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Class ?

Main Category: Avantgarde
Also applicable: Mope Rock, Electronica
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Coil fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Coil fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1983
Overall rating =

I guess I'd rather hear most of this in a movie. (Although I sure hope they didn't use 'Rape' in one).


Track listing: 1) Sicktone; 2) Baptism Of Fire; 3) Rape; 4) Poisons; 5) Truth; 6) Sewn Open; 7) Silence And Secrecy; 8) Here To Here (Double Headed Secret); 9) Stealing The Words; 10) On Balance.

Actually, many, if not most, Coil discographies do not begin with this one. It's one of the few rare records that's actually credited to two different bands at the same time - Coil and Zos Kia, both of which were John Balance's contemporary projects (granted, the distinction between them was always kinda flimsy - seems like the same people played in both, if, of course, one can refer to what Coil did at the time as "playing"). Zos Kia, however, faded into nothingness quite soon afterwards, and what survived was the joint project of Balance and Christopherson. So for all it's worth, Transparent might as well be called the first Coil record.

It actually consists of a bunch of mostly live recordings, played on various occasions in 1982 and 1983 (the first side, originally recorded on a tape - which, I guess, explains all the hissing and overall shitty sound quality - is live in its entirety, while the second one mixes live and studio tracks, so it seems, but I might be mistaken; it really takes a serious Coil expert to sort out all those things). And as far as industrial noise-making goes, it didn't really impress me all that much. So far, Coil are still faithfully progressing in the vein of Throbbing Gristle, which is "make one boring noise for five/ten minutes and call that 'art'". (Yes, whaddaya know - years and years of being exposed to this stuff still haven't managed to elevate me to that utterly different level of perception. I'm utterly hopeless! Although, to tell the truth, I have begun to warm up to Jennifer Lopez as a result).

For instance, 'Here To Here' (which happens to actually be one of the fans' favourites from the early period) is just one gloomy synth note played for almost five minutes. The only difference is that it repeats n times on just one synthesizer, and then it repeats n/2 times on two synthesizers at once. My tolerance for minimalism doesn't yet amount that high - this sequence could be cool if played a couple times as the intro to something bigger, but on its own it's just tomfoolery. Please don't tell me I don't "get" it. I used to "get" it each time I found myself near an electric instrument and fooled with it. (I used to get far better ambient/industrial atmospheres out of them, you know).

The very very same composition, then, is also found on the first side of this album, where it's made marginally more interesting by being called 'Rape' and, in addition to the synth noises, also incorporates occasional record scratches, train whistles, some incomprehensible female muttering and then - you're ready for this? - A WILD BLOOD-CURDLING LIMB-SHATTERING EAR-WITHERING NIGHTMARE-INDUCING SCREEAAAAAAAAAM! (I remember reading a funny review of this thing where a guy was describing how he listened to that track for the first time with headphones on, and wondering why the hell they needed a live rendition of 'Here To Here' and turning the volume up really loud because it was so quiet, and then just as he put his headphones down for a second to answer the phone, this scream comes in and he's like, "wow, that phone actually saved my hearing!"). And you know what, the track really becomes mesmerizing upon repeated listening - you can never quite remember when that scream is going to come up and this makes you all nervous and fidgety and then you start to realize how the 'song' itself is actually nervous and fidgety and then wham! and you're out of your chair anyway. So if you think I spoiled your fun for you by letting you in on the secret, well, this ain't a friggin' detective story after all. It's re-experience-able.

But anyway, that's one of the only few moments of 'aural glory' on the album. Everything else is very incoherent, very ugly, and very messy - I can understand, uh, say, Einstürzende Neubauten, whose debut album was really a carefully thought over conceptual piece with some real emotional power, but Transparent just does nothing. It doesn't even make any real advances, as far as I'm concerned, because the collective efforts of early Kraftwerk, Throbbing Gristle, and Neubauten put this sequence of noises to shame. 'Sicktone' is just it, a bunch of synthesizer feedback and stupid screaming; 'Baptism Of Fire' should have probably been used in a better context (it's the closest in spirit to the metallic Scatology), with its clinging and clanging and factory noises representing the prototypic industrial sound. It's certainly the best track on here.

But then there's also 'Truth' which is just a bunch of conversation dubbed over more synth feedback in boringass 'Revolution 9' rip-off style (I haven't been able to find out who the guy doing most of the talking is - some famous third world leader? Help me out there if you happen to know), while 'Sewn Open' is like a mini-Metal Machine Music for seven minutes. Hey guys, Lou Reed already did that on two LPs in a row, so what's the difference if he did that on guitar and you are doing it on synthesizers, or whatever the shit you're doing it on? And just to make matters even more befuddling, 'Silence And Secrecy' and 'Stealing The Words', in dire contrast to everything else, are quiet and relaxing sonic sequences of the "nature sounds" kind - with chirping birds, dripping water, swooshing winds, and echoes of deep mountaineous sounds in the background. If these sequences are synthesized in their entirety, this is at least an interesting example of emulating Mother Nature; but that doesn't mean I have to enjoy them. Well, I do enjoy them, but I don't have to. I just don't have anything better to do. If you know what I mean.

All in all, industrial music sure can do better than that. Transparent certainly displays potential (as seen on 'Baptism Of Fire' primarily), but fact is, anybody with just a teeny bit of fantasy and enough arrogance to present this as 'expressionist art' could have recorded these tracks. (As definitely opposed to Einstürzende Neubauten's Kollaps, which is a far more complicated and - dare I say it - professional record). And this is coming from a reviewer who currently has nothing against industrial music as a genre either. But then again, we probably needn't be too harsh - like I said, some don't even consider this a proper Coil album.



Year Of Release: 1984
Overall rating =

One great way for a non-believer to "get" the true possibilities of industrial music.


Track listing: 1) Ubu Noir; 2) Panic; 3) At The Heart Of It All; 4) Tenderness Of Wolves; 5) The Spoiler; 6) Clap; 7) Aqua Regis; 8) Restless Day; 9) Solar Lodge; 10) The S.W.B.P.; 11) Godhead = Deathead; 12) Cathedral In Flames; 13) Tainted Love.

