A U R O R A is Australian-born, Iceland-based composer Ben Frost's fifth official album, and his first since 2011's Solaris, his collaborative project with Daníel Bjarnason. Since that time he's privately issued scores for two dance companies and Julia Leigh's film Sleeping Beauty, and produced records by Swans and Tim Hecker. Most of the music for A U R O R A was written in the Eastern DR of Congo, beneath the active Mount Nyiragongo volcano. Frost accompanied/collaborated with war photographer/artist Richard Mosse and cinematographer Trevor Tweeten on the multi-media installation Enclave that was an Irish representative at the Venice Art Biennale 2013, and won the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2014. Other than the sounds of literally thundering drums heard here (Thor Harris and Greg Fox both contribute) and some sundry instrumentation provided by Shazad Ismaily, the sounds on A U R O R A comprise densely layered synths, ingeniously employed samples, menacing loops, drones, and sheets of metallic sound (the substance, not the music). The obvious companion piece in Frost's catalog is 2009's By the Throat, but this is an utterly different kind of construction. Things commence broodingly in the opening moments of "Flex," but multiple, droning, high-pitched sonics ratchet up reverb-laden martial snare and floor tom loops until they disintegrate in what sounds like scattershot gunfire. When first single "Nolan" wafts in, the brittle majesty of its synth could be the entrance hymn for a dark deity. Drums and cross-channel keyboard distortion play chord patterns and introduce grief and loss -- one can hear the trace melody of Shriekback's "Faded Flowers" in the center. On "Secant," blasting flanges of percussion and subsonic flutter, hand drums, and analog stacks of dissonance jar the listener and don't quit until the track ends. On "Venter," Harris and Fox take center stage, relaying drum patterns between them. Frost adds in bells, muted brass, and punishing loops, creating a jaw-clenching tension. While the sonorous whiteout of "No Sorrowing" may be absent percussion, it's still taut and brooding, and closer "Single Point of Blinding Light," with its warring rhythms and squalling synths, is so alarming it could easily accompany one of John Carpenter's most horrifying cinematic sequences. Frost's senses of tragedy, pathos, and violence are not gratuitous; it's the humanity in his assault that makes it so scary and empathetic. His music delivers an imagistic sense that is both psychologically poetic and disturbing. If there is any referent for Frost's aesthetic here, it's the music of Coil, but it's inspiration rather than architectural template. His disciplined approach and bleak yet massively creative imagination delivers a particularly 21st century industrial music of his own design. A U R O R A is dark, dreadful, and dramatic; it is also a masterpiece.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek