Album Review: Ben Frost – Scope Neglect

[Mute; 2024]

It’s been seven long years since Ben Frost’s wonderful album The Centre Cannot Hold, but he’s been far from idle in the meantime. An array of soundtrack albums, collaborations, and an opera have kept this Reykjavik-dwelling Australian busy. All that – on top of his involvement on three Swans albums and becoming a member of their touring band – is more than reason enough for the delay between solo projects. And with Scope Neglect, it’s a wait that, in places, feels well worth it. 

Taking guitar riffs from Car Bomb’s Greg Kubacki and bass lines from My Disco’s Liam Andrews, Frost plays with elements of metal on the record as he pulls these instruments apart into slabs of noise on occasion and ambient textures elsewhere. When it works, it really works. 

Album opener “Lamb Shift” and penultimate track “Tritium Bath” are the best tracks on Scope Neglect by some distance. They both feel alien, unsettling, and exciting. Both have a genuine feeling where the listener doesn’t know what’s coming next – a rare treat in today’s musical landscape. The guitar work is to the fore on “Lamb Shift” as the genre tropes of metal riffs are torn apart, stretched out, and dissected like a glorious cadaver. The track feels liminal, as the time signature is difficult (maybe even impossible) to discern, and the silence between the notes is unsettling rather than serving as respite from the squall.

Album highlight “Tritium Bath” treads a similar path but opens with soothing swells of keys before the eviscerating guitar riffs come in. It’s a violent track, with the sheer feral nature of the guitar juxtaposed with a melody which tries to complement before being entirely swallowed up in the maelstrom. It’s anything but easy listening, but it is beautiful in an otherworldly way. 

“Chimera” has an oscillating atmosphere, one that phases in and out of focus somewhat like William Basinski’s majestic The Disintegration Loops but with vivid life rather than decay at its core. That’s one of the staples of the album, that beauty lives in the chaos of life. Despite all of its challenging aural textures, Scope Neglect focuses on those elements of existence that make it worth living – abandonment to disorder, finding the hope in the chaos, and the sheer visceral wonder of things. It doesn’t have to make sense, humanity’s greatest problem is probably trying to make sense and to construct order where there naturally is none; you just have to let go and enjoy the ride. It is, after all, just a ride. 

Sometimes Scope Neglect feels more like an examination of music than a celebration of it, a study into noise and accompanying feelings. “The River of Light and Radiation” has a deep rhythm at its centre, but it’s more akin to what you imagine pulsatile tinnitus is like rather than a recognisable beat. Meanwhile, album closer “Unreal in the Eyes of the Dead” has an incessant and muted guitar pattern which cycles back around on itself to gorgeous effect. This last track has a kosmiche Musik feel to it, as it endlessly recycles itself with the smallest of additions each time.  

“Turning the Prism” feels a little bloated, as if Frost has listened to one too many Hans Zimmer soundtracks and decided to go for the euphoric sense of nothingness that everyone’s current favourite soundtrack composer deals in.

(Seriously? Hans Zimmer? His best work is the theme tune to pan-European quiz show Going for Gold from the late 80s, and I’m happy to fight anyone that says differently. He didn’t even write that on his own, as it happens. There’s a sizeable gap between his best and his second best, too.)

Anyways… “Turning the Prism” is the record’s epicentre in terms of run time but it just really doesn’t hit at all, and would likely have served the record much better had it been switched with “Unreal in the Eyes of the Dead”.

The fundamental essence of Scope Neglect feels somewhat laboured in places, but some of its tracks are absolutely astonishing. The real shame of the record is that Frost can’t sustain the highs, which, to be fair, would be quite some feat in itself. As it stands, the record is too disjointed as a whole body of work, and you get the sense that when you return to it at a future point it’ll be to pick out the peaks and entirely ignore the lows. Such is life.