(Note: the track listing comes from the CD edition, coming out about four years after the original LP, which had neither 'Tainted Love' nor several other tracks on it. Also, according to the LP info, 'The S.W.B.P.' deciphers as 'The Sewage Worker's Birthday Party', in case you're interested).

Amazing! This is so different from Transparent, it's not even easy to believe the two albums were recorded by the same people (I hesitate to call Coil a 'band' - I guess combos like these go better as "projects" or something like that). Scatology is an album that denies categorization; sure, it's got a lot of industrial elements carried over from the preceding album, but they're by no means the defining thing about the record. There's industrial, and there's also jazz, there's dance-pop, there's a little modern classical, mixed with noise, don't forget about goth, even a little Sixties-influenced pop, ambient in spades, sonic collages, you name it, these guys cover everything. I can't say that the resulting product sounds all that coherent to my ears: very often, it's a "what the fuck?" impression when you get two different tracks together that don't seem to have anything to do with each other. But I guess that was the point, too.

Scatology is usually said to have an 'alchemic' concept at its base, the idea of producing gold from different stuff; you could never tell it from any of the songs, of course, but since this idea has been propagated by Balance and Christopherson themselves, it's probably not complete bollocks. You could say that it refers to their taking all these different elements and shaping themselves into something entirely new, or to their taking "ugly" noises/melodies and taking away their physical ugliness by declaring them artistically valid, or whatever, one thing I know is: this is a weird, weird, weird synthesis, that took a lot of work, talent and imagination, unlike the throwaway industrial cliches on Transparent.

Here's just the first taste of this album: 'Ubu Noir' opens it with a 'disjointed' bunch of sampled jazzy snippets which soon get augmented by a bunch of sampled gloomy-sounding industrial clanging noises, all ending in but two minutes. From there we immediately fall upon 'Panic', which starts as an ordinary drum machine driven dance-pop number, only for you to discover within the next thirty seconds that it's actually a sonic nightmare of rhythmic, danceable drum machines with a swirl of synthesizers and wildly treated guitars around it - probably to try and recreate the mental state of a panicking person (even if the band, er, 'project' keep singing 'the only thing to fear is fear itself' all the time). And the third track is the New-Age-style 'At The Heart Of It All', well at least it opens like a New Age kind of thing, but the shrill saxes just keep becoming shriller and shriller until the maddening dynamics become hard to deny. Add to this the doom-laden piano passages and occasional tidbits of Gregorian chanting, and you can see where all the Current '93 and suchlike projects get their foundation from.

It only gets weirder and weirder from there, with depressed gothic passages alternating with more optimistic ones and with God knows what else. The sampling of the baby cry on 'Tenderness Of Wolves' I would not recommend to any mentally unstable person; 'The Spoiler' is an "electronic waltz" (you can't miss it because the drums are so tremendously loud, it's like they're screaming to you - 'hey, look at us waltzing!'), again laiden with special effects, chaotic feedback-drenched guitar solos and repetitive vocalization; 'Clap' sets Fripp-like larks-tongues-in-aspic-style guitar wailing to a synthesized techno rhythm, resulting in perhaps the most paranoid-sounding track on the album; and 'Aqua Regis' takes a happy Sixties-style folk-rock vocal melody and connects it to that kind of musical background - you never know what these guys were trying to achieve with that kind of marriage, but whatever it was, they achieved it.

It's the second half of the album that is more industrial in nature, with more space dedicated to factory beats and suchlike, but even so the factory beats are used in a creative and powerful way. Let's not forget one utterly positive thing about industrial music - good industrial music pays attention to the rhythm of the machines, not just the sounds they're making, and thinking up an exciting "industrial rhythm" is something that Coil really excel at. Just listen to the percussion on 'Solar Lodge', for instance - as the vocal melody hilariously imitates some old folk working song, the hammers and lathes around it weave a complex and impressive pattern which you can even - horror! - tap your foot to if you're in one of those moods. Yet I'd just like to settle on the two final tracks which might be the best Coil songs ever made. 'Cathedral In Flames' finds a perfect blend between the band's chilly, "light-gothic" synthesizers and ear-wrecking "King Kong in the City" drum bashes; there's a sense of strange futuristic majesty and sorrow in the song that really can't be found in anything done previously (not because such compositions weren't done, only because such a perfect blend hadn't been found). And the dark, sarcastic 'Tainted Love' is worth it alone for those creepy, goosebump-inducing two synth notes that they keep hitting in between every tact - no synthesizer had sounded that menacing and plain scary before. Especially when they start amplifying them after the second minute - wow, that really got me jumping out of the frickin' chair.

You probably won't love everything about the album - there's too many different tricks tried to love it all. I sure know I'm not that impressed by some of the tracks, and if you're a hardcore "other music lover", who has outgrown the silly fluffy concept of melody, you will probably prefer Transparent to this album, which does not deny the importance of melody in the least. In fact, I'd go as far as say that organizing their ideas in a "melody-valuing" way was more important for these guys than the actual 'atmospheres'. Because, come to think of it, there's not that much "shock value" here when compared to, say, Blixa Bargeld's contemporary output. Yes, the constant clanging and hissing are unnerving, and yes, most of the time they open their oral cavities the effect is that of violently throwing up rather than singing. But hey, whoever said you can't shape your throwing up process into a melody? Let's not be old-styled and prejudiced here.

There's actually a lot of humour on the record, though you may not feel it at once, and a general feeling that, unlike some of their high-browed colleagues, these guys don't take themselves too seriously. I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't 'Godhead = Deathead' an "industrial parody" on early death metal, with its insane tempos and ridiculous violence? And couldn't we actually see 'Tainted Love' in the same key - as more of a silly jab on Goth-infected singer-songwriters than something to be taken seriously? Granted, you can never tell with these avantgarde people, and most of the time, they're sarcastic and serious at the same time, or, more exactly, the question of seriousness/mockery simply has no relevance (cue Residents, for instance), but on yer basic gut level, nobody cancelled laughter as far as I remember, and Scatology, after the immediate spooky effect has dissipated, regularly puts a wicked smile on my face. And hey, I like it.



Year Of Release: 1985
Overall rating =

Nothing worse than when performance art is also boring. And takes on the form of a soundtrack.

Best song: no songs - no best.

Track listing: 1) Ascension; 2) Enochian Calling I; 3) Angelic Stations; 4) Finite Bees; 5) Cave Of Roses; 6) Sun Ascension; 7) Madriiax; 8) Escalation; 9) Never; 10) Enochian Calling II; 11) Montecute.

Yep. Soundtrack. Perhaps the quintessential soundtrack, true to the etymological nature of the name - it really tracks the sound. The entire sound. You ever heard of soundtracks which don't just include the original score for the scenes, but which actually include the entire audio duration of the movie itself? Well, you have now.

The film was Derek Jarman's, and it's supposedly a post-modern, abstractionist take on some of Shakespeare's motives, exploring the homosexual patterns in his works (a subject typical for Jarman, from what I've heard - not that I ever saw the movie itself, or actually wanted to see it: it's one of those films for which it is often enough to read a description rather than actually see it). In the movie, one young man spends most of his time looking for his desperately needed other half, all the way battling perilous nature elements that stand in his way, be it earth, fire, wind, or water. In the meantime, Judi Dench reads a selection of Shakespeare's sonnets in the background. And Coil provide the other sonic elements. In short - typical term work material for a pretentious young snub who thinks he's leaving his immortal mark on this world but in reality has simply developed a bad case of Antonioni-tis. Yes, I might be mistaken, but it's one sphere of art where I can't help but share the presumption of guilt, so reader please pardon my bluntness. Or disregard it, for that matter, if yours is a sensitive and easily-offendable soul.

There is a positive thing about the album, for sure. Over the entire duration of its sixty nine minutes, the album's quiet, steadily measured flow isn't disrupted even once. It was so dreadfully quiet I had to turn the volume up to the max to hear it, and for sixty-nine minutes I was shaking in my pants, thinking 'well, they're grim-looking industrial guys, they can go BOOM BOOM BOOM any time now, and goodbye to my eardrums'. Thank you, Mr Balance, for not succumbing to the temptation of becoming the industrial Roger Waters. Whether it's the wind blowing, the water rippling, the hammers clinking, the bees buzzing, or the orchestra tuning, everything is kept at an equally calm, cool, and boring level.

So, actually, the only thing that does disrupt the flow, occasionally, is the sonnet recital. Judi Dench does the job well, the way you'd expect from a classically trained British Shakespearian actress (who is, unfortunately, forever carved in my mind as the gruesome-looking Elizabeth from Shakespeare In Love, which makes the sonnet-reciting affair even weirder, in retrospect). But, of course, it really doesn't mesh in well with all the, ahem, "musical" elements. Maybe it used to work better onscreen (I doubt it), but definitely not here.

Not that eliminating the sonnets would have made the experience much better, mind you. Would you want me to describe the tracks? 'Ascension' sounds like a mini-orchestra tuning up (ever had the misfortune of finding yourself close to the pit an hour before a symphonic concert?), for two minutes. 'Enochian Calling' begins with our guy paddling the water for three minutes or so, then becomes an impersonation of the wind blowing inside a cavern for four minutes. Lazy pounding of gongs, synth whistling, nothing else. Hey, if this is not enough to throw open your spiritual floodgates and shake the shackless off your psyche, trapped in materialist conventions and bourgeois stereotypes, I don't really know what is.

Quickly quickly running ahead, not a single melody shows up at any given time; not a single rhythm is established; and the volume levels are never disturbing even if you play this album through a triple set of speakers at max. The wind blows, the paddles flop, the gongs go pssssshhh in the background, and the synthesizers are essentially only used to create sort of a hummmmmmm hoommmmmmm huuuummmmm pattern that sometimes can take up to 15 minutes (the dreary 'Escalation' which virtually never seems to end - especially considering that it's so similar to everything that surrounds it you never even notice when it's over). In short, I'd consider myself a hero for sitting through this crap just once, and I actually sat through it thrice as of now. (Granted, I never really tried to immerse myself in the experience, but I have an excuse. Would you jump naked into a leech-infested rotten swamp if your best friend told you how awesome the vibe is?).

And this IS crap. Tremendous, pretentious, shitty, arrogant, offensive C-R-A-P. ('Scuse me for the rant - sixty nine minutes of wasted time deserve a little venting off). Look, I don't have to like it, but I can at least understand how this would work in a movie; judging by the descriptions, I'm sure Jarman's thematics would never interest me at all, but at least it's some sort of vague, but potentially respectable artistic statement. When taken out of the movie context, it's a record that has nothing going for it. It's not innovative, it's not complex, it's not even so "minimalistic" as to be daring or defiant. Mood piece? With all these sonnet recitals? Never in my life.

I can't for the life of me imagine how a band can follow an album as diverse and multi-dimensional as Scatology with something as lame and tossed-off as this... well, then again, it is a soundtrack, and to Coil's honour, it wasn't actually released on CD until the Nineties. But I can't take this as a serious excuse anyway - it is an officially released album, and it is supposed to be listened to, and I thoroughly refuse to go through it second time around. (For the record, if you wanna hear anything remotely similar, but at least remotely interesting, check out Neil Young's Dead Man soundtrack - at least the guy has got some pretty unique guitar texturing going on in that one. And as far as putting spoken parts on the album goes, I'd take those bits of Jarmusch movie dialog over the predictable Shakespeare bits any time of day). Oh, and the only reason this atrocity gets a 4 is the final track, 'Montecute'. Provided you live through everything else, you get thrown this little bit of musical ambience as a well-earned reward. It's actually got a theme or two, and actually calls for an emotional response of some kind. This and hey, them sonnets recited real fine. Nothing else. I shouldn't have even rated this, but this is Coil we're talking about. It's hard to understand when a Coil album should be rated and when it shouldn't, so I just made life easier for me.



Year Of Release: 1986
Overall rating =

Goth with a sense of humour. Nick Cave without singer-songwriting pretentions. And a title that borders on the obscene.


Track listing: 1) The Anal Staircase; 2) Slur; 3) Babylero; 4) Ostia (The Death Of Pazolini); 5) Herald; 6) Penetralia; 7) Ravenous; 8) Circles Of Mania; 9) Blood From The Air; 10) Who By Fire; 11) The Golden Section; 12) The First Five Minutes After Death.

Recorded as a trio, with Stephen Thrower adding to the creativity of Balance and Christopherson. No, it's not very different from Scatology; the basic idea is the same - make music that would package melody, experimentation, provocativeness, and industrial textures together and thus point the way to the future. (Whether it did, I'm not sure, though. Is Lenny Kravitz a Coil fan? There you have it). But it's a slight improvement in every possible way, with melodies that sink in easier and firmer, more stylistic diversity, more thought-provoking lyrics, and even a Leonard Cohen cover to boot.

It also makes more sense, overall. Scatology, apart from referring to its etymological meaning, obviously brings on synchronic associations with the word 'scatter', and that it was - scattered all around with the actual vision quite blurred. It was dark but it was not quite clear why it had to be. Horse Rotorvator is dark because it's a concept album about Death, and if that horse on the cover looks like it's ready to crush your skull beneath its hoof to you, you're on the right track. The original liner notes referred to the 'rotorvator' in question as some kind of futuristic perfect machine that was going to bring about the end of the old age and the beginning of a new one, and the music makes this goofiness actually believable.

At the same time, it's not really "bleak". Only a couple tracks actually seem frightening to me (although if you're an absolute novice on this kind of turf, you might experience it differently), and I feel no strong wish to plunge the listener into an inescapable world of paranoia and depression; for that, you'd rather be well off with the Birthday Party and the early Cure. No, above all, Balance and Co. present a sophisticated, intellectualized reading of Death, Apocalypse, and all the related paraphernalia. It's hardly accidental that 'The Golden Section', musically something like a medieval funebral march with touches of grinding industrial rhythmics, has a relatively lengthy reading from a philological lecture on the relations between Death and Love as literary/mythological motives. These guys don't find it interesting to pile Death on top of your spirit. They prefer to vivisect it under a microscope. It's their schtick. And they're perfectly entitled to it, especially considering they do it so well.

Plus, it doesn't prevent them from putting some of their catchiest melodies on the disc! Have 'The Anal Staircase' sung by Dave Gahan and some of the noisy effects replaced by a cheaper-sounding synth loop and you got yourself a potential number one Depeche Mode single. Oh, and don't forget to change the lyrics and title, of course. To make good use of a bad pun, it's a terrible pain in the butt to dance your typical Eighties dance to a song with the word 'anal' in the title. But then in direct contrast, 'Slur' is prime Nick Cave - just add more depth to Balance's vocals and throw in a few gritty Blixa Bargeld guitar lines and there you have it! However, the aim is not really to put you down. The aim is to make you taste the aesthetics of death and ruination and find out that the taste is bittersweet. Listen carefully to the sonic landscape of 'Slur' - it's harsh and uncompromising, but at the same time refined and... well, this is not an attempt to be realistic, this is an attempt to make you respect and revere the thing. In a way, 'Slur' does to death the same thing musically as Renaissance-era paintings involving Death imagery do artistically.

Even better is 'Ostia (The Death Of Pazolini)', a twisted musing on the ridiculous murder of the famous Italian director. Balance never lets a silly thing like 'emotion' take over his singing; most of the emotional impact comes from the ingenious combination of violins, pseudo-harpsichord, and a dark monotonous bassline, although even that combination gets played according to strict, almost medieval, musical rules. It's a funeral mass, almost - be emotional in your heart but let your expression stay cool. You almost get lulled with the repetitive 'throw his bones over the white cliffs of Dover' refrain (wonder what the white cliffs of Dover have to do with Ostia except for providing a good rhyme to the preceding line?). Nothing more, nothing less. Death has occurred and it's a sad fact that has nevertheless taken place - so deal with it. And, above all, think on it.

It's now time to remind you once again of the diversity of the record. The overall style is still "industrial", but it's the open-minded kind of industrial which tries to suck in as much as possible. There are tiny little intermissions of ethnic folk singing ('Babylero') or of martial tunes ('Herald'), and the main "industrialized" compositions draw upon radically different influences, practically each and every one of them. 'The Anal Staircase' is sort of funky. 'Ostia' is sort of medieval. 'Ravenous' is sort of "hellish-ambient". 'Circles Of Mania' is obviously jazzy. 'Blood From The Air' is the one openly Goth number on the album (and am I right in assuming that the chaotic noisy section out there samples the meaouwlings of cats in heat? If I am right, it's gotta be the single most genial touch in the history of the practice). 'The Golden Section' is martial again. And 'The First 5 Minutes After Death' feels like an expansion on Pink Floyd's 'Empty Spaces', if you remember that one.

What's the use of all that? Simple - the songs don't merge together in one flush of a slushy mush. They're all intellectual, spiritually ambivalent, and not very user-friendly, but each one of them presents you with a slightly different twist on the subject. For instance, if you think that making an album about Death is a useless idea if you don't go crazy at one moment, they treat you to 'Circles Of Mania' - a crazy crazy track if there ever was one, with metaphors of burning and cannibalism and a wild maniac vocal delivery (not really on the Nick Cave level of dementia, but they weren't about to go for that level in the first place). For hooks and toe-tapping, you have 'Anal Staircase'; for the dark mysterious depths of "non-being", you have the sonic landscape of 'Ravenous'. And let's not forget about the near-perfect cover of Cohen's 'Who By Fire'. It's one of Cohen's most visionary odes to death, after all, and they make an extra point by having Marc Almond (who'd already played the Angel of Death in their video of 'Tainted Love') sing creepy backing vocals.

The obvious flaw is that, with so little direct emotional connection, I don't feel like constantly returning to this kind of material. But, on the other hand, it's just as equally distanced from "hollow" modernist examples of performance art where the basic reaction can only range from "what the heck is this feck?" ('close-minded' reaction) to "uhmm, errr, ehhh... it's-uhhhh... special" ('open-minded' reaction). It's a piece of sophisticated intellectual art whose aims are obvious and respectable. And it's got a horse on the cover.



Year Of Release: 1987
Overall rating =

Outtakes of varying quality. Which, for a band such as Coil, can mean almost anything.

Best song: arch-undeterminabliablillyful. Maybe THE WHEAL, though.

