Review: Steel Hook Prostheses – The Empirics Guild (CD)


It wasn’t a long time ago since I heard about these fellows from Texas. Even though I’ve rarely encountered their music anywhere, their artwork and name have been etched into my brain. What I do know now, however, is that this release is their latest album-release since “Atrocitizer” was released, in 2008. John Stillings and Larry Kerr are their names, and I find myself repeating those names in my head, in an almost perfect symbiosis with the scene from Fight Club where they start chanting:”His name is Robert Paulson“. Just replace that name with their name, and you have a totally bizarre coincidence, but a strong incitement to actually start reviewing this monstrous release. Before I go on and do that, I must say that this is another release from the magnificent Malignant Records, from the US of A, which hasn’t let me down so far. So we’ll see how this one goes. Another thing that has to be mentioned, is the fact that this was released on the 29th of March, which is a while ago. It contains material recorded between 2008 and 2012. Hopefully, my earlier lack of inspiration, wordlessness and total apathy – will make this review a much more detailed endeavor.

Unfortunately, I’m not gifted with the whole release, package and all – thanks to the worthlessness of the US postal rates. Which, in turn, makes it a little bit harder to connect all the dots. But I will try. Firstly, their entrance is marked by a song titled “Rendering Human Tallow“, which sounds ghastly even by the name itself. Once you make your way in this song, you can clearly hear the desolate sounds of buzzing noise, a self-playing piano and a professed barren landscape of sound that takes you through your own worst imagination. This is only the start, as they catch you by surprise, by turning up the noise a notch and start coming at you with a more frequented and harsher, but deeper, wall of crushingly beauty of an abomination. Hard-wired with vocals that could possibly be picked up by a transmission from far away. Think of rabies-tethered drooling, combined with a maniacal and almost hysterically distorted barrage of vocally-enhanced gurgling paired up with an ever shifting noise-radius. Everything else is rendered useless, as a three-way combination of subliminal but rather soothing noise is checkered out by an insane amount of reverberated and distorted folly is pushed down your own throat, visually striking out your ears and earning you a check-mate. There are different landscapes that are shifting places constantly, from going into abandoned buildings, to pulsing through the snowy and harsh climate of Antarctica – as Winter is closing in on you. It is imaginative, with a broad-spectrum of differentiating sounds that will simply make anyone remotely uninterested, appalled by the gracing stereotypes of this genre. Death-industrial seems to have its grip, together with the perfectly laden dark ambient, as noise (and harsh noise) traverses throughout an unpolished image of dark delight.

As it came to an end, “Leprorasia Doss” emerged. It seems like the introductory is virtually the same, albeit some changes have been made. No, you can’t really say its the same, because this gritty and frankly horrific bubbling of alienated thoughts and minds are subliminally intact. The difference is that they’ve lowered the buzzing noises, the crackly vocals, the seething storm of steel – into a more cloaked entity. As they play along with what almost seems like improvisation, the red line in the sand is still as active as it should be. Tattering noises begin ingratiating, vocals are barely heard through all the modification its undergone, but everything that can be counted into the atmospheric perimeter are currently intact. Something feels like space, other things feel like coupled death-industrial with noisy overtones. Majestic sounds are as distant as they are close, but they’re too far away to be noticeable in the whole mix. You simply hear it when you feel like you’re floating in unconsciousness, but then, suddenly – everything fades away in the blink of an eye. First, there’s not much of a roar, but in the middle there’s a full-on attack of noisy grandeur. You’re always drooping in horrific imagery, tainted pleasures, and unforgettable erroneous behavior. Everything about it is occult, everything has a mystery pinned to the back of it. Although the imagery popping up in your head from this ordeal is greater than the first song, you find yourself trapped in a maze of conquerable sounds that leave place to whomever has the might and is right. Strength is everything, as the seance of incorrigible sickness is eradicating anything that could be remotely against the nature of the world itself. Noises leave crackling, they speak louder than words. Either by stepping away, in a cowardly manner, or going out with guns blazing. The metallic and industrialized notion cannot be ignored, but neither can the noisy foreground be stepped upon and considered obsolete. Playing a part in this bizarre masquerade craves a lot more attention than one could offer in the first run, but it seems like the more you listen to it, the harsher and more uncompromising it can become.

