Texas duo Steel Hook Prostheses are a decade and a half into their career of blackened electronics and malicious noise, and with each new release they continue to find new spins on their intentionally desolate and unpleasant sound. Calm Morbidity is a consistent, yet diverse record that does different things and goes in varying directions, but never loses focus, and also never lightens the mood.
One asset that SHP has specifically is John Stillings. Besides the work he does under this moniker with bandmate Larry Kerr, he is also an audio engineer and mastering technician, and that technical proficiency shines through the murk on this album. His production gives a depth to these ten pieces that contributes significantly to its distinctive sound and feel. This, and the wildly varying production used on the largely unidentifiable vocals keep each piece sounding unique from one to the next .
On a song such as "Cyclopia," Stillings and Kerr mix a bit of everything: chugging machinery, gargantuan crashes and an uncomfortable electronic buzz form the bulk of the sound. With the duo throwing in a grinding, laser gun like burst of synthesizer, the structure changes from minute to minute. "Deep in the Marrow" is another wide array of sounds, from echoing brittle electronics to bizarre noisy outbursts. The vocals, heavily processed to a guttural, ugly mimicry of human voice has a spoken word delivery, but not at all decipherable.
"Cancer Maiden" is another diverse mix of rumbling synthesizers and abrasive electronics, with bizarrely organic sounds appearing throughout, covering a lot of different territories, all blackened. For "Stranguary," the duo employ surging synths and blasting noises to make for a structurally solid power electronics work, with bent vocals and a strange, unsettlingly quiet ending. At times the sound almost dabbles into the more conventionally musical: "Hand of Glory" (surely a nod to the Ramleh classic) is built from an almost melodic sequencer progression, with heavily processed vocals taking center stage. As a whole there is a greater sense of structure as for as conventional musicality goes, but one that is aggressive and unrelenting.
The mood may be a bit stiff on Calm Morbidity, but Steel Hook Prostheses manage to do a hell of a lot of diverse things within that rigidly morose framework. The vast sonic array utilized, from violent ranting to depressive plods are wonderfully punctuated with a complex mix of electronics and noise. The production and technical side of this album are what makes it really shine, giving an exceptional depth and variety to the record, resulting in a disc that reveals more and more as the dirt and grime is brushed away.