Track listing: 1) The Last Rites Of Spring; 2) Paradisiac; 3) Thump; 4) For Us They Will; 5) The Broken Wheel; 6) Boy In A Suitcase; 7) Golden Hole; 8) Cardinal Points; 9) Red Slur; 10) Of Free Enterprise; 11) Aqua Regalia; 12) Metal In The Head; 13) Either His Or Yours; 14) Chickenskin; 15) Soundtrap; 16) Hellraiser; 17) The Wheal; 18) The First Five Minutes After Violent Death.

Yep, an outtakes release, but don't worry - these are mostly outtakes from the last few years, meaning this ain't nowhere near the level of "unlistenability" of Transparent. In fact, many of these tracks, if not most, could have easily fit onto either Scatology or Horse Rotorvator (some are actually simply alternate versions of the ones that did fit in). The collection thus shares but the one obvious flaw of most outtakes collections: it is an outtakes collection, and that means you'll get half-baked ideas, relatively poor sequencing, and a total lack of any sense of cohesiveness or global purpose. Were it in my power, I would have probably ripped this thing open, thrown out the weakest links, and insert the strong ones into suitable places on "expanded reissues" of these two classics, while at the same time being careful so as not to let the original out of print either. Sort of like an "original cut" vs. a "director's cut", if you know what I mean.

As it is, it ain't always a lot of fun to listen to Gold Is The Metal (With The Broadest Shoulders, as it is actually subtitled). But it certainly is, well, instigating. If you ever wanted to be, just for a moment, let inside the boys' working room, here's your chance. From the alternate version of 'Ubu Noir', here called 'The Last Rites Of Spring' (which one web reviewer, if I recall right, compared to the sound of dark forces banging on the door, demanding to be let in), and right down to the last grinding groans of feedback on 'The First Five Minutes After Violent Death', it's one heck of a journey, not a conceptual one or a visionary one this time, but just a journey through the mind of a couple intelligent musical hooligans trying this and that.

Since it's pretty easy to get lost in the eighteen tracks (most of them quite short at that), I'll try and single out the more cohesive and impressive ones that I'd personally find fit for the actual original albums. 'Thump' is a spooky, somewhat ambientish, synthy picture of the growing dark, for some reason dubbed over cheerful, unsuspecting crowd noises at a party; the ringing bell that announces the beginning of the actual tune makes me suspect that the crowd noise had in fact been sampled from the opening to Roxy Music's 'Re-make/Re-model', and even if it wasn't exactly that way, the connection is still obvious. But where for Roxy Music this happy party crowd could be seen as just a slight nod to the band's "decadent glam" image, on this particular Coil track the impression, for me at least, is way more sinister - it's like "you miserable mortals may be enjoying yourself here, but in case you don't know it, the gathering of the clouds has already begun!".

'The Broken Wheel' makes cool (and multiple) use of the 1-2-3-4 countdown before settling into a pretty modernistic danceable electronic groove (presaging some of the stuff from Love's Secret Domain) and from there into a weird conversation on the subject of who exactly is wanting to fuck who exactly. (The actual fucking, might I say, takes about five seconds, in contrast to the very lengthy debate on how the procedure should be done and the sharing of postfactum impressions). The ultra-short 'Boy In A Suitcase' is strangely normal for Coil, more a Kraftwerk/Depeche Mode/New Order experimental synth pop song than anything "higher" in the artistic hierarchy, but once again, it proves that Balance and Co. were no slouches when it came to creating a real melody.

Now speaking of real melodies, there are also several classically-and-folksily-influenced musical themes on here that happen to be quite imaginative. 'Cardinal Points', for instance, introduces a string quartet and beautiful quasi-XVIIIth century vocal harmonies (actually, I think they're all synthesized, but who cares? Come to think of it, who notices?). Some older influences can also be noticed in the theme to Hellraiser, although the essence of the song is still Eno-ambient-like. And the martial rhythms that were so cool on Horse Rotorvator are also here, on the twin pairing of 'Of Free Enterprise' and 'Aqua Regalia'. For some reason they're mixed in with a synth reworking of 'Greensleeves' (aka The King's Quest Theme), but the juxtaposition works fine. And then it's awesome to see the boys go wild with lightning-fast pseudo-harpsichord rhythms on 'Chickenskin', with its simple keyboard runs that I have, however, never experienced before in that same fashion.

In terms of melodic complexity and catchiness, though, I'd say 'The Wheal' should probably take first prize. Imagine a very happy, poppy, bouncy, lively, rhythmic, and diverse guitar solo played with lotsa fuzz and distortion, then altogether muffled down as if run through a cheap tape recorder, and then set to a "rhythm section" of several danceable synth loops that keep forming various musico-geometrical figures out of each other in a 'Baba O'Riley' kind of way, and that, more or less, is what 'The Wheal' is. Sounding weird and yet at the same time almost alarmingly happy for a Coil track - maybe it's because the fuzz guitar is actually played by "guest star" Alex Fergusson, but then again, the synth loops aren't menacing either. (Weird-as-shit association: I'm hearing an active melodic connection between these rhythms and the organ patterns on - no laughing please - 'Moon Is Up', the Rolling Stones song off Voodoo Lounge. Now, I'm almost sure there can be no direct connection, but perhaps an indirect one? Here's a good subject for research for all you industrial lovers once you've finished polishing your hammers on your steel tubes). It's only when the tune stops and the slow torturing grind of 'First Five Minutes After Violent Death' steps in that the good old Coil vibe is back. (Note: the CD sequencing of the last three tracks is stupidly fucked up - 'The Wheal' actually begins in the middle of the 'Hellraiser' track and ends in the beginning of 'First Five Minutes'! As far as I know, it's an old problem dating back to the original CD release, so beware old copies).

So take that overall 10 not as a derogation, but rather as an adequate response to Coil's own "standard lowering", which is quite natural for outtakes. I didn't mention, as of yet, that there are very few vocals on the entire record, and that's one of the reasons few things here hit you as hard as the 'classic' albums; apparently, Balance usually added vocals as the final touch, for the most part letting the music do all the talking (wise guy). Apart from the fuck-me-fuck-you exchanges in 'Broken Wheel', only 'For Us They Will' has a lengthy metaphysical monolog, but it is not really a highlight. And yet, whatever we say, vocals are important when determining the potential of Coil records. What would 'Ostia' be without the ominous 'white cliffs of Dover'? And can you imagine a cover of 'Who By Fire' without the lyrics? No, for Coil, words are indeed meaningful, and that's one of the main reasons why Gold Is The Metal can't be regarded higher than a 10. Granted, though, had I not been aware of the existence of Scatology and Horse Rotorvator, I could have considered 11. You can't view things out of context, though.



