Posts Tagged ‘Throbbing Gristle’

Cold Spring – 23rd October 2020

The reverence for Coil amongst their fanbase – which if anything has expanded in recent years, and particularly following the death of Peter Christopherson – is quite remarkable. Emerging in 1982 following the demise of Throbbing Gristle, Coil became the primary vehicle for Christopherson and partner John Balance after contributing to the early Psychic TV releases. And perhaps one of the reasons Coil are held in higher esteem than PTV is that their output, while still substantial, was less in volume but subject to a higher quality control, as well as pursuing esoteric experimentalism while largely managing to avoid cringe-inducing indulgence. That, and the fact they pushed so many musical boundaries without being massive tossers in a musical field crowded with individuals whose creative genius was tempered by tendencies toward major-league assholism: P-Orridge should require no real qualification now, and similarly, the shady characters of the industrial and neofolk scenes, not least of all Boyd Rice and Douglas Pearce have long been exposed. And the fact that both members suffered premature deaths only compounds the way their work resonates with fans, who can only contemplate what cuold have been

Everything around the rights to the Coil catalogue is spectacularly complex, and the origins of this compilation aren’t even entirely straightforward, having originally released by Russian label FEELEE, featuring tracks from all their major albums (barring The Ape of Naples which was released after Balance’s untimely death). They were hand-picked by Coil to represent their best work and originally released to mark their first performance in Moscow in 2001.

Subsequently out of print on CD for almost two decades, this edition courtesy of Cold Spring spans Coil’s entire living career, with A Guide For Beginners – The Voice Of Silver and A Guide For Finishers – A Hair Of Gold being made available together in one deluxe set.

As Nick Soulsby observed of Balance and Christopherson, writing for thevinylfactory.com, ‘As Coil they had embarked on a wild ride from industrial origins originating in the post-Throbbing Gristle outfit Psychic TV, through a spell as dancefloor-channelling experimentalists, onward to their destination as the respected priesthood of pagan rite electronica’. And with a career spanning three decades and eighteen studio albums, it can be daunting to know quite how best to make inroads, so a ‘Best of’ makes sense.

Disc one (A Guide for Beginners) spans their later career, while disc two (A Guide for Finishers) delves deeper towards their origins, and together, in a slightly mixed-up reverse chronology, we’re able to trade their development, and what’s most interesting and apparent is their range and their willingness to explore.

Singling out tracks from a collection that spans twenty tracks and a monster running time, but emerging from the swathe of brooding dark ambience and esotericism, ‘Ostia (The Death of Pasolini)’ stalks brooding neofolk territory, dark, stark, and portentous, but without any of the nationalistic bullshit that often typifies the genre, while ‘Where Are You’ is the soundtrack to psychosis, an eerily minimal backing creeping uncomfortably behind a monotone monologue that’s unsettling and uncomfortable.

Brooding piano and shrieking woodwind and horns forge haunting soundscapes while elsewhere, minimal two-note organ and trilling electronic extranea provide the backdrop to mesmerising spoken-word narratives. Cut-up samples and fragments drift in and out (no surprise for a band photographed with William Burroughs, who had an album released on Industrial Records in 1981) and the thing that really comes across most powerfully from this compilation is that while so any ‘experimental’ and ‘industrial’ acts were – and are – pretty dull, Coil were consistently engaging, focuses on tone and resonance, and ever-evolving.

It would be hard to improve on a selection picked by the artists in terms of what can be considered the best representation of their output, and bias aside, this is hard to fault by way of an introduction.

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COIL A Guide For Beginners - A Guide For Finishers - Lo res album cover for web

Christopher Nosnibor

Sometimes, the full depths of dark ambient works only reveal themselves at a certain volume and this is very much true of brb>voicecoil’s Alms of Guilt. Played at a low or even regular volume, it sounds very much distant, rolling rumbling, and rather low-impact. Turn it up, and it’s a different album and a completely different experience.

The first composition, ‘Cost of Redemption’ is disturbing. Clanking, clattering extraneous noises thud like the boots of troops searching a ruined building against a backdrop of a hovering hum of a nuclear wind. There’s no specific dialogue, and of course, that’s part of the appeal and purpose: it’s very much about the listeners projections, about reception, and from my seat, I feel a growing paranoia. Nothing specific, nothing I can pinpoint, just a sense of awkwardness. What do you do with that?

The nine-and-a-half minute ‘Seven Swords to the Heart’ is dark ad foggy, imbued with a certain sense of mysticism, shifting from groaning drones to clattering yet heavily-muffled percussive sounds like pieces of wood bouncing in a barrel over rapids, over and over and on and on… it’s the sound of bruising, of cracked ribs, of physical battery.