Actually, the third song “Sadomedica” is basically what it sounds like. Couple that with Polish agony in the form of sampling, and you’ll have an outlandish experience. It’s as if the first part of the song simply is leading us to where the torture chamber is, or in fact where the doctor is. No, you wouldn’t want to go to your dentist after this. With atmospheric lingering ambient, there’s a certain aspect that simply freaks you out. Dwelling synthesizers, pipes that sound, and a whole system of re-arranged noisiness. You’re on the right path, as you listen to this, because you dare not to stray away. Then, you’ll hear the medicament. It feels like being strapped to a bed, drugged up on a substance, whilst Mr. Doctor himself is operating on you with out anesthesia. Clouded judgements, shady characters, the characteristics of this part is an urge to get out. You start to feel panicked when hearing it, because it might not be torture to your ears, but you’ll hear a moaning as if someone is in pain. Unfortunately, this moaning doesn’t resonate well with the other atmospheric parts. It feels out of its league and shouldn’t be there in the first place. So this might actually be something that they should’ve corrected. Anyhow, when it escalates, the noise also starts to go more up-tempo and be even more involved in the scene of the crime. Sadomasochism is a central point to this song, more than the actual sound itself. Its a provocative piece that rather plays with your visual imagination, than creating a heavy-laden piped up industrialized environment. Like Pavlov’s dog, when you hear certain sounds accompanied by this moaning, something clicks in your brain which triggers negative emotions. You want to get away, but there’s nowhere out. Claustrophobia is one of the feelings that you’d feel after listening to this whole song, because the further in you get, the more dismayed you’ll be. Locked up and strapped in, just so you will enjoy the ride. The craftsmanship is impeccable.

Guttural, it is fucking guttural!“, if synthesizers can be put in the gutter and played from there, together with analogue environmental usage – the result would be “Debrided Necrotic Tissue“. If anything, this song has a rough but great start. You’d get your group together and travel down into the catacombs, preferably through the sewage. Accompanied by an Indian scientist whom is describing the content of the rotted body, which you’ve seen floating upside down in the sewage. It feels like someone is putting a saw to your head, slowly sawing into vital parts of the brain, trying to get it unconnected, what must be connected. Whispering into your ear, in a simian motion, together with flying parts of crashing instrumental carnage. Summoning those forces that mustn’t be let loose. Someone would tell you that this is an absolute apocalypse, whereas the noise is fixed onto you, but slowly departs into a motion which up-heaves its own existence. Down to the last atom, Steel Hook Prostheses is ready to dissolve you into a necrotic mess. The spacious vocals continue to torment you, to the last utter breath you take, until you’re dead and lying there yourself. Yes, its you, floating in the small canal of the sewage. What did you think yourself? That it was someone else? No, after listening to this, it will most certainly be you. The torturous element of their music is present around the corner, at all times. It will jump you, cut you, and then escape once again. It is not a full-on assault, it is different assaults, thrown at you from various strategic points. However, the industrialized notion of their music at hand might have had its peak just now, when the seething metallic noise clashes with their ambiguous nature of using the subliminal content to it’s utmost frightfulness. One of the wonderful aspects of this song is that their more harsh side is brandished through power electronics, because they are more prevalent through the song itself. It is a nice show-and-tell of how to incorporate the more atmospheric content into an abyss of incarnated power electronics, in the conventional manner, but in an rather unconventional and unsettling, setting.