Year Of Release: 1990
Overall rating =

Fans only again. Sigh.


Track listing: 1) Various Hands; 2) The Swelling Of Leeches; 3) The Pope Held Upside Down; 4) His Body Was A Playground For The Nazi Elite; 5) Homage To Sewage; 6) Here To Here (Double Headed Secret); 7) S Is For Sleep; 8) Dream Photography; 9) Comfortable; 10) Never; 11) Penetralia II; 12) Sicktone; 13) How To Destroy Angels.

I suppose by this time it is obvious to everybody, including top rank VIPs who have nothing better to do than visit obscure websites of uncertified purpose, that there's Coil and Coil. The first Coil, or Coil I, is the one I like. They're making generic sell-out muzak like 'The Anal Staircase' and perfectly ordinary synth-Goth balladry like 'Ostia' which is even more accessible than watching the latest pop diva's assets on MTV. The second Coil, or Coil II, is the one I dislike. This is the Zos Kia-type of Coil that mostly spends its time banging on gongs, waterpipes, and dead buffalo skulls, reading Aleister Crowley and encoding his teachings into simple, but deceptively so sounds of "ping", "clang", and "shhh-boinnnng". As this site has never tried to in any way disguise the fact that it is pandering towards the mentally retarded segment of the population that's got the audacity to listen to their music before reading up on it, I thereby proclaim the following:

Unnatural History, a supposedly expansive 'overview' of Coil's career up to this particular point, is so much "Coil II" that I not only don't like it, I almost end up thinking of it as a shameful release - not to mention a completely unwarranted one seeing as how Gold Is The Metal had pretty much quenched the need for rare Coil product by that time. Unfortunately, Unnatural History seems to have been quite popular, so much as to warrant at least two 'sequels' and be often mistaken for the quintessential 'introduction' to Coil - after all, this is a compilation, and "compilation", in our subconscious, is quite often, and quite often completely wrong, associated with "best-of". Well, ain't no "best-of" here.

Presumably, many of these tracks do make some kind of 'sense'. Thus, here you have one of the band's earliest "classic" singles 'How To Destroy Angels' in all of its 17-minute glory. I remember reading a Balance interview in which he explained the mystical/cabbalistic concept of the track, and I seem to recall it was in some way connected with Mars and Crowley and sexual energy or at least some of those and involved a lot of calculating and whatnot. But when it comes to hearing, all I hear is seventeen minutes of layers of ambient percussion, and maybe I'm too mentally strong to succumb to its hypnosis or maybe I'm too mentally weak to rationally recognize its superiority to any other layer of ambient percussion - so all I see is a big naughty put-on. But then again, hey, I'm not prone to hypnosis either. So maybe you should just try it on personally.

There's simply too much noise on the record. Not that it's always bad, or pointless, or unbearable noise. It's pretty hard to distinguish between good and bad noise, even on a purely subjective level, but it's not like I'm one hundred percent "contra-noise", you understand. Some of the tracks that constitute the band's collaboration with Boyd Rice are convincingly atmospheric - for instance, the album opener 'Various Hands', where a gloomy ice-cold synth pattern serves as the background for hideous bombarding sounds, reminding me a bit of Bowie/Eno's experimentation on Heroes. But others, like 'The Pope Held Upside Down', are just a bad joke - or rather the consequences of somebody discovering a 'cool' tape effect and abusing it for four minutes. Granted, I never realized that if you hold the pope upside down, he will inevitably be letting out a mixture of porkish squeals and cetacean vomiting, but even the realization itself does not make me very happy.

(Not to mention I don't find this way of expressing one's anti-Catholic sentiments appropriate for a supposedly 'intelligent' band. Surely there must be better ways. Keep in mind, though, that these particular tracks were originally released on a joint LP with Current '93, entitled Nightmare Culture, and, if I'm not guessing wrong, reflected the states of mind of both Balance and David Tibet when they were in their 'naughtiest' - or most Satan-sympathic, if you wanna call it that - stages, and even at that stage Coil's 'anti-Christianity' was hardly more than a humble joke compared to Tibet's gruesome Maldoror ravings and rantings, so it's not as if I'm really indignant or anything. Hey, I'm agnostic, what do I care).

Or maybe somebody can tell me what was the point of releasing 'Here To Here', which is essentially 'Rape' without the blood-curdling screams and thus loses every bit of its former appeal? (Okay, maybe 'appeal' isn't quite the word that should be associated with a track named 'Rape'. Exchange it for 'unusualness'). Not to mention it already was present on Transparent? Or why 'Homage To Sewage', a track so unfit for anything it not only didn't make it onto Scatology, but was left off Gold Is The Metal as well, still ended up here? Is this some sort of "leave no fart unreleased" program I'm unaware of? Another thing is, much of the album is so quiet that unless you're concentrating all of your efforts on it, the tracks just float by all by themselves. Some of this stuff just consists of a squeaky bunch of rhythmic bleeps with no atmospheric power whatsoever. But by all means do not interpret this as a summon to concentrate all your efforts on it - it only makes things worse.

In the end, there's at best two or three tracks that have some kind of point to them. 'Never' is a moderately pretty minimalistic pseudo-classical piece, which, however, is now also available on The Angelic Conversation CD (where it is also one of that record's few "breathable" moments). 'Penetralia II' is a moderately impressive martial industrial piece, but, of course, it is but an alternate variant of the Horse Rotorvator composition. And only 'His Body Was A Playground For The Nazi Elite' actually contains enough credible sonic madness (with what basically looks like a wild, unstoppable motorcycle race as its centerpiece) to somehow be able to honour the name of Coil.

So I guess I'm leaving you here with just one more warning - do not ever mistake this for the real thing. I could give a rat's ass about whether these outtakes and rarities signify anything for Balance and other Coil members past, present, or future: they are destined for diehard fans only, or, to be more precise, people whose musical tastes I will never fully identify with, and neither will you provided you, in some respect at least, identify with mine. Was there ever a band as inconsistent as Coil, capable of as much pointless noisemaking as they were of musical brilliancy? Well, no - none whatsoever, with the small exception of every other industrial band that ever breathed air, fire, and dimethylphosphate.



