved. It’s over. It’s all over, at least until the jets rattle the walls and news alerts flicker like an ever-growing fire. The centre cannot hold.


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