‘Welcome Back to the Days of Book Burning’ is dark, dank, and doomy, a rumbling drone of brooding lower-end dark ambience. It feels almost medieval in its dark, oppressive shadowy tones, but the fact seems to be that we’re so far off the dystopia the title suggests. And it’s here that it hits: sitting alone once again in my little office – what would for most other people be the spare bedroom – it’s dark outside and I haven’t seen anyone socially for days, but news channels and social media are bursting with updates on how police shut down an anti-mask rally in London this afternoon. Anti-intellectualism has reached a new peak in the rising tide of opposition and antagonism toward ‘experts’ and even health workers attending emergencies. This, seemingly, is what we’ve come to. And it’s a bleak prospect. I had previously come to the opinion that, in the age of the Internet, there was no excuse for ignorance, as all information was available at the click of a button. But so is misinformation and propaganda, and these seem infinitely more popular. Such a realisation is painful. He dark sludge-filled wreckage of this track provides no comfort or solace, but an ideal soundtrack to these thoughts.

‘Buried’ is gnarly, a subterranean earthwork of a composition, while the nine-minute ‘The Truth of my Demons’ returns to the basement of gloomy rumbles, muffled bangs of doors, and a swashing swampy gloop and grind hat has no real sense of trajectory.

There is so much depth, so many layers… and so much grumbling, rumbling mid-to-low frequency that bubbles, swirls, and eddies like so much discomfort in the gut. And like so much guilt, this is a noisewerk that nags away without any real sense of direction, or even idea.

Alms of Guilt is the swashing soundtrack to a ship run around, with no sense of space or direction. It may not be explicit about it, but it’s an album of our times. Tense, claustrophobic, oppressive, this is the soundtrack to the world now.

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Industrial Coast – 20th March 2020

Please Call Me Fuck In Front Of My Friends, the latest dispatch from the prodigiously prolific Theo Gowans, aka Territorial Gobbing, finds oodles of discombobulating discord and dissonance thrown together in a set of skewed sound collages. As such, it’s business as usual. TG’s wildly experimental approach to rendering and processing sound by means not just of founds found and myriad effects, but the (mis)appropriation of random objects means you never know what the hell you’re actually listening to: loud crackles and scratches are probably the sound of sweet wrappers and paper towels being scrunched up close to the mic. It’s supposedly Theo’s most ‘organised’ work to date, and maybe it is, but of course, it’s all relative and one man’s organised is another man’s chaos – as anyone who’s seen my office will probably appreciate.

Amp hum and scrambled tape loops twist and entwine into a massive twisty knot of noise, a clashing conglomeration of aural chaos, a crazed cataclysm of random elements thrown together in the most haphazard of fashions. This shit’s impossible to pin down.

Garbled groans and wheezes, bleeps and blasts of noise collide with static and radios being tuned detuned, and retuned; there are prolonged periods where not a lot happens, which are annihilated by brain-bending bursts wee everything happens all at once.

‘Pyrex Chalice’ is representative, with something that sounds like bottles and cutlery being used as an improvised xylophone while dustbins clatter in a city alleyway and someone close to the mic stifles the breaths of a crafty wank.

Metallic scrapes and clatters coagulate into messy improvised chimes, and there’s some kind of whispered, gallic-sounding sleaze that descends into sobbing and is backed by clattering pots and pans on ‘Massage the Scar, Five Minutes, Five Times’. If none of it makes any sense, then that’s entirely the point.

Playful but bleak and as twisted as fuck, Please Call Me Fuck In Front Of My Friends again suggest that Territorial Gobbing is one of the acts closest to the spirit of the other TG, and Genesis P-Orridge’s absorption of the influence of William Burroughs’ cut-ups. The Industrial Records release of a collection culled from Burroughs’ archives of tape cut-ups on Nothing Here Now But the Recordings marked a direct link: Territorial Gobbing very much continues the trajectory in creating music that discards linearity in favour of simultaneity.

Weird times call for weird music, and Please Call Me Fuck In Front Of My Friends is the perfect brain-bending soundtrack and exactly the distraction you need.

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Base Materialism – 12th January 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Nothing says ‘niche’ and ‘underground’ more than a limited edition of 17 copies. Pitched as a work of ‘radical ideology for fans of Crass, Pet Shop Boys and Nitzer Ebb from the rotten half of Normal Man’, this six-tracker is a gnarly mess of electronics, popping beats and a disorientating sonic swirl.

It’s an aggressive spluttering nailgun blast of percussion that assaults the ears first on ‘Permanent Contract’. There’s a bumping bass beat beneath it, but it’s the clusterfuck of cranium-splitting treble that dominates. The vocals veer between Sprechgesang and wavering atonal singing as layers of extraneous noise build and passages of warped discordance provide the breaks, before everything slides into a buzzing whorl of flange.

