If you’re a fan of grindcore or heavy metal in general, then you’re probably already familiar with Napalm Death. Napalm Death pioneered grindcore on their 1987 debut, “Scum”, which featured short songs (such as the infamous 1.316 second long track “You Suffer”), fast tempos, deep guttural growls, and machine gun-like drumming known as the blast beat. Mick Harris, who was the drummer for Napalm Death at the time, was known for popularizing the blast beat that is a key component for most grindcore and extreme metal music. However, when Mick Harris left Napalm Death in 1991, a whole new side appeared from him in two forms: Scorn and Lull. Lull is Mick’s beatless dark ambient project, which has been influential in being at the front of the so-called isolationist movement that was occurring at the time with other artists like Thomas Koner and Final. Scorn, however, is the combination of these dark atmospherics with minimalist, industrial hip-hop beats and loud sub-bass frequencies. Initially starting as an dub-inspired industrial metal band with Napalm Death founding member Nic Bullen, as well as Godflesh’s Justin Broadrick and James Plotkin contributing, Scorn’s sound became increasingly minimal and ambient. “Gyral” is the first album to be released after Mick became the sole member of the project when Nic left in 1995. “Gyral” is a minimal hip-hop/dub-inspired dark ambient album that leaves an impact on a mammoth scale with its hypnotic rhythms and unsettling sound design, and is truly one of the best albums of the genre.
The album begins with the slow, glacial hip-hop beats and creepy pads of “Six Hours One Week”, which helps to set the tone for the rest of the album. Eventually, an extremely low sub-bass and unsettling sound design creep their way into the mix, slowly building on top of each other every few seconds. Variations of the beat and sounds occur here and there throughout, but overall, the piece is repetitive and minimal, which works to create a hypnotic effect on the listener. “Time Went Slow” begins with somewhat unsettling ambient pads underneath a hi-hat rhythm, before the beat and huge sub-bass kick in seconds later. Dub-style effects play a huge role throughout, as does the layering of different unsettling sound effects to create dark and trippy atmospheres. “Far In Out” is a delightfully dark atmospheric hip-hop song, featuring unsettling sound design similar to what ambient noise artists are putting out, along with dissonant string samples and airy Lustmord-like bass rumbles, with plenty of industrial percussion such as chains, metal, or strange electronic tones and hums to keep the atmosphere alive. “Stairway” begins with dark ambient noises before leading into a creepy piano melody, complete with reverse delay, along with some strange electronic sounds and a tambourine rhythm. The beat comes in, glacially slow as ever, along with different percussion noises occurring throughout the piece and more sub-bass madness. A dissonant, flute-like melody comes in, and more strange noises start to layer in and out, revolving around the listener.
“Forever Turning” begins with a sub-bass, along with strange humming sounds, before a soft beat enters. There is a lot of great dark and strange sound design going on here for the listener to soak in. “Black Box” contains very strange humming noises that are almost inaudible, but yet create a tint on the atmosphere of the room that you are listening to it in, before drums enter a minute later along with some delightfully thumping sub-bass and dissonant string-like samples that are reminiscent of Penderecki’s “The Dream of Jacob”. There are also some more delightfully strange sound design on this track, including strange industrial noises and bell tones. “Hush” begins with a light ride cymbal, sounding almost jazz-influenced, but not quite since there are also strange electronic sweeps that enter the mix. A kick drum and snare rhythm enters to create a downtempo groove, and later on, a deep bass line flows underneath the mix. The strange thing with this song is the synth elements, as in contrast to the rest of the album, the synth chords here sound quite melodic and happy, and not really unsettling at all, though the bass line and electronic sounds try to prove otherwise. However, later on, a piano melody comes through, which suddenly changes the mood of the song, and becomes a bit darker than before. The final track, “Trondheim – Gävle”, is an epic finale. It begins with dark, gong-like cymbals, which ring out with an unsettling reverb. Eventually, dark bass rumbles and high-pitched drones creep their way into the mix. Suddenly, a huge industrial kick blasts it way into the mix, louder than the rest of the song previously was, along with creepy airy pings and pongs and the like. This leads into a beat that sounds similar to something that either Nine Inch Nails or Ben Frost would create. A low bass line enters the mix a little later. The song flows on its own in a repetitive, yet hypnotic fashion, with sounds that slowly revolve around the listener. Sometimes sounds drop out, sometimes sounds change in subtle variations, and sometimes, sounds just stay the same regardless. In the end, most of the sounds drop out completely to some dark ambient noises, before the sounds then fade out, and thus end the album.
Overall, though it is hypnotically repetitive and many people may not be into it, for me, Scorn’s “Gyral” is the best of the dark ambient/dub/industrial hip-hop genre. Harris’s choice of sounds and the way he implements those sounds into the mix makes for a delightfully dark and atmospheric album. The album, like most ambient music, can be played either in the foreground or background, but nevertheless, “Gyral” will make an immediate impact on the atmosphere of the room it is played in. Darkly beautiful and filled with minimalistic goodness, “Gyral” is one of the albums that you must hear before you die, and if you don’t know what to listen to next, take a chance on this album. Highly recommended listening.
Genre: Dark ambient/trip-hop/industrial hip-hop
Released in 1995 by Earache Records
Available now at all major retailers!
Note: in the US or perhaps elsewhere, iTunes claims the album is explicit. There are no vocals on this album, so technically, it does not contain explicit language at all. Someone over at iTunes should fix that pronto.