Steel Hook Prostheses – The Empirics Guild [English]


[reviewed by/ autorka recenzji: VITRIOL || ENG]

I won’t waste any time with introductions here, as I believe in this case they are unnecessary. Texas-based Steel Hook Prostheses have been populating our nightmares with seething, mind-scarring images and perverse sound manipulations since 2001, and not once have they gone amiss in their devoted mission to drag us further down the swamp of self-loathing, of the sadistic pleasures of body modification, forced surgery, anatomical experimentation, dominance and other such aberrant delights. All tinged with a potent hint of sexual gratification, deeply disturbing in its sincerity, and in the way it manages to create an immediate correlation with the listener. You know you shouldn’t be turned on by it, yet somehow you are. SHP easily escapes the trivial character of many similar projects, obviously making too much of an effort to appear decadent and filthy – to the point where they become cliché. When SHP decide to release a proper album, most other PE projects seem like kindergarten pupils trying to imitate the teacher.

Naturally I was overly excited when “The Empirics Guild” was announced, as it’s been a long time since their previous masterpiece, “Atrocitizer” was released in 2008. With the exception of a series of collaborations, comp participations and live recordings there hasn’t been a complete album available, to feed our addiction with. And now we have “The Empirics Guild”, and yes, it’s more than a full dose of this highly corrosive drug that is SHP music. The doctor is in, start screaming…

What I love most about SHP is that it uses an abundance of dark ambient atmospheres, expertly woven into a complex, often heavily layered PE/ death industrial web of varied sound sources. Tinged with this dark ambient background, the music acquires an incredible amount of depth and significance. Paired with the artists’ evident skill in handling their equipment, the result is always this characteristically crisp, sharp quality of sound and the impression that every little detail counts, everything is studied, everything serves a predetermined purpose. This isn’t the psychopath randomly venting his rage on his captured victim, but the trained surgeon in his well-ironed lab coat, holding a cold scalpel in his hand, standing over a half-anaesthetized, restrained body, his rubber gloves dipped in blood. A glimmer of madness in his eyes, but hand remaining steady.

We’re off to a heavy start with “Rendering Human Tallow”, where a deceptive melody begins the track, to be set aside in the next few seconds by an overflow of roaring electronics, drones resembling howling winds and a barrage of distorted vocals, as if a thousand demons were unleashed in the middle of a storm, and they decided to land here and take over the torture chamber. Before the listener has time to breathe, “Leprosaria Dross” kicks in with its gradually built wall of power electronics, humming noise and distorted vocals moving in and out of a loose rhythmic pattern. Even more crushing and merciless than the opening, it really makes a point as to what we can expect from the album. These guys aren’t messing around, they mean business.

“Sadomedica” is one of these lo-fi tracks that bear the stench of diseased sexuality, creating a sense of extreme uneasiness – the listener becomes a witness to an act of pleasure, pain and deformation, not knowing exactly how to react. In “Debrided Necrotic Tissue” the tone becomes deeper and heavier – we have less escalation here, the track moves more or less on an even pace of crushing noise sequences and distorted voice. Although it begins with some deep/ space ambient drones and a male voice reading a text, as if from an old radio or TV set, soon the noise waves come in and sweep everything away, and a creepy, hellish voice can be barely discerned among the static.

“Gula”, like “Disfiguring Aesthetics” and “Scald” are more ‘musical’ tracks – of course the word ‘musical’ is used here somewhat loosely – where the ambient and rhythmic elements are more prominent. “Gula” begins with a deep ambient drone and even what could be described as percussions, while the noise, static and voice aren’t as overwhelming as in the previous tracks; they blend into the sound and along with the percussions give the impression that an idea of music has crawled out of this hideous oubliette. “Disfiguring Aesthetics” equally blends atmosphere and rhythm, provided of course that by ‘atmosphere’ we mean a nasty, damp basement with dismembered corpses strewn on rusted surgical tables, and a few hostages remaining alive, awaiting their turn. “Scald” is my favourite of the three, it brings out a sort of urgency, anxiousness and its cold ambient synths constantly flowing in the background give it a sci-fi feel that I find very exciting.

“Emaciated Angel” is one of the most haunting tracks of the recording, and one that adds a metaphysical dimension to the machinations of this gruesome environment. An eerie female voice fades in and out, a menacing ambient sequence, again the haunting voice, everything in sight scorched by radioactive noise. The light of this decayed, terrible angel consumes everything in its path. “Decrepit Hands Emerge” is aggressive and technological, as if the experiments are now taking place in an alien spaceship.

“Disease Inbubator” serves as a brief declimax, emphasizing mostly on electronics and various vocal samples, its hollow sounds emerging from the hull of the alien construction. Then the carefully engineered disease is unleashed in “The Blood Cough”, that contains what is probably the fiercest PE sequence in the whole album. After this paroxysm of ear-numbing noise, the physical and mental collapse is sealed with “Antiquus Morbus”, incorporating all the elements the musicians have used in the previous tracks. A suspicion of rhythm and melody, deep/ dark ambiences, grinding noise and numerous turns and twists within the track. The suffering is over, nothing left behind but carved flesh, bloody operating tables, insanity and despair.

With every previous release the balance between dark ambient and PE/ death industrial, tempered always by the infernal, distorted voices that have become a sort of trademark for SHP, was getting closer to perfection. In “The Empirics Guild” this balance of different components has finally reached an absolute, making it what I personally consider as the best SHP album to date – although I’m sure these two ingenious musicians will be able to surpass themselves with the next one. Until then however, “The Empirics Guild” conveys an aura of pure darkness, unrestrained deviation, claustrophobia, panic and sadomasochistic indulgence that is stifling to the point of asphyxia. Every track in it is better than the next, none being below excellent. The most electrifying release I’ve listened to this year, and if nothing else tops it, my #1 for 2013. A total must.

Steel Hook Prostheses – The Empirics Guild
CD, 2013
Malignant Records, TumorCD65


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