by Lee Powell
Death is construed by many to be the end: the final resting place for the temporal body, offered to the earth or the flame in a definitive gesture of emotional restraint; the eternal slumber after the tolls of life; the end of the life burden once the body deteriorates past a point of restoration until, ultimately, it ceases to be.
What constitutes death as a final conclusion of being? The British Medical Journal defines it, in part, as ‘permanent functional death of the brain stem‘.
Yet, for many religions and belief systems, death is seen as a transitional state; a postern to the next phase of existence. It’s celebratory, revered, and worshiped. It’s the end of the beginning, like tomorrow is yesterday but backwards. One’s life force may exit the carcass, but it doesn’t cease to be. It’s the start of something new.
Recording artists and musicians can and do, on occasion, transcend the final ending—the full stop—by having some of their work made available again to the wider public. For some, it’s an odd album here and there: perhaps the long-lost recording that has nestled, gathering dust, next to their chamber pot in the shadowy cornered recesses of their abode. However, for the Archangels of khaos Coil, death has only served as a new beginning—a new phase of creativity if one didn’t know better—as there has been a deluge of posthumous releases since the untimely passing of Sleazy and Balance.
With a sizable flurry of ‘new’ releases that would appease any new artist in the genre, save for perhaps Mezbow, I will focus specifically on three specific releases. Whilst not being explicitly dedicated Coil releases, all three focus, in one way or another, on the inclusion of Coil within both the musical and visual components contained within, even if in some cases it seems very minimal. The albums in question here are:
- Zos Kia / Coil – Transparent (Cold Spring)
- Coil / The New Blockaders / Vortex Campaign – The Melancholy Mad Tenant (Infinite Fog Productions)
- Ford Proco – Vertigo De Lodo Y Miel (Infinite Fog Productions)
Transparent was originally released in 1984 as a cassette on the cult industrial noise label Nekrophile Rekords before disappearing into relative obscurity to become a thing of legend. That is, until Coil themselves re-issued it in 1998. With a limited pressing of a little over 1,100 copies split over two different-coloured vinyls, it was, much like the original cassette issue, guaranteed to disappear into the clutches of fans and collectors only to reappear on websites like eBay and Discogs years later for obscene amounts of money.
The British industrial label Cold Spring Records have now given it a contemporary release, meaning those who weren’t fortunate enough to pick up one of the two earlier editions could now own a piece of industrial folklore without having to sell a limb. As with the previous Coil-issued edition, Cold Spring have issued Transparent on vinyl and, for the very first time, on CD. Both editions are lavishly presented and come with the ‘transparent interview’ which sees Peter Christopherson interviewing John Balance about this manifestation of Coil and Zos Kia.
At the time, the membership of Coil and Zos Kia in their most embryonic states shared the component of John Balance, who we know as one-half of Coil, and John Gosling, whom we know in the main as Zos Kia.
Coil presents six tracks here with two of them consisting of Balance and Gosling, three tracks which are purely the work of John Balance, and the final track of the set is one of the first recordings where the main nucleus is of Coil finally bonding as a whole behind Peter Christopherson’s presence.
John Gosling is joined by John Balance and Min Kent on his five Zos Kia tracks, and the album is rounded off by two tracks by Ake, which again features John Gosling and Min Kent, as well as Matt Cope and Hugh Harwood for this occasion.
Musically, the album as a whole resonates on the harsher side of the industrial spectrum and quite clearly demonstrates the lineage from Throbbing Gristle’s nosier moments, of which there were many. Repetitive atonal noise, harsh electronic screams, droned pulses manipulated beyond recognition, distorted vocals, and warped samples interlace kaleidoscope-like to produce a dense and challenging cacophony to work through. Included in this is a delightfully chilling live rendition of Zos Kia’s 12” single ‘Rape’, which was released on the punk label All the Madmen. Underpinned by a cold repetitive electronic pulse which is overlaid by spoken word vocals, the track’s structure is somewhat simplistic though the delivery is gripping.
Resonating a cold, almost claustrophobic intensity, Transparent’s amalgamation of harsh noise and repetitive tones burrow deep into the psyche, which on occasion attempts to rip one’s ears to shreds with little or no warning. The immensely chilling and instantly sobering screams on the end of the aforementioned tracks are just one such example of this. However, it happens time and time again.
It’s only as the album progresses through to the later tracks of Coil’s inclusion that the music takes on a somewhat more delicately fractured ambience that isn’t too far removed from what is recognisable as Coil’s sound, if there such a thing. At this stage, through ‘Truth’, ‘Stealing the Words’, and ‘On Balance’, it’s easier to see how the development of ideas and sound exploitations intricately weaves its way into Coil’s later works; yet, it’s extremely intriguing to hear the embryonic birth of this now-legendary post-industrial project.
It’s worth noting that the industrial scene’s early infatuation with Charles Manson manifests itself here as one long spoken-word sample which makes up the backbone for ‘Truth’, which appears on the album twice, once by Zos Kia and once more by Coil.
