Review: Scorn ‘The Only Place’

It’s fascinating when looking at the history of underground music just how important the first line up of Napalm Death was. Nicholas Bullen not only contributed vocals and bass, but went on to produce music with a host of projects, including a stint in Scorn between 1991-1995 and is known as a composer of dark electronica; Justin Broadrick is arguably the name in industrial and extreme music whose projects outside of Godflesh is almost an article in itself and then of course there is Mick Harris.

Scorn ‘The Only Place’

As the only man to play on both sides of Napalm Death’s legendary Scum album, Harris is synonymous with extreme music (grindcore in particular), blast beats and reinvention. After Napalm he has forged a career in electronic and ambient music, working and rubbed shoulders with names like James Plotkin, constantly subverting our listening expectations and straddling genres.

Having spent nearly a decade on hiatus, Scorn returned in 2019 with the Feather EP and full length album Cafe Mor which saw him collaborate with Sleaford Mods vocalist Jason Williamson, but was denied the chance to tour due to 2020 being a global bonfire

However, like many, this enforced hiatus spurred Harris into a creative overdrive and reaching his 54th year he is as passionate and enthused about music as ever and has channelled himself into ten new tracks that meshes the psychedelic with darkness, airy light ambiance and deep diving beats.

Opening with the cold mechanical menace of Ends, the album creeps insidiously into your consciousness, not with a bang and a smash, but a slithering and a feeling of vertigo as Harris builds to the introduction of the thudding heartbeat like metronome of the album. Each incidental sound that gets added layer by layer brings feelings of unease, or anxiety, that draws you in to the experience, but never allows you to truly settle.

At times it feels like a Rubik’s Cube, each turn slots another colour side by side and it almost revels in a lack of flashy statements. Even the ostentatiously titled French Field Middle Of Night feels like a lonely train ride through the dark countryside; the rhythmic clanking of the tracks, the empty black shapes and the lonely reflection starring back at you. In many ways that is what it is to listen to Scorn and why this album doesn’t grab your attention but sinks its hooks in and crawls at your brain.

This latest release serves as a timely reminder of the influence of Harris, many of the ideas on here call back to the bold experimentation of 1994’s Evanescence album where he laid out the blueprint for his post Earache career, building on that heavy bass sound but forever seeking to subtly change with each release and drive the music forward. It is hard not to hear these sounds and innovations embraced by the likes of Author and Punisher.

The Only Place is an album to get lost in, to focus a mood on, rather than put on for sheer instant gratification…

Each track plays with the same motifs from the almost playful Mates Corner with its repeating lighter notes, Ends mechanical coldness and second half of Tick which banishes the comfort of the central bass beat by refusing to let it settle. This is not an album which you can isolate and dissect in isolation, apart from Distortion because they all share the same core, just twisted and pushed in different directions.

At One Point continues this muted vibe with a different drum beat variant that feels like tension rising as the ebb and flow of the rhythm builds again; urgent and somehow unsettling in its repetitive simplicity, giving it a surreal experience that could be lost in the seeming unobtrusive nature of the music. The woozy dub grooves of After Tasting begins almost unassumingly with the same heartbeat like bass and small sounds and noises that seem to skitter in and out as the track grows. Every aspect of The Only Place seems built around the same central theme but the more you listen, each cycle adds shade of grey and new intrusive, but subtle sounds.

This is something that Harris has perfected with Scorn and something borne out by the likes of his works with Plotkin and Broadrick and in turn their own projects, like Palesketcher and Plotkin’s extensive remix portfolio.

Patience is rewarded by the late album highlight of the collaboration with Keith Kool and Submerged and the only track to feature vocals. Part rap, part spoken word, part shamanic chant, Distortion is busy and turns the screws before releasing its cathartic mantra. The vocals are the obvious focus, but again the dark dub beats mask a host of incidental sounds that accent and track the vocals as they capture the fear and anxiety of modern living. Coming at the back end of the album, it invokes much of the feel Harris has tried to steer you towards and has a biting hook.

The Only Place is an album to get lost in, to focus a mood on, rather than put on for sheer instant gratification. On the surface it seems simple, and the actual distance travelled over the course of the tracks feel, at times, small, but much like the works of Jesu, it’s within the relative stillness of these moments that you can feel the details and the layers of sound that went into the compositions.

Harris has always been a master of experimentation, a man who has always been more interested in making sounds and sowing the seeds of ideas, rather than writing something for you to hum in the shower and this is why he is one of the most enduring and influential artists still making music today.

It is a singular person who can be credited as the forefather of the blast beat and dub step and as a result a relaunched Scorn, with three releases since his 2019 relaunch, shows that the man is not slowing down.

Label: Ohm Resistance
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Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden