Scorn: Stealth
Ad Noiseam / Jarring Effects

Twenty years from now, anyone wondering what dubstep sounded like in its essential form circa 2007 could do a whole lot worse than use Scorn's Stealth as starting point. Unfortunately, that same listener would be privy to the entrapment that often cripples once-fresh genres when their signifiers become too comfortably established. Scorn's eight tracks feature all of dubstep's trademarks: humongous bass wobble, shotgun snare cracks (the attack is so aggressive in “Glugged,” every drum hit feels like a mini-detonation), slow-to-mid-tempo lurching rhythms, and congealing atmospheres that are dark, brooding, and viral. In itself, that adherence to the genre's tropes isn't dissatisfying; what is is the music's general lack of development. There's little arc to these tracks, as each one lumbers threateningly at an even keel for about six minutes and then exits, ceding its spot to another. During a given piece, there's no change in tempo or mood once the general character is established in the opening moments. (“The Palomar” comes closest to breaking free of that trap with various change-ups and drop-outs keeping things interesting for the duration while the throbbing, spooked quality of “Enough to Hold Bottom” is almost ear-catching enough all by itself to hold one's attention.)

There's no question the material's polished and the sound design impressive (consider the echo treatments that appear throughout the marauding “Snag”) though no one should be too surprised by that, given that Scorn's thirteenth full-length studio album is the handiwork of Birmingham-based Mick Harris, the one-time Napalm Death drummer, Painkiller member (alongside Bill Laswell and John Zorn), and founder of ambient project Lull. Would that Stealth impressed more on compositional grounds.

March 2008