We’re now entering even more industrialized territory, as the song “Gula” is being played. Whilst the barrels are being smacked around, the smoke is pouring out and the charred vocals are casually strolling out through the line of fire – we begin to get even more spacious. This feels like you’ve just combated an army of aliens, and are about to enter the spaceship, as everything imaginable goes wrong. The overlord is speaking to you through a heavy modulated voice, and is beginning to send his creeping minions for your demise, once again. The atonal madness relies heavily upon the screeching noise that is embedding itself into your ears. Feeling like laser-beams that just struck your ship and are heading on a collision course to your mind. Also, the casually stroked baselines that lie beneath the surface are probably the most interesting addition. Even though the song itself picked up a great speed, something went wrong after half of it was gone. But as the drill keeps going down into the surface of the earth, banging on everything in front of it, something is revitalized. Not to say that the industrialized atmosphere is a bugger, but sometimes you need to turn it off. Because you can’t simply waltz into it and expect to come out as you were, from the beginning. Everything from the details of the kick-drums that sound so non-artificial, to the digitized hemorrhage (which is pretty much analogue), incorporate the cybernetic feelings into your gut-feeling. Basically any supernatural scenery could be taking place, or they could simply be propped up in a spacious building somewhere in an abandoned industrialized village somewhere far out in the US of A. It seems like the sheer power of the vocals seem to make the sound-scape tremble, and the transmission gets put to a halt slowly, as it is conjugating with the immense delay put on it. Actually, its rather pleasant that their ramming metallic noisiness outdo the vehicles rolling through the city. Since there’s a rather tropic temperature here, its nice to find atonal madness that is actually not mindless, but comes with a spine, textures and an overlying ambitious lineage. Bring it on, boys, because this is the wreckage being displayed through an audial spasm of power electronics, death-industrial and dark ambient. Exchanging a little bit of fearfulness for mystery, suspense and delivery.

The introduction to “Emaciated Angel” tripped the mind, as the expectancy was put into the corner of martial industrial. Which makes no sense, but makes more sense when you hear the song itself and see the title of it. An even more grandiose take, as the Opera-sampling in the background reveals a lot of their tendencies. But is quickly shifted over from harsh landscapes with grandiose intentions, to their low-leveled subliminal buzz of haphazardness. As the vocalist whisper his instructional commands, through a less and less intimidating voice, with not as much distortion. Paired with the simplicity and one-way grinding of gears that is pushing the limit of the industrial heirs, as you hear the message being spread throughout. Some of it sounds like static noise that have been processed, other aspects can be decided by the inherent humming of the thrum, or the naturalistic approach through the atonal tonic that is constantly refreshing how you see things in the remarkable outskirts of their effectual sound. It is beyond a reasonable doubt that their analogue forefront is giving it a nice little touch, which makes it even resemble the sheer nature of things in the world as we know it. Even though it has to be deciphered from the clever heads of John Stillings and Larry Kerr. There are few words that can describe the interaction between the different textures of sound that can be heard, as they flow into each other as naturally as possible, whilst that shouldn’t even be the case in the first place. Even though the fondness of it escalates by every minute, as the noisy overtones cut with a razor’s edge, there are little variations to be heard. You have to catch the moment, because as usual, it shifts gradually – and then is shifted totally. Compromised by the usage of their habitat, with buzz saw-synthesizer-like sounds, to a more distinct flavor of running wind, into the miniscule component of a base-drum made to last. The last mentioned is heard, not as a traditional one, but as a deep and base-filled addition to the tormented alignment of them all. From dark to darker, as luminescent noise is drawing us all in.

Maestro, please make your way to the stage. This time “Disfiguring Aesthetics“, surprises. You feel like its going to be a repeatable table of resources that will be used, but instead there’s a somewhat classical touch to the ambiance that is heard in the beginning of the wondrous song. By this, they show that they are versatile, and they do not strike us imminently with the usual suspect. Sure, there are a lot of noise that is being thrown out of the guttural and buzzed out cadavers, from sewers, but also catacombs. The sounding but subtle intensity of whatever pro-longed battle-cry of a synthesized and outdrawn atmospheric instrument, is a call to war. Or it might simply be that battle has already raged, since there are thrown-in flashbacks of noise, hums, crackling metallic frequencies that don’t let go until they increase in intensity. The song itself fills you to the brink with pride, but also with sorrow as your fallen comrades are paraded throughout a musical experience. You immerse yourself into it, and it is hard to let go of the sound while it is still loudly being proclamation on your behalf. It feels like it was aimed at me, but maybe in another life or so. Persuading me, telling me how it was, what could be expected – and then returning me to the cold and harsh reality of life itself. For nearly five minutes, the immersion is so great that everything around you is in the periphery, if even existing at all. It is a questionable song, because it adds a lot of questions, instead of answering them. Accompanied by a not too harsh noise cavalcade which playfully integrates with every other element there is. The authenticity is mind blowing. You might not notice it directly, but after a while, it sinks in. It is truthfully, probably the best song so far, as it displays more than just being an attempt at creating music. It hits close to home, in one way or another, which is satisfying but scary at the same time. Precisely what they want to convey, or try to. Because they are the masters that are holding the strings, making things happen through the mildly chaotic visit that they’ve forcefully invited me into – and I like it a lot.

