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By the Throat

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Album Review

With 2007's Theory of Machines, composer Ben Frost combined academically constructed electro-acoustic music, doom metal, post-rock drones, and minimal classical touches with strings and piano. It was a difficult yet clearly intoxicating listening experience. The melding of clinical technology and human elements — i.e., real instruments — as a way of bringing the listener in made it nearly unbearable, but so utterly original that it compelled one to engage it. The only act close to this was Coil at their early best. By the Throat is, if anything, even more so, though the manner of construction is very different — even if many of the same elements are used. This time the approach — which is clear by the title and the pack of wolves in a snowstorm on the cover — is in reverse. On By the Throat he uses far more organic textures as a base, whether they be from animal or human worlds, layering electronics and other effects atop them. There are real melodies at work in most of these pieces, and because there are, when harsh industrial noise, metallic guitars, and the sounds of wolves themselves are placed atop gentle ambient drones, strings, piano, dulcimers, and other acoustic instruments, the effect is simply nail-bitingly harrowing. Take the opening track, "Killshot." Minimal synth textures establish a skeletal melodic pattern for 30 seconds before a wave of gated — and harsh — sonic waves overshadow them completely for a few moments, and then they poke through over and again. It's like a Philip Glass-styled melodic fragment that refuses to die no matter what is placed on top of it. Dulcimer touches and a piano slip in and out melismatically, but amid the gargantuan swells of noise, it becomes creepy; disturbing but beautiful.

"The Carpathians" greets us with the sounds of the wolves; their voices, snarls, growls, and howls have been edited and perhaps blended with the sounds of other animals. But in the low-register piano chords, discordant strings, and ambient drones, there is something so inherently foreboding here that the music is almost scary. On "O God Help Me," the medically assisted breathing sounds accompanying a heart monitor tone are annotated with some slowly thudding percussion amid a minimal synth melody, and add to the feeling of dread. "Híbakúsja" has been presented in a number of mixes previously, and is both the longest and most compositionally sophisticated piece here — and to be truthful, it is gorgeous in its melancholy gracefulness (though it too has hidden surprises). Labelmates Valgeir Sigurðsson and Sam Amidon and composer Nico Muhly all appear here, as do the strings of Amiina. Lawrence English and even Arcade Fire's Jeremy Gara also appear to aid Frost on this obsessively compelling, captivating, and often frightening creative and original odyssey into a world both natural and synthetic. Most of us would rather not think about what it evokes, let alone travel there emotionally. Yet this is what makes By the Throat so special and, yes, at times even sublime. Like a great horror film where one wants desperately to look away but cannot, it attracts and repels so convincingly that one must listen to it over and again in order to uncover its many — often terrible — secrets.


Born: 1980 in Melbourne, Australia

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Australian experimental electronic music composer Ben Frost was born in 1980 and grew up in Melbourne, influenced by a wide range of music from classical minimalism to punk rock and black metal, as well as sound art and design. In 2001 he self-released his debut EP, Music for Sad Children, which was well-received and led to an album release, Steel Wound, in 2003 on Lawrence English's acclaimed Room 40 label. The album was composed of treated acoustic guitar recordings made in the desolate Australian...
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By the Throat, Ben Frost
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