There’s convoluted, and then there’s Coil. While it’s been difficult for even the most obsessive of archivist to keep the band’s story straight, what is clear is that Coil formed in 1982 as the brainchild of musical and, at the time, romantic partners John Balance and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson. Over the course of Coil’s 20 years of existence, a number of members rotated through as either studio collaborators or live show support. From there, things get fuzzy, as is the natural outcome when you attach a manifesto to your first release, dabble in “magickal music” (sic), and rely on an intake of powerful drugs for inspirational purposes. Sadly both Balance and Christopherson have passed away—Balance in 2004 and Christopherson in 2010—with large chunks of the Coil catalog out of print. Thankfully longtime collaborator Danny Hyde has decided to take on the task of bringing the hidden corners of the Coil catalog back into light. To show just how serious he is, Hyde has pulled together Coil’s infamous “lost” album, Backwards (Cold Spring Records).
By the early ’90s, longtime fan Trent Reznor was in the position to release Coil’s music on his Nothing Records label. After Coil contributed to a Nine Inch Nails remix project, Backwards was set to be Coil’s debut on Nothing. After four years of work, the album was completed in 1996. However, for reasons not fully spelled out but likely a result of the suits at Nothing’s parent company, Interscope, the record was shelved. Tracks from the record have appeared on other releases and there was even a Smiley Smile–like situation where a version came out as The New Backwards. However, Hyde insists that this version of Backwards is what the band wanted to release and is the missing link in the sonic evolution of the band.
Musically, Coil was truly all over the place, swinging from dance music to folk to abrasive noise to willy-nilly experimenting. But what does become clear is that each album is a snapshot of how the band was thinking about things at the time and not just what they were thinking about. As such, Backwards is a fairly good primer for those curious about Coil, running from risque industrial club tunes (“Backwards”) to glitchy soundscapes (“Fire of the Green Dragon”) to near spoken word (“Paint Me As a Dead Soul”). It’s washed in darkness, snarling, and tough-minded, but that’s also balanced with a sophisticated ambiance.
For the majority of its time, Coil was a studio band, and Backwards is a textbook example of its song exploration. At 65 minutes, it’s not a casual listen, but if you spend time with the record, the craftsmanship reveals itself. It’ll be interesting to see what Hyde uncovers next, but this is a great salvo for straightening out Coil’s twisted discography.