Year Of Release: 1991
Overall rating =

Now it's not "just" bizarre! Now you can wiggle your limbs to it!

Best song: oh, fuck this option. With Coil, you can really never tell.

Track listing: 1) Disco Hospital; 2) Teenage Lightning 1; 3) Things Happen; 4) The Snow; 5) Dark River; 6) Where Even The Darkness Is Something To See; 7) Teenage Lightning 2; 8) Windowpane; 9) Further Back And Faster; 10) Titan Arch; 11) Chaostrophy; 12) Lorca Not Orca; 13) Love's Secret Domain.

At last - no more compilations! We're back on track again, with another mock-concept, pseudo-philosophical, and sincerely awe-inspiring record. And since it's now been five years since their last grand artistic triumph, the entire population of the world, including those fifty million or so Chinese added to it in the interim, have a right to expect something that would look to the future rather than the already faraway past of Horse Rotorvator. Such is the unhappy fate of experimental bands - they have to experiment all the time; once they've stopped, they immediately go down, rather like a fish deprived of its air-bladder. Fortunately for us, in 1991 Coil were still going strong and ready to take us in a different direction.

Which direction isn't too "different" today, but in 1991 the elements of 'house' and 'trance' were still considered fresh, and the Great Electronic Revolution which would bring these cold loops and freezing cycles into the masses was, at best, in its initial stages. Love's Secret Domain is widely considered Coil's dance album, and it is: apart from a few particularly chaotic tracks, this whole thing is strictly rhythmic and conforms to the standards of techno, trip-hop, and whatever other terms they may have invented while I was still listening to my Creedence Clearwater Revival. But, of course, Coil wouldn't be Coil if they'd forgotten to add (a) weirdness, (b) atmospherics, and (c) diversity. Since all of the three are firmly in place, Love's Secret Domain is, quite naturally, Coil's third great piece of work.

I'm not sure about how Balance and Co. themselves were viewing this new direction. If 'Teenage Lightning' is any indication, obviously, with irony; this song, divided into a short 'intro' part and the main 'body', is one of the lightest and funniest excursions in the band's catalog. Not techno at all, rather a bit Latin in rhythm, but punctuated with all kinds of bleeps and bloops from their electronic armoury and encoded vocals that sing lyrics like 'don't be alarmed/It will not harm you/It's only lightning/Teenage lightning'. Certainly it's a bit far-fetched to put forward the song as a "mockery" of the new values of the younger generation (and what does this calypso-like melody have to do with early Nineties teenagers anyway?), but it's good food for thought anyway. (More food for thought is given by the fact that the song is later reprised a third time, now only supported by a couple overdubbed Spanish guitars, and re-titled 'Lorca Not Orca'. Mmm... yeah).

Once they really cut through the techno groove, though, there's no signs of true irony out there. The most obvious experiment is 'The Snow', a six minute dance track that packs more ideas than your average DJ's entire album. Not only is the simple-as-heck bassline absolutely unforgettable, but they keep piling layers of Floydish synths, unexpected vocal harmonies, and, most importantly, numerous keyboard parts that sound like they actually belong on a professional jazz-fusion album instead of a techno rave. There's some really classy playing concealed there in the background - dig it out. Unlike so many 'compositions' that fall under the 'trance' category in name but really just pass by unnoticed, 'The Snow' is truly able to put you into such a state by combining smooth, monotonous rhythms with this soft jazzy keyboard texture. And ooh that bassline.

On the other hand, they do not forget about how they used to sound epic - and Love's Secret Domain does include several stately, "post-Goth" pieces like 'Windowpane', throwing you back into the macrocosm after driving you through the micro- one. If I could be allowed to coin the term 'industrial psychedelia' for 'Windowpane', I probably would, although spare me any future responsibility; but doesn't the song really convey the idea of flying, even if the instrumentation really hints at flying through rows and rows of squeaky machine-tools rather than blue skies and white clouds? Or, at worst, the idea of flying through the sky all the time being chased by Thor's hammer?

Neither do they forget about their former successes as "ambientalists"; check out 'Dark River' for yet another first-rate 'melodically static' composition; the great invention here is to make their keyboards sound like a real mandolin (I'm presuming they didn't actually use a real mandolin, did they?), which then contrasts beautifully with the overall gloomy overtones, perfectly justifying the song title. And later on, they give David Tibet one more run for his money on the apocalyptic, Boschian 'Titan Arch', which I personally would very much desire to use were I to film the Inferno part of The Divine Comedy. You can just feel the howls of all the sinners down there in the seventh circle even if you don't get to actually hear them distinctly. Never mind the lyrics - the lyrics seem to actually be about the realm of the Antichrist ('angels are poisons in rotten pavilions'... 'crown the dark animal'), but let them play these games if they want to.

And then, back to your sick head once again, 'Love's Secret Domain' is a horrorific three-minute exploration of... well, of what love really is, or can be, according to the theory of Mr Balance. Actually, trim some of the noises, add a bit of avantgarde guitar, destroy the synth loop (which, funnily enough, almost happens to coincide with the loop used by Pete Townshend for 'Eminence Front'!), and, once again remembering an analogy I already used in my Rotorvator review, you could easily have Nick Cave sing this one. 'The blood sickle cuts... The honey sucks... My heart is a rose, this is mad love in love's secret domain?' Right up Mr Cave's alley, don't you think? Except that 'Love's Secret Domain' pretty much seems to squeeze every possible drop of 'humanism' out of itself, something that Cave could never do even on his wildest records.

As usual, not nearly everything works; some of the experiments are bound to go nowhere, and I could easily do without 'Disco Hospital', for instance, which is essentially a bunch of noises created by fidgeting around with tape speed and suchlike; and 'Chaostrophy', which is like a watered-down version of 'Revolution # 9'. A couple of other tracks overstay their welcome - 'Further Back And Faster' has quite a lot of percussion rolling in every direction, but hardly anything else, and various percussion loops alone aren't nearly enough to make me yearn for eight minutes of this stuff. But, just the way we'd be writing in a review of a scientific work, "the attested flaws are hardly sufficient to change the overall positive impression of the work in general" (at least, that's more or less the standard formula here in Russia, you know). Love's Secret Domain remains cool, groundbreaking, and thought-provoking, and that's that.