The album is rounded off with the inclusion of two tracks from Ake. Musically, it follows suit with Zos Kia’s harsher output on the track ‘No Mas’ and rounds the album off after another harrowing rendition of Zos Kia’s ‘Rape’, which rather unceremoniously draws an end to the proceedings.
Transparent serves as a wonderful archival piece and snapshot of a moment in time for both Coil and Zos Kia as well as the wider early industrial scene as a whole, and as such is more than a worthy addition to any collection of both bands and the genre.
The Melancholy Mad Tenant is another extremely interesting archival piece from Coil’s past and, again much like Transparent, offers up a glimpse of the ritualistic industrial noise scene in its infancy. Both of Coil’s tracks are untitled pieces and see a collaboration between the purveyors of militant industrial noise in the New Blockaders and Vortex Campaign. The album opens with these two tracks, which clock in at an impressive fourteen and twenty-nine minutes respectfully. Originally released as a private cassette in 1984 in a ridiculously limited number of fifty, it would seem likely that they’d be confined to the long-lost section of the early industrial scene.
The collaborative tracks offer up two hypnotically meditative pieces of music which delicately flow through a complex amalgamation of sounds and fractured tones to create a set of very special recordings which, nowadays, would fall somewhere within the parameters of the ritual industrial, noise, and dark ambient genres. The sounds and structures continuously fluctuate in an almost organic manor, like a river freely flowing over the cerebral cortex. Each player brings predominantly unknown qualities into the proceedings, and it’s impossible to tell how the physical structure of these tracks evolved; however, I’m of the impression that they may have been improvised as the recordings materialised. Whichever way they were formed, they are both essential snapshots of the industrial scene of the time.
Vortex Campaign’s three tracks rein in the confrontational noise elements of its predecessors and opts for a more transgressive display of fragility via the prominent use of manipulated drones and sounds, to create a dense and engulfing ambiance with an extremely otherworldly malevolence that carries through each piece.
As a release, The Melancholy Mad Tenant is certainly worthy of another reissue to ensure that it’s available to those who want to explore the genre’s more obscure and shadowy past. I just wish that Infinite Fog had done a bit more with the artwork (I can only speak for the CD) as it lacks clarity—particularly on the back cover—and misses the chance to expand on the history of these recordings (something that Transparent utilised to full potential).
To explore the final record here, I know there’s an old adage that you should never judge a book (or in this case, a CD) by its cover, but the album’s artwork is the very first thing you see, it’s not always that easy. A perfect example of this is Vertigo de lodo y miel by Mexican electronic duo Ford Proco, which is the third and final release in this review trilogy. The artwork for the CD appears to be a satellite, space station, or some such framed in the cold desolate darkness of the galaxy. Only the smallest slither of light emanates through the atmosphere of some planet far below it. To me, it holds an eerie near-stillness; minute fractures of sound echo through the darkened abyss, and, as such, I surmised that the music on the CD would have mirrored that atmosphere. It feels like a slowly rumbling dark-ambient soundtrack that captures the essence of the endlessly expanding universe that holds a space vessel in the palm of its hand, examining it. However, almost instantly, these ideas were swiftly cast into the ether as the album’s opening track had an extremely commercial feel to it, coupling a paced, danceable beat alongside female vocals to create a track that isn’t miles away from the likes of Delerium in their more mainstream phase. As the album progresses, lucid neo-techno beats float around the lightest touches of electronic soundscapes to produce ethnic and new age-like electronica.
The biggest selling point of this album was undoubtedly the inclusion of Coil; however, the danceable, clubby electronica certainly didn’t seem to clearly hold their presence, so I investigated further. It transpired that the album, which was originally released in 2000, only has two tracks out of its total of thirteen which list any mention of Coil, and those that do are listed as collaborations. There is no telling how this collaboration took place, and there is very little within them that would manifest as Coil-like if you weren’t aware of their participation. Perhaps a tiny fragment of their LSD album has been reflected on this release, but it certainly is the most minute element; so much so that it really doesn’t make too much difference at all in the grand scheme of the album as whole. I just find it odd that the album is marketed as a Coil collaboration when their input was so minimal. To me, it feels desperate in that it’s relying on the Coil tag to pull in their legions of fans.
Of the three releases in question, Vertigo de lodo y miel is certainly the weakest in terms of Coil’s music specifically, even with as little of a sample size as there is. It’s an album that I can’t see myself playing again any time in the near future, whereas the other two are certainly ones I would be more than happy to revisit.
I once had an email from John Balance when he was coming down; I also have a Coil tattoo. I’m going to turn the email into soundbites and play it through a microphone which I’ll re-record whilst rubbing it on my tattoo. It has Coil in there, somewhere, so it’ll sell. Am I cynical? Occasionally, but every now and again, extremely. Coil will always be a spectacularly important band in the fabric of industrial music’s history, and rightly so. It’s brilliant to know there are still old almost long-lost gems surfacing after all this time. Unfortunately, it’s also clear that some of it should have been left where it was as no one would have missed it.
Death is an aphrodisiac. Are you aroused?