Ben Frost’s new disc By the Throat could not be released at a better time; it’s the perfect soundtrack to the presumably upcoming temperature dip. There are superficial reasons (his last name, for example, and his residence in Iceland), and reasons that have a stronger musical basis. For starters, there are goddamn wolves on this album, which always seem to conjure images of frigid, forbidding winters for me. In case anyone confuses the previous description with some sort of critical, metaphorical flourish, allow me to further clarify: There are literal, snarling wolves introducing (as only they can) the second track on By the Throat, “The Carpathians.” Anyone remember the pigs being slaughtered on Scott Walker’s The Drift? It’s that kind of harrowing moment, and it’s not exactly By the Throat’s darkest one.
For, you see, By the Throat is one unrelentingly chilly album, practically the aural equivalent of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It opens in the murkiest way possible and plateaus, unsettling its listener all the way through to its conclusion. Frost traverses the coldest ground covered by artists and bands as diverse as Fennesz, Tortoise, Nine Inch Nails, and the aforementioned Walker, to name but a few, and comes up with very few reasons to smile as a result. By the Throat is an album marked by sickening swells of distortion, stark harpsichords, and bleak horns sparingly deployed. As far as Frost is concerned, no light can escape from anything he’s processed. Anything run through his compositional filter will emerge a darker subject for it. Even the two songs about Peter Venkman, unquestionably the goofiest Ghostbuster, yield nightmarish results. “Peter Venkman Pt. 1” relies upon a haunted choir rapidly fading in and out to provide its chills, whereas “Peter Venkman Pt. 2” prefers slowly building brass.
It’s not perfect either. While Frost shows himself to be an astute genre-splicer, crisscrossing back and forth between ambient electronica, frigidly austere classical music, and full-on industrial, there are issues of subtlety and development. “Killshot” opens the album with the clear intent of dumping the listener right into the center of it. Perhaps Frost wished to unsettle his listener right up front, but “Killshot” goes from next to no instruments to a startling wall of noise almost instantly. Maybe it’s simply a matter of preference, but I’m of the mind that a more gradual progression would have made the wall of noise all the more effective. And while we’re on the subject, Frost would do well to put a little more space between each wave of distortion. Don’t get me wrong: those sounds are fucking evil, but once they start piling up in song after song, the edge begins to dissipate.
Nonetheless, By the Throat is a largely successful exercise in shadowy atmospherics. Even if Frost has a little bit of difficulty controlling himself from time to time, the overall mood is rarely compromised. By the Throat is as insistent as vocal-less albums get, pounding the listener with fuzz and distortion until he or she may be nearly ready to cry. It may get a little overbearing, but it’s an impressive feat.