The mythical “lost album” from Coil finally found its way to the public twenty-three years later, thanks to the work of Danny Hyde and Cold Spring Records. Coil has long been a band that, in certain specific ways, I have loved and cherished, but in similar fashion, they have also been a confounding project with almost too many releases, reissues, collaborations, and remixes to catalog and digest. I suppose that works to my benefit, having never heard the 2008 version of The New Backwards.
After a preliminary run-through of Backwards, time and place are instantly apparent in their impact upon the work as a whole. There is a very heavy electronic, almost dance-club vibe throughout the album. I have to wonder what those 1996 sessions in Trent Reznor’s Nothing Studios were like, and how much cross-pollination may have occurred. Jhonn Balance veers between mid-90s macho exposition (“Backwards”) and divine poet trapped in a secular wasteland (“Heaven’s Blade”). At times, however, the classic Coil magic is still there. “Amber Rain” is just as well-composed as some of the best cuts on Horse Rotorvator. “Paint Me as a Dead Soul” points towards what I often considered Coil’s strengths of composition, layering, and slightly off-kilter sound/noise. The definite constant from track to track is the strength and energy of Balance’s vocal delivery. His has always been a passionate and recognizable voice, but there is a vitality here (attributed to recent vocal coaching he had undertaken) that stands out, whether through the frenzied, semi-barking of the titular track, or the melancholic “A Cold Cell.”
Perhaps this only applies contextually, but as a posthumous album, Balance’s lyrics have a darkly apocalyptic prescience to them. He still maintains a sort of dry, British modesty—even lifting a line from the Smiths’ “Ask”—in place of overt emotional explosions. When he sings, “I don’t expect I’ll ever understand / how life just trickled through my hand,” he seems almost more exhausted and disappointed than anything else.
Like all other Coil albums (and more of their associated acts), Backwards is a dense, layered piece of work that requires more from its audience than simple background listening. Like any good time-capsule or tomb, the secrets it has held through these many years are to be cherished, appreciated, and studied with care. Nearly a quarter-century might have been a bit excessive, but Backwards just might have been worth the wait.
03) Amber Rain
04) Fire of the Green Dragon
05) Be Careful What You Wish for
06) Nature Is a Language
07) Heaven’s Blade
09) Paint Me as a Dead Soul
10) AYOR (It’s in My Blood)
11) A Cold Cell
12) Fire of the Mind