Although its output has been sporadic, Coil is the most consistently excellent of the three groups formed from the dissolution of Throbbing Gristle. After TG disbanded in 1981, Peter Christopherson (keyboards, programming) worked with Genesis P-Orridge in Psychic TV, but split in 1982 to join John Balance (vocals, percussion), who was already recording under the name Coil. With frequent help from Clint (Foetus) Ruin and others, the pair exercises an obvious fascination with sonic textures and sound manipulation, and program some mean rhythms.
Scatology, the subject of which is a strange mix of fetish, fantasy and religion, finds Christopherson and Balance working with Ruin, Stephen Thrower and ex- Alternative TV guitarist Alex Fergusson. Most of the tracks are built around simple but forceful electronic percussion, with sampler and synthesizer overdubs adding a mood of spiritual despair and decaying grandeur. “The Sewage Worker’s Birthday Party” uses sampled guitar feedback to create a melancholy mood piece of shocking beauty, showcasing the group’s skill at audio sculpture.
With far richer production and almost none of Scatology‘s heavy rhythms, Horse Rotorvator (which contains two of The Anal Staircase‘s three cuts) is a mélange of electronic tone poems of varying textures and styles, from haunting drones to film noir jazz (complete with a Clint Ruin horn section) to quasi-Middle Eastern/African modalities. Rather than falling into the trap of making an academic exercise of the whole thing, though, Coil breathes life into the proceedings with upfront spoken/sung vocals and the use of acoustic instruments.
Composed for — but not used in — Clive Barker’s 1987 horror film, Unreleased Themes From Hellraiser contains some of the best mood music recorded during the 1980s, slowly building layers of awesome creepiness. One side contains eleven short bits of incidental music, some of which are quite good, but most are too brief to leave a lasting impression.
Gold Is the Metal With the Broadest Shoulders collects outtakes and alternate versions of material from Hellraiser, Horse Rotorvator, Scatology, plus tracks from some of the many compilations on which Coil has appeared. While it doesn’t hang together as well as the other albums, most of the eighteen tracks are well worth hearing. The versions here are often quite different — and sometimes notably better — than the originals. If nothing else, Gold offers an overview of Coil’s history, from simplicity to sophistication.
Unnatural History assembles more ephemera from the Coil archives. The first three tracks, recorded with Boyd Rice, were originally released as one side of the Nightmare Culture album (shared with Current 93), and present a strange combination of noise experiments, Casio ditties and atmospherics. The collection also includes seventeen minutes of ambient gong music, designed “for the accumulation of male sexual energy,” that initially appeared as a one-sided 1984 EP, How to Destroy Angels.
Love’s Secret Domain makes some acknowledgment of related trends in modern music, with hip-hop scratching, acid house beats and other contemporary sounds thrown into the band’s more characteristic ambient experiments. (The sore-thumb referent here is vintage Kraftwerk, which one track strongly resembles.) While the LP is occasionally ear- catching, Coil seems to be rather short on striking ideas and creative energy this time out, and a lot of the LP drifts by too blandly to notice.