Do you believe in cyborgs? Because the song “Decrepit Hands Emerge” make me want to. In the intro, we’re grazed with vocals from a cyborg. His last words are very clear: “Do you… believe in… history?“. I must say that I really do, at least after his droopy but rather intimidating gesture. Apparently, the rather calm and industrialized ambiance in the background enforce the feeling of getting picked up by cyborgs. If this song doesn’t make you into one, I would say that it has to, if you listen more closely. There’s a rather ambivalent relationship between the more calm and rather soothing beginning, when compared to the disorderly rambunctiousness of the extremely distorted vocals. As if they are telling a story, that particular voice returns and is then engulfed by the jumbled sound-scape of the decaying, goaded and fiery determination of the headed direction. Without further do, it reverts back to a charred and terminally ill state of mind, as the suffrage is mounted upon these occasions. Spiking out and into the wide-array of used (and intriguing) tools for the created havoc. When analyzing, it’s hard not to go into different spheres of the intentions with the song, when you listen to it again, and again. It feels like they’ve built up two different textures, as they lay lurking nearby to each other, just to create a protagonist and an antagonist. The protagonist being the cyborg-like voice that repeats the same line in all eternity, and the vile-sounding, heavily distorted vocals – resounding into the role of the antagonist. This is both pure evil and calculated madness, as they lunge at each other in different intervals in the song. Screeched noise, subliminally peaceful dark ambient, chopped up, distorted – and enigmatic power electronics. The downturn of it all is that you can easily get lost, because if you don’t follow the sound, you’re going to end up being confused. It feels like there’s a greater context that needs to be figured out first. It’s actually intellectually challenging once you decide what is what, which also gives a lot more meaning to what is ahead of you. But that might not actually be what it is, but to a lesser extent – you’ve figured something out, albeit it craves a lot of attention.

The machination is now powered up, into full force. For your sake, its now time for a full frontal assault. With the track “Scald“, you’ll never need a scalpel any more. If you thought any of the other tracks were a torturous ordeal, in order for those with a large batch of stamina, think again. This track is probably one of the only without the need for an introductory piece. You’re thrown into the sea, when you’ve been covered in flies of noise, as your cadaverous you is floating out into the sea – getting picked on by seagulls. Crackling noise is eating you from inside, as these masterful rhythms sear through the skies, you know the end is near. As electrifying as they may seem, they’ll fry you in an instant. The vocalist is nothing but pain, agony and your self-afflicted nightmare. Throughout, the subliminally conscious sound of all these different palettes of negative emotions, is the main proprietor of the rest of it. Like a power-station of some sort, continually making sure that the rest of it will work efficiently. It reminds me a lot of Övervarning, when he had his most dark, ambient phase, whereas he made these sounds become reality. Maybe a harsher version of what can be found on his earlier albums, but a little bit less suggestive. For this song, it’s all out in the open, without any pretensions. Basically, what you hear is what you get. No compromise, they won’t back down, because now they’ve gone all-in. As one of those plebeians that doesn’t know a whole lot about death-industrial, power electronics, noise or dark ambient – I can still sense the quality of the output from Steel Hook Prostheses, especially with this song. We’ve been totally crippled by the industrialized noise-machine, as it powers up by itself and feeds off our internal energies. Nothing is forbidden, there are no taboos here, so if I made myself clear in my earlier statements – you’ve had nothing yet, if you don’t listen through this song. I know you’ll hate to love it, because you’ll be forced to.

Up until now, every song have been timestamped to around five minutes. This one is an exception, the song titled as “Disease Incubator“, which chimes in with seven minutes. It seems like it is continuing the legacy of the track “Scald”, as if the body is floating beneath the surface. A lot of suspense in the beginning, as if it was some movie-track before something is happening. Noise starts gnawing on the edges of the sound-scape, floating from point A to B, which would be Left and Right in the headphones. Bubbling sounds of someone breathing under water is as breathtaking as the atmosphere that is painted with broad brushes in this track. Something in the near perimeter is sizzling, which seems to be the distorted voice, which is back again. It is amazing how they seem to pull it off with such ease, as the transitions seem more believable than ever. They manage to hold a low-profile with everything grazing your undying body. Crackling through the more tempered landscape of sound is an unknown amount of rising noise. It slowly builds up, just to release some pressure, which is characterized by the plentiful distinguished noises they can make. However, the track never moves to the more noisy areas, because it distills the best parts of their atmospheric indulgence. This has written dark ambient all over it, as it is the dominating genre to be found in this particular track. Not so much noise, or power electronics for that matter. Which seems to be a hint that we’re near the end of this album, which makes for a great placement. Because by then you begin to relax, only to get fooled a little bit, and then be put in the same mode again. Probably one of the better tracks, as it contains what I believe they do best, which I determine by my own taste – which isn’t found as much in the noise, power electronics or death-industrial compartment. Keep floating, because we’ll surface soon, and it might be over for good.

It might sound like an interlude, but it is not. The track “The Blood Cough” achieve a lot of distress, in the matter of seconds. A storm is brewing in our hearts, as they strike a needle through our heart. When the vibrant mix of a storm is colliding with base drums filled with spikes, crackling noises driven by hate, forceful vocals in ultimate distortion – everything is right. Well, if you are the one holding the tools, and doing the torture. It might be a repetition of many tracks you’ve heard before, but this one has so many different elements that it is hard to count them all. Variation, if anything, should be the name for this song. A crescendo of different rhythms playfully caressing their dark-tempered manners, before they lunge at you with perforating jaws. Tick-tock, a sound is coming at you, which sounds like running sand. The hourglass is set, as you try to take yourself out of the mess that wasn’t created by you. Everything seems to be capsizing, an alarm can be heard in the distant, nothing ever felt so futile. Crossing through different borders, between a lot of impending doom, because you’ve never ever felt such a well-crafted noise-machine bark at you. My fingers have never been so eager to convey this picturesque mix of blood, violent industrial, decaying noises and abrupt attacks. Some of the sounds actually feel like bombs that are hitting the ship, because we’re sinking with it. At times it dips down into down-tempo, then increases the tempo temporarily (no pun intended) on different sounds, just to make their rhythms even more original. Because there is a certain rhythm to this analogue machinery, as it moves the cybernetic arms to pro-long the disaster, and spell out the noises. If anyone would want to endure it, be my guest. It is a fascinating trip, filled to the brink with that which you will find to be both enjoyable, but also immensely scary. Don’t be a scaredy-cat, please be my guest, jump into it.

After wandering through what seems to be a musical Sahara desert, e.g. meaning that it never ends, I’m finally at the last track; “Antiquus Morbus“. It feels like this track could be the godfather of the other tracks, because it feels like a summary. Everything you’ve dealt with on the path in this album, is again thrown at you, but in a different setting. Swirling deep into the abyss, together with a concentrated rhythm of noises that hit you on the way down. It is getting me nauseous, because everything is of chaotic delight. Charred remains, outdrawn synthesizers, metallic indents being hit with a jackhammer, or something. The swaying towers of Babylon are succumbing to the occult ways of Steel Hook Protheses, as they finalize their wickedness through a channeled spell. One feeling that is coming at you the most, is probably fatigue. But on the other hand, you’ve endured a long-ass album that clocks in at 64 minutes, which should be enough to explain why. Half of the track is based around bombastic but rather calm deities, whilst the other half is bombarded with fat drums, open industrialized wounds, crackling spearheads being driven into the electric current and the canalized fortitude of the impregnable atmosphere. Everything is coming back to you, one musical stroke at the time. I must say that “The Empirics Guild” is a fucking awesome album that conquers most of the releases in the same genres, or nearby, at least this year. I’m not really into this sort of music, but I believe that you can get into it, if you listen to this album. It is a good gateway into the more extreme genres that they’re actually peddling with. Quality seems to be nothing that they are lacking, because they replace quantity with quality. However, this might not be for everyone, but it is still an easier album to get into than most other albums. Or maybe it’s just me getting into it for real, I don’t really know. But you should heed my advice, because this album was spectacular and fuckin’ excellent in both its grandiose debauchery and simplistic execution. You need it, you’ll heed to it, so do get it – from Malignant Records.

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