I was so stoked to see this double disc set come out from Earache. I've been a fan of Mick Harris's apocalyptic industrial dub/breakbeat project Scorn for years, but have had a hell of a time getting my hands on a copy of the remix album Ellipsis before now. Earache just released this new set that combines both Scorn's classic early 90's album Evanescence, and that follow-up remix album Ellipsis together, remastered and packaged in a oversize slipcase; when these albums originally came out, Earache was still primarily known for releasing grindcore and death metal, and Scorn's dark electronica/dub was radically different from what people were used to hearing from the label, let alone the former drummer for grindcore pioneers Napalm Death and jazz/grind/dub geniuses Painkiller. Both of these releases are considered to be among the best in the Scorn catalog, and this set is essential for fans of Harris's brand of crushing beatscapes and dystopian ambience.
If you're familiar Scorn's most recent experiments in extreme depth-charge bass and doomdub, 1994's Evanescence almost sounds like an entirely different project. Early in the 90's Scorn started off as more of a nightmare version of trip-hop, constructing heavy, hypnotic breakbeats that are layered beneath grim electronic drones, menacing minor key synths, and tripped out vocals, the music immersed in darkness and dread and dystopian paranoia. Several tracks on the album feature guest guitars and synths from James Plotkin (OLD/Khanate/Phantomsmasher), and the mix of darkly melodic guitar and the booming hip-hop influenced breakbeats make these tracks some of Scorn's most accessible. The album starts off with the dark, doom-ridden trip-hop of "Silver Rain Fell", then moves into the grim jazzy ambience, lilting guitars, feedback swells and ominous loping basslines of "Light Trap". "Falling" combines narcotic tribal drum loops, lush orchestral strings and swirling ambience, then shifts to the grinding machine processional of "Automata" and the almost gothic dance-rock dubthrob of "Days Passed". "Dreamspace" is a malevolent industrial dub/trip-hop trance with huge percussive bass pulses, sinister synth lines and processed vocals, and stomping kick-drum loops underscore the druggy Depeche Mode-esque melancholy of "Exodus", which breaks off into a bizarre didgeridoo workout halfway through the track. Hard-edged EBM rhythms and creepy dark ambience come together on "Night Tide", and the swirling pitch-black dub heaviness of "The End" is indicative of where later Scorn material would head, with warm swells of muted strings and horns, blackened raspy vocals, eerie electronic textures, and rhythmic synth noise evoking a crepuscular subterranean vibe. Evanescence ends with the purely ambient darkness of "Slumber", which begins as just a whirring electronic pulse but slowly evolves into a dronescape of strings and other warped and melting orchestral sounds tumbling into the abyss, very reminiscent of Mick Harris's other, more ambient project Lull.
1995's Ellipsis is a very different sort of album. This disc, which has been out of print for years, is a compilation of remixed Scorn material taken from Evanescence and reworked by an impressive lineup of guest collaborators that include Coil, Autechre, Meat Beat Manifesto, and PCM. It opens with Meat Beat Manifesto funking up "Silver Rain Fell" in their distinct style, stretching it out for almost nine minutes but sticking pretty close to the sound of the original. Harris does his own remix of "Exodus", which also makes some subtle changes to the track, but Coil take the source material in a much darker and more infernal direction for their rework of "Dreamspace". The UK industrial legends stretch the track out to almost twelve minutes, creating a wheezing, creaking trip-hop nightmare coated in grimy distortion, sinister bass, demonic voices, but then turn the second half into an epic orchestral ambient peice, letting looped strings drift over muted drums and skittering electronics, and it's without a doubt one of the highlights of Ellipsis. Next, Bill Laswell (who had performed with Harris in Painkiller) turns "Night Ash Black (Slow Black Underground River Mix)" into an even longer dose of epic dubdirge that's almost a whopping sixteen minutes long. Laswell stretches out the didgeridoo drones of the original version across a stygian chasm, drifting black ambience and rumbling drones inhabiting the first few minutes before a CRUSHING bassline drops in alongside a steady hi-hat keeping time, the track turned into a monstrous doomed-out darkhop dirge, super heavy and sinister, with samples of Harvey Keitel from Bad Lietunient looping in the background. If you thought that the original version of this track was pretty heavy, wait till you hear this....
Scanner follows and deconstructs Scorn's throbbing low end beats for "Night Tide (Flaneur Electronique Mix)", stripping it down to the rudimentary rhythm and fusing the beats to creepy samples. Autechre's re-imagining of "Falling (FR 13 Mix)" isn't as wacked out as I thought it might be when I first spun this disc, but it's still a twisted and fractured take on the original, the beats chopped and clipped, distorted and skipping across a minimal dark soundscape populated with all sorts of clicks and glitches and rhythmic pops and dub effects. Probably the most radical reshaping of Scorn's music comes from P.C.M., an obscure drum n' bass project that would later take part in continued collaborations with Mick Harris; these pioneers of dark, heavy jungle take the eerie melody from "The End" and strap it to a combination of spastic, pounding junglist rhythms and digital dub grooves. Germ's remix of "Automata" is also another dark drum n bass workout, but here the remix is slower and heavier and closer to the pounding industrial throb of the original. The disc ends with Harris once again remixing his own material, giving "Light Trap" a stripped down, blissed out redux, the end result both jazzy and dark, but quite mesmeric and pretty. Essential for Scorn fans and those into Dalek, Tackhead and Justin Broadrick's heavy dub/beat experiments in Godflesh, Ice and Techno Animal.