Ben Frost, “Scope Neglect”
By Grayson Haver Currin · February 27, 2024 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Only 15 years ago, Ben Frost seemed poised at a vanguard of his own design. After decamping from Australia to Iceland, the producer began funneling the radiant power of heavy metal and the blunt wallop of industrial into his neon web of electronics, an all-out war between the garish, the gory, and the gorgeous. His 2009 opus, By the Throat, was a visionary intersection of such interests—lupine field recordings, seraphic drones, and the sampled innards of Sweden’s belligerent Crowpath—all colliding at unexpected angles. The room between these realms, though, has collapsed in Frost’s wake; loads of madcap producers now move freely between such worlds, recombining snippets of scenes that once seemed leagues apart in uncanny beasts. Frost’s tangles of caustic noise and classical elegance, digital phosphorescence, and metal force, no longer seem novel. And he has, to some extent, yielded the field of play, making many more scores in the extended interim than standalone albums.

But Scope Neglect—Frost’s first album in seven years, and perhaps his most incisive ever—is a compelling invitation to check back in. This time around, Frost has collaborated with Greg Kubacki, the versatile guitarist and leader of New York’s wild and wonderful Car Bomb. With the opening seconds of “Lamb Shift,” where Kubacki’s menacing riff is bent and condensed into a rhythmic splinter, Scope Neglect will feel like classic Frost. These eight tracks, though, spill into and out of one another through high-volume minimalism, together framing a wordless story about modern tension and our indulgence in it.

During “Lamb Shift,” for instance, Frost lets long rests hang between bits of Kubacki’s guitar line, which stretches and expands with each iteration. Faint whirrs begin to slink through the pauses. As “Chimera” begins, Frost boosts these drones and hangs them over Kubacki’s head, the two elements grinding against each other like titanium steel plates. Frost’s loves of brutalist repetition and new contradictory layers make for deliciously uneasy listening, where the question of what’s next feels forever like a haunting. “Turning the Prism” is his masterclass for that strategy, each stuttering beat in his seasick sequence lifting to reveal another mutation of agitation and decay below. The question of “What will happen now?” is as central to Scope Neglect as heavy metal or Kubacki, circuitry, or even Frost himself. 

There are sounds here that might surprise you, that may make you wonder about their unseen source—the impossibly sharp guitars that seem to spasm in time during “Tritium Bath” or the whale-song bellows that occasionally jut from “The River of Light and Radiation.” Frost, though, is no longer on the vanguard, the cutting edge. Instead, inside Scope Neglect, he’s built his own world from now mostly familiar parts.  There are, however, edges aplenty, places where it feels like this music may hurl the listener into oblivion. It’s tempting to think of these pieces as scores for some high-risk adventure film, with a skier sailing high from some snowy jump or a skateboarder suspended midair for what feels like an eternity. But Frost doesn’t need visuals to make the anxiety in this music clear. He recognizes how much suspense resides in the unknown, exploiting that fact to thrilling effect for almost all of Scope Neglect. When he finally finds a steady bassline at the end, it feels like a show of mercy, letting you relax in something predictable for the first time since Scope Neglect’s start.

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