The phrase “cutting off the nose to spite the face” is a long-held expression that more or less acts as a warning to not go too far in one’s quick reaction to a problem — specifically if it is self-destructive — and while that definition might not seem all that fitting for a collection of old releases from one of the most celebrated American projects in the world of post-industrial in the past decade, the phrase’s origins through legend certainly are. Though it has been attached to and associated with pious and chaste women throughout the last millennium including Saint Margaret of Hungary, Saint Oda of Hainault, and Saint Eusebia, it has its specific origins in the legend (called “legend” here due to its questionable historical accuracy) of Æbbe the Younger, whom, in 867 A.D. at her monastery in Coldingham, Scotland, instructed her nuns to disfigure themselves by cutting off their noses and upper lips in order to look unappealing to the raiding Zealand Vikings. It worked, though perhaps not to her liking as they proceeded to burn the monastery to the ground in disgust of their appearance.
History and legend this gruesome, violent, and, in a strange parallel, anatomically surgical, is in that sense certainly aesthetically similar to the work that Steel Hook Prostheses has bled into the world since 1999. After all, the duo of John Stillings and Larry Kerr have worked endlessly at creating punishing electronic compositions that consistently plague the mind of the listener with images of physical/mental torture and medical/scientific anomaly, and it is this intrinsically disturbing visual quality that has kept Steel Hook Prostheses at the top of the post-industrial conversation in the American scene alongside the likes of Lee Bartow (Navicon Torture Technologies, Theologian), Richard Ramirez (Black Leather Jesus, Werewolf Jerusalem), and Andy Grant (The Vomit Arsonist, Danvers State Recordings), and more recently, Nyodene D, amongst several others. “Cut off the Nose…” provides listeners with the chance to explore two essential parts of Steel Hook Prostheses’ greater whole. Disc I contains three early EP’s from the project’s ’03-’04 period, all of which came as extremely limited CD-R’s on Misanthrope Studio, Chondritic Sound, and N3. Disc II contains compilation appearances and unreleased live tracks. The first collection entitled “Hollow Eyes…” was found on the RRRecords compilation “Texas” alongside Concrete Violin, Goat, Inhalanat, and others. “Violent Cutting Motion” was released on the Open Wound compilation “Fresh Blood Volume 1″ alongside of Meson, Barrikad, Travis Morgan, and Blank Banner.
For newcomers to the project, this is your chance to get familiar with the early days of SHP. For those already well familiar with them, however, this is a real descent into nostalgia. It’s a reminder of how much the project has grown over the years to this point. When listening to their last full-length in “Atrocitizer” on Malignant Records, it’s easy to hear the amount of depth and quality in modest complexity that exists in their newest tracks, whereas these older compositions are every bit as predatory though they embrace a colder, more minimal droning atmosphere in many tracks — a style that climaxes at its strongest atmosphere in tracks like “Iron Recluse” where the ambient and the noise collide to entrench the listener in a devastating atmosphere of surreal violence — both nightmarish and uncannily realistic if not familiar. This is the true sound of the background of hospitals. What you see is the clean white veil that is constantly reconstructed and quickly put in place after any trauma that occurs or enters. Realistically though, that smell of cleaning solution, that bright white sheet, those sterile instruments — they’re all a façade. A hospital is inevitably, by its very nature, a place of violent correction, of consequential mistakes, and of death. Its background is filled with the distant whispers of those whom have come for help but never left. That, to me, is Steel Hook Prostheses in a nutshell. Lingering, existing, hinting — a potent sound that only gives mere glimpses into the true nature of brutality that surrounds these places. And though they do it in a more minimal fashion, these older tracks are just as profound as the new.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the live tracks are the most effective of the bunch. The vocals are let loose and are more jagged, cutting right through the noise into a more traditional power electronics style. The distorted heavy electronics build underneath in a way that is further towards the bass end of the mix than the studio tracks, giving SHP more presence and power behind their suddenly uncompromising attack.
I have to admit that I was concerned that SHP had stopped producing at the height of their career with this release. 2009 saw “Exploring the Outer Lesion” on Clinical Records, but much like this 2-disc from Syzmic Records, it was a collection, meaning that the last full-length came with 2008′s “Atrocitizer” on Malignant. Thankfully, however, it looks like a new full-length is quickly approaching and is entitled “The Empirics Guild” and is due to be released again on Malignant Records in early 2013. It’s been 5 years in the making it seems, but no doubt it will be well worth the wait.
02) Scourge of the Earth
03) Burning out their Eyes
04) Catheter (Live in Hosuton, Texas)
Cold Embrace of an Iron Lung
05) Those who Endure Suffering
06) Iron Recluse
07) Decayed Angel of Mercy
Controlled Sense of Decay
09) Forced Plastic Surgery
11) Untold Atrocities
12) Violent Wand
Hollow Eyes Behind a Sterile Mask
01) Voices from God
Violent Cutting Motion
05) Violent Cutting Motion
Live in Dallas, Texas 2008
08) Sickness and Plague
10) Under the Knife
11) Live at the Firehouse Gallery