Napalm Death drummer Mick “Human Tornado” Harris started toying with computers around the same time as some former bandmates, but the results — in Scorn — are more at odds with his tenure as an indefatigable one-man battery squad. Recorded after Harris had already joined Bill Laswell and John Zorn in Painkiller, the first Scorn releases are less imposing than Justin Broadrick’s sludgy Godflesh, but Harris developed the group until it became his point of departure from rock music.
Broadrick and American Pat McCahan of Candiru rotated through guitar spots on the first releases, wherein Harris and fellow Napalm Death refugee Nick Bullen (bass/vocals) are caught struggling to innovate. Vae Solis seems to be the natural outcome of calculated grindcore, picking up the detached threads of late Swans and Einstürzende Neubauten. Lick Forever Dog (remixes of tracks from Vae Solis) and the following two 12-inches are similar Anglo-Saxon angst, of interest mainly to eager metal collectors who had never heard Holy Money. An intense electronic metal band was still an idea whose time had yet to come.
Harris and Bullen back away from overkill on Colossus, loading on moody synth and distressing vocal samples to create an ominous modernist sound similar to God and Ice. Evanescence, a topsy-turvy stew of confusion and emotion, practically severs the members’ final ties to grindcore. With James Plotkin of Old taking over on guitar, the threesome create a dark digital domain where fancy danceable beats pop under thick clouds of textured samples, deep bass and minimal muted vocals. Where the economics of experimental music seem to dictate that artists run a small number of ideas over a repetitive string of spin-off releases, Evanescence is a dense moment of grandeur. Though probably important in introducing Scorn to the emergent ambient dub community, the remix collection Ellipsis only serves to make the band appear more ordinary. A better record would have been Harris and Bullen’s unique take on original tracks by Bill Laswell, Scanner, Autechre, Coil and Meat Beat Manifesto, instead of vice versa.
Bullen withdrew from Scorn in early 1995 after a violent nightclub incident, leaving Harris to go it alone. Distinct from his Lull project, which focuses on introspective incidental noise and samples, the subdued Gyral takes Scorn into club music, capturing a sophisticated suite of atmospheric dub that tempers the confusing musical ambition of Evanescence. Minus Bullen, Scorn scales down to the solemn sound of one quiet man working late at night in England’s loneliest dancehall. Tracks are based mostly on ghostly loops, with guitars and vocals done away with entirely.