Year Of Release: 1992
Overall rating =

The obligatory limb-wiggling, mind-freezing Outtake Companion.

Best song: NASA-ARAB

Track listing: 1) Futhur; 2) Original Chaostrophy; 3) Who'll Tell; 4) Omlagus Garfungiloops; 5) Inkling; 6) Love's Secret Domain (Demo); 7) Nasa-Arab; 8) Who'll Fall; 9) The Original Wild Garlic Memory; 10) Wrim Wram Wrom; 11) Corybantic Ennui; 12) Her Friends The Wolves; 13) Light Shining Darkly.

Funny fact - this title was actually first considered for Love's Secret Domain itself! Makes a big difference indeed: applying, even ironically, definitions like 'stolen' and 'contaminated' to a bunch of raw demos and outtakes is perfectly understandable, but giving that same name to one of the band's most original albums is truly something else. Maybe they meant it as a sly hint at the nature of electronic dance music and its origins. But unlike so many others in the business, Coil's primary work isn't done with samples, so I guess such a move would be way too self-deprecating.

In the end, the title went to this record, which is a "fan-oriented" companion to Domain in the same way as Gold Is The Metal was to Horse Rotorvator. Essentially this means it's got the same spirit as its "big brother", but there's far less restraint and responsibility involved. Hey, you've been warned these songs are contaminated, so, unless you already happen to seriously suffer from Coil radiation, you really needn't subject yourself to further risk. But if you're already lost to the life of sunshine and happiness, this album is right up your alley.

Gold Is The Metal had a whoppin' 18 tracks on it; Songs have but 13, and, naturally, this reflects Coil's current shift of accents - many of the tracks are, at least technically, dance-oriented, having never really been told where to stop. And those that aren't are ambient-oriented, having never really been told where to begin. The first tendency is brought to an extreme with the ten-minute 'Nasa-Arab', which couldn't really opt for a better title: it's a techno composition that truly manages to combine elements of space-rock with a Middle Eastern sonic atmosphere. Sort of like an 'Astronomy Domine meets Kashmir in the Techno Age', if you get my drift, although it's nowhere near as dense and grand in scope as those two songs. But, like every cool Coil tune, it captures you entirely with an amazing bassline (same trick that made 'The Snow' so unshakable), and then proceeds to feed you with whooshes, echoes, sprinkles, meteorite showers, asteroid barrages, and thirty-three types of whacky percussion loops before falling apart and being swept away by the winds of time.

The other sprawling monster here is 'Her Friends The Wolves', based around a simple stupid idea - electronic imitation of a wolf's growl (not howl), although I'm afraid that without the title I'd rather have to think of it as the sound of a really squeaky, really annoying, yearning-to-be-oiled door that keeps swinging to and fro, pissing the shit out of everyone. Later on, the sounds get a dressing of industrial percussion, moody chiming New Age sounds, and slowed down/encoded aggressively spoken declarations, but overall, this is not my favourite type of Coil composition, although I at least have to admit the basic idea is interesting. But ten minutes? My life is a mess.

Fortunately, most of the other compositions on here are relatively shorter, and none of them are complete duffers. It's usually just a case of the guys selecting a groove and building something around it. 'Original Wild Garlic Memory', for instance (I'm presuming there has to be simply a 'Wild Garlic Memory', but somehow I missed it - must have been a single or something), is simply three notes of synth sound backed with three more notes of pseudo-strings, but then they set a wild Star Wars-type arcade against it and the effect is more than just bizarre. 'Wrim Wram Wrom' is perfectly described by its title: the whole track takes place against this "annoying" alarm sound going off at a warbase, and the effect is, if not scary, then at least unnerving. I'd be surprised to learn that Coil never ever tried to sell this chunk of sonic madness for the soundtrack of some action movie or 3-D shooter, but then they probably write stuff like that at a rate of ten packs per day, so...

Interestingly, this time around there's pretty little stuff that could have been heard on 'regular' releases. There's a demo version of 'Love's Secret Domain', which is totally passable if you already have the original (just a little bit more barebones), but 'Original Chaostrophy' is, to me, far preferrable, because it scraps all the 'chaos' stuff and concentrates on the 'trophy' part, if you'll pardon the anti-etymologic humour, that is, on the nice little classical-influenced melody. Other than that, I don't seem to notice any other resemblances, but then, the tracks are long this time, they don't have to desperately search for more and more unreleased material.

In short, once again our experimental friends succeed in offering you a gallery of sound combinations that do not have any predefined meaning but somehow manage to be more than just sound combinations once allocated space inside your brain (or your soul, whichever you prefer - I go for the brain. Remember that priceless piece of advice from Jon Polito - 'when dealing with Coil, always put one in the brain'). The problem is with the very process of allocation, of course, as I have no idea whether, for instance, your listening to 'Omlagus Garfungiloops' (sic!) will also induce you to think up images of a detachment of human-sized frogs marching over the vast red plains of Martian territory, passing radio orders to each other as they go.

And even though I normally deny them the 'genius' tag, it takes more than just intelligence to create something as simple and awesome as the "music" part of the concluding track, 'Light Shining Darkly', which is... is... well, some windy phasing-drenched synth passages over a deeply implanted bass loop. That's a poor description, but the effect is great, like a brief sketch of Psychedelic Laplandia, straight out of Hans Christian Anderson's 'Snow Queen' or something. Too bad it ends in a bunch of incomprehensible dialog and radio static - what for?

So I like it, the same of which cannot be said about yet another piece of product, released the same year - How To Destroy Angels (Remixes And Re-recordings). Technically, I should have given that album a review of its own, as it's rather long and all that, but there's a tolerance threshold for everything, and mine ends up there: I never cared for 'How To Destroy Angels' (the song), and this whole LP (EP? CD? whatever) pretty much sounded the same way. What's there to review? "The clang at 5:43 into the song is provided with a perfect correlate in the cling at 7:24?" And don't even get me started on investigating these guys' research into the occult. In case you're really interested, I listened to that album once, gave it a three out of fifteen and qualified it for further downgrades, but never found anything new to say about it. Let it stay that way, 'kay?


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