MOSSING ABOUT: COIL – Horse Rotorvator (1986)

Review by: Jonathan Moss

Alright motherfuckers, I just finished Lolita and I’m ready to write my Nabokovian masterpiece in the form of a Coil review. Well, John Balance would probably prefer something more Blakeian in tone, so I guess I’ll just be myself. 

Look, I like to think when people read my reviews they listen to the albums, but sometimes I’m not so sure, so please please please listen to Coil. Specifically this album, but most of their shit is great. But I find this one in particular to have a strong mix of songs and a good eclectic style. They’re a very underrated band, especially since that fucker Clive Barker booted them off Hellraiser.

Coil are kind of part of the same underground containing bands like Current 93 and Nurse With Wound (hence why the three bands were covered together in Englands Hidden Reverse) but, despite enjoying C93 and NWW a lot, I prefer Coil. Sleazy was a production genius, and Balance wrote great poetry, and sang it pretty great as well! Sure his voice betrayed his bourgeoisie origins, but he sounded really menacing all the same. An upper class punk! Well, he’s also quite capable of tenderness as well, but you can tell especially from this record that he was taking inspiration from stuff like Throbbing Gristle. But maybe he had a couple of classic prog era Genesis records as a guilty pleasure. Back to Sleazy though, his production on this album is so varied, from great electronic stuff to much more out there shit, but in general united by the same kind of lo-fi patchwork style, it almost reminds me of those hammer horror movies, but if they had been inspired by romanticist poetry! 

Hey, I just came up with a great idea, I’m going to try and avoid using the word “esoteric” in this review! 

“The Anal Staircase” is the first song on this album and I imagine it’s introduced a lot of people to Coil. It’s probably the most industrial Coil get on the album, but it’s very catchy as well. And erratic! And sloppy! It really is like an anal staircase (what a great title). The song starts with a strident sample from The Rites of Spring, then this spastic chiming keyboard line joins in. There’s also the sound of what sounds like children playing (this ends the song), clanging percussion, and what sounds like a crappily synthesized horn line, as well as other beautifully low quality keyboard shite. Also a weird sort of fast whooshing sound. Now imagine all that stuff happening at the same time. It’s a very dizzying performance. John Balance sounds in complete power over it, especially when he commands “blow the fucking thing apart, blow the fucking thing apart”, in his slightly high-pitched voice. If Halloween had retained its pagan roots this song would be played during it. So yes, this is a supremely good introduction to Coil. 

“Slur” follows on and manages to be great in a different way. John Balance’s vocal melody is quite subtle but it’s there and once you notice it you won’t be able to get it out of your head. The song has a sort of rustic post-punk vibe, very Nick Cavesy. There’s a really gothic harmonica sound. It sounds like the harmonica has become very rusty with time, fading into the desert atmosphere and becoming an integral part of it. The guitar sound is kind of goofy and baritone, but very catchy and bouncy, like a snapping elastic band. The song has a pretty menacing atmosphere but it’s a different menace from “The Anal Staircase”, it’s the menace of a saloon being slowly burnt by the sun with the people inside unable to escape and being too drunk to notice or care. 

“Ostia (The Death of Pasolini)” is a fucking tune as well. It starts off with creepy atmospherics, a kind of melancholic but jeering harpsichord line and a very passionate eastern sounding violin. This makes it a rather tense, majestic song. It shits all over “Kashmir” by Zep, that’s for sure. And most Led Zeppelin songs, for that matter. Balance delivers another great vocal performance, cool modulation, and the “throw his bones over, the white cliffs of dover, and murder me!” The gloomy repetition of the song gives it an intensity, so that when the next song, an interlude comes on, blasting a brass band, the juxtaposition is hilarious. 

The next few songs to me don’t stick out as much but they’re still good. “Penetralia” doesn’t seem so much a proper song as a collection of bizarre sound effects and a heavy guitar riff that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Killing Joke album (well it would, plagiarism is always out of place, after all) . It’s still a lot of fun to listen to, I love the blurting horn instrument. And the song in all has a nice cheap and dirty quality, maybe their attempt at doing Foetus. “Ravenous” is a creepy song with creaking sound effects, droning choir, and an eerie harpsichord. There’s also a melodic horn line as well. “Circles of Mania” is the gayest song on the album, and it has a great agitated jazz punk vibe. But dirty and synthesized! “When you swallowed one you just swallow another”. Fun acoustic bass line and screaming from John! Fab slurping noises at the end. “Blood from the Air” has this weird, clinical buzzing sound, maybe Steve Stapleton had a hand in it. More clanging noises, some gothic synth and harpsichord. Menacing shit, Balance is at his lowest, most sinister croon. 

“Who by Fire” is one of the best covers I’ve heard! And with the recently and sadly departed Leonard Cohen everyone should listen! It has a very catchy keyboard line at the beginning, ghostly groaning background vocals from Marc Almond, the keyboard line getting louder and other various instruments swirling around it. John Balance sounds great as well, delivering a convicted performance doing Leonard justice, and bringing his own gothic vibe to it, not that Leonard wasn’t gothic, of course. 

“The Golden Section” is a rather jaunty tune with some pseudo-scientific occultist narration, and a gothic choir underneath. It’s a bit cheesy but it’s a fun song and the martial drumming gives it a driving vibe. Good music to walk to. “The First Five Minutes after Death” is a great piece of wintery melancholic electronica, with a catchy as hell synth line that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Tangerine Dream song. The percussion is neat well, kind of African or whatever, and there’s some woodwind instrument that’s very pretty. And some nice noise as well! Hell yeah! 

So, to conclude, with the styles included on this album and the considerable vocal and lyrical talents of John Balance, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to listen to it. Unless you’re a cunt. 

Author: tomymostalas


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