UK sound manipulators and experimentalists Coil were formed in the aftermath of Throbbing Gristle's artistic fallout when Peter Christopherson (keyboards, programming) split from Genesis P-Orridge's Psychic TV to join John Balance (vocals, percussion) in 1982. Balance had already been recording under the name Coil. The band has gone on to include numerous other personnel, notably Clint Ruin (Foetus). However, the core members remained Balance, Christopherson and Stephen Thrower (programming, keyboards) until the early 90s.

They set their stall with a 1985 long-playing debut, Scatology. This, regarded as a work of unequalled genius in some sectors of the industrial community, used elementary electronics and primitive samples as a basis for exploring lyrical themes that included religion, sexual freedom and alchemy: "I'm obsessed with the idea of turning base matter into gold, transmuting base materials, i.e. raw sound, into something else". Housed in a black-and-white sleeve that only reinforced the hostility of some of the enclosed music, Scatology was an innovative staging post in music's post-punk revolution.

Ruin was in attendance to aid the keyboard runs, and also added horns to the follow-up, Horse Rotorvator. A less ostentatiously uncompromising audio experience, this collection saw the group supplant the more abrasive elements of its sound with classical and jazz textures, though the messages thus sweetened remained grim. Occasionally the more prominent placing of the poetry/vocals, aided by a musical background drawing from Arabic and Middle Eastern cultures, produced an uncharacteristically accessible, clean sound.

Unreleased Themes From Hellraiser contained exactly that - a series of mood instrumentals written for the film but rejected. Clive Barker's loss proved a boon to Coil fans on an often overlooked set that is among the most evocative in the band's consistently excellent discography. Although Gold Is The Metal With The Broadest Shoulders is a compilation, it is worth consideration in its own right as the versions of the songs contained (drawn from the previous albums and EPs plus compilation appearances) are often in radically different form.

The same is true of Unnatural History, which culls material from debut EP How To Destroy Angels and the band's collaboration with Current 93, as well as including a 17-minute eulogy to "male sexual energy". By the advent of Love's Secret Domain five years had passed since a studio album proper (through lack of finances rather than lack of energy), and Coil had moved with the times. Incorporating acid house beats and some of the ephemera of dance music, Love's Secret Domain was nevertheless as deeply impersonal as previous outings: "I hate people. I can only stand two or three at a time. If I see large numbers of people enjoying themselves, I automatically start having a bad time".

Despite Thrower's truculence, Balance admitted that he had been influenced by attendance at the Shoom and Confusion clubs which first imported Balearic Beat to the UK. The additional member photographed on the sleeve, meanwhile, turned out to be Otto Avery, a "mad acid kid" who didn't do anything on the record but merely turned up and asked to be credited. More substantial input came from Annie Anxiety (backing vocals) and Marc Almond (guitar - having previously added vocals to earlier Coil recordings).

By 1995 the band had signed to Nothing Records, the label run by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, releasing Backwards. This, with Thrower replaced in the central trio by Dean McCowall, saw the band retreat to earlier lyrical concerns, though they also experimented with field recordings in homage to occultist Austin Osman Spare.

In the meantime the group were being name-checked by a new breed of sonic experimentalists, leading to collaborations with Autechre, Atom Heart, Bill Laswell and Tetsu Inoue. They also worked with William Burroughs on a track included on Backwards, and provided a video to Ministry's "Just One Fix".

This new sprouting of commercial activity resulted in two other new albums - The Sound Of Music compiled Coil music written for the Derek Jarman films Blue and Journey To Avebury, along with the earlier Clive Barker recordings, while Worship The Glitch was credited to ELpH: "ELpH is when we no longer recognise our presence in the music. It's the idea of taking the dead spaces, the mistakes, and extending them".

Scatology (K.422/Some Bizzare 1985)
Horse Rotorvator (Some Bizzare/Relativity 1987)
Unreleased Themes From Hellraiser (Solar Lodge 1988)
Love's Secret Domain (Wax Trax 1991)
Backwards (Nothing 1995)

Gold Is The Metal With The Broadest Shoulders (Threshold House 1990)
Unnatural History (Threshold House 1990)
The Sound Of Music (Eskaton 1995)
as ELpH Worship The Glitch (Eskaton 1995)
with Current 93 Nightmare Culture (Laylah 1995)

Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Copyright Muze UK Ltd. 1989 - 2002

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