Review: Steel Hook Prostheses, Light Reflected From a Cold Cutting Table (Pain Compliance, 2005)

Here we have the "latest" full-length from one of the better dark ambient/death industrial acts out there right now, especially from the US, though the material was actually recorded way back in 2001/2002. Which begs the question: Why did it take so long for this stuff to finally see the light of day!? Seriously, this is largely top-notch material that really does a great job of creating a chilling atmosphere throughout its various approaches. "Bed Sore" opens on a strong note with a combination of throbbing low-end and eerie distorted chirps that give the warped distorted vocals room to dominate the foreground once they're introduced, but in a manner that stays true to the vibe of the track, thus never getting too over the top; and "Eye of the Beholder" follows with a far more subdued dark ambient delivery that's certainly not short on sinister atmosphere. "Leprosy" opens with a sparse yet crispy percussive loop over ethereal ambient swells and basically remains consistent for the entirety of its five-minute duration, with one deeply pitch shifted sample (or vocal, I can't tell) passage during the final moments. The title track then kicks back in with some throbbing distortion and massively treated vocals that are so heavy on the reverb that you can't really hear any enunciation whatsoever, which can definitely get too overpowering, so it wouldn't hurt for them to ease back on some of that to give the vocal content more breathing room as well as allowing the surrounding textures more space. "Thermal Cautery" utilizes a greater balance of ultra thick distortion with a little less muddiness to allow a few more details to present themselves in the distance - among them more obscured vocals that are entirely indecipherable, but do possess more texture here. "Metacarpal Removal Procedure" even brings in a subdued beat behind cascading waves of ambient drones and sparse foreground samples, which is rather tastefully executed considering it's a pretty significant departure from most of what you'll find on this record. The aptly titled "Icepick in the Ear of Humanity" closes the disc dominated by a grating loop of biting distortion with fairly well placed vocals embedded in the center of the track for a slightly thinner and more aggressive attack along the lines of the searing "14th Century Medicine" before it. For the most part I really enjoy the aesthetic of the recording quality here because everything is oppressively dense and gelled together, which works quite nicely. I do think that additional attention to nuances in the mix could yield stronger results at times (for example, were some of those overpowering vocals or samples reigned in a bit), but the actual sounds are dead on in my book - it's just minor inconsistencies in terms of placement/layering that could use tweaking to maximize the end results. The layout keeps things nice and simple with plenty of dark background textures and small black and white images of old medical instruments/procedures. Very little text appears, so that's about it in that department, but it looks nice. I haven't kept up with Steel Hook Prostheses as much as I should have over the last few years, and I'm not sure what they're up to these days, but I can only assume that I'll need to keep a closer eye on their future work. For two- to three-year-old material this is generally powerful stuff, and at the incredibly reasonable rate of $8ppd US/$10ppd elsewhere, there's no reason for interested parties not to give it a shot.

[Pain Compliance]
Running time - 56:44, Tracks: 11
[Notable tracks: Bed Sore, Leprosy, O.T.O., Awaken Limbless]
Pain Compliance Productions -