‘If Hard Work Pay Show Me Rich Donkey’ is more minimal, an ominous multitonal drone providing the primary backdrop to the repetition of the title for two minutes and twenty-one seconds. ‘No Big Idea’ and ‘Nu Cringe’ grind out gritty, primitive synths geared toward the lower end of the sonic spectrum over insistent bash-bash-bash electronic percussion, and ‘What You Want’ doesn’t exactly deviate too much from the same formula. ‘You’re Stupid and So Am I’ presents a more overtly punk sound – although it’s punk with the mechanoid twist of Metal Urbain or Dr Mix.

The production is ultra DIY, the audio quality is murky and clangs with swampy reverb, and Content very much channel the spirit – and the sound – of Throbbing Gristle here. Lyrically, when decipherable, they’re keen exponents of the three Rs – repetition, repetition, repetition, and the ethos and aesthetic is very much in line with that of post punk and the origins of industrial, with slogans and soundbites welded to cyclical motifs.

Combining vintage sounds with contemporary politics, it’s not necessarily ‘clever’, but it’s uncompromising and highly effective, and gets my vote.

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Hallow Ground – HG2001 – 28th February 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Electric Sewer Age began as a collaborative project between Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson (of Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, and Coil) and Danny Hyde, who continued the project together with John Deek, who subsequently passed away in 2013. It’s perhaps only natural that a sense of bleakness, of darkness, of a certain sense of grief permeates Electric Sewer Age, as a project strewn with loss.

Contemplating Nothingness is the third release by Electric Sewer Age, and the second one that Hyde finished alone, following on from Bad White Corpuscle, originally released in 2014, and re-released in 2016.

Contemplating Nothingness is pitched as ‘a lysergic tapestry culled from the deep end of the collective pop cultural unconscious’. It begins with some spaced-out trippy, doodly interweaving drones and some disorientating analogue latticeworks and shuffling electronic judderings providing the backdrop to some reverby, echoic vocals before transitioning into woozy dance territory, a stammering heartbeat bass beat fluttering beneath shifting layers of disquiet which collide with elliptical elisions to dance tropes.

‘Got some bad news this morning / which in turn made my day’, Hyde wheezes in a distorted Al Jourgensen-style vocal on ‘Whose Gonna Save my Soul’. I try not to wince too hard and the grammatical error and instead focus on the dark atmospherics the song conjured. Moreover, this single line encapsulates the contradictions which stand at the very foundations of this album, and the track itself delves into swampy dark ambience, dominated by a rhythmic wash, with Eastern motifs twisting in and out sporadically amidst a lower-end washing ebb and flow while the vocal, half-buried, is detached, distant.

Like its predecessor, Contemplating Nothingness is dark and difficult. Slow beats that land somewhere between heavy hip-hop, trip-hop and industrial drive ‘Chebo’, a delirious drag of chimes and electronic ululations. ‘Surrender to the Crags’ plunges into dark, dank, murkiness, but retains that eastern vibe that calls to mind both The Master Musicians of Joujouka and the otherness of the Tangiers scene in the 50s and 60s as depicted by William Burroughs.

‘Self Doubting Trip’ brings a dark intensity that will likely resonate for many: it’s claustrophobic and uncomfortable, and stands as something of a highlight in the way it attacks the psyche. You hate yourself enough already, but there’s a slight comfort in knowing your self-flagellation is not unique as you chastise yourself for simply living.

It makes the last track, ‘Dekotour’, feel like an electropop breeze by comparison, the chiming synth tones more early Depeche Mode than anything, but they bend, warp, twist and weave across one another to create a difficult knot of noise, with a thick, gloopy bass rising into the increasingly tangled textures.

There’s a certain nihilism at the heart of Contemplating Nothingness, which extends beyond merely the title and its implications of introverted emptiness, but it’s paired with a less certain and altogether less tangible levity which lifts it above dark ambience and into a space that’s given to contemplation and awakening. While ultimately minimal, there is variety and depth on display here, making for an album that deserves absorption and deliberation.

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Electric Sewer Age – Contemplating Nothingness

Christopher Nosnibor

Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not the done thing to review a show you’ve performed at, let alone one you’ve had a major hand in organising and promoting, but what’s not done sometimes just needs doing.

This was a lineup I’d been excited about – seeing it take shape around the initial basic concept of curating a show and giving …(something) ruined – a platform while showcasing other acts we like.

…(something) ruined coalesced into a formal unit following a one-off experimental collaboration back in May following a shout-out on Facebook from racketmonger Foldhead for recommendations for someone to provide vocals to compliment / contrast his wall-of-noise power electronics. My name was put forward by a handful of sonic sadists, and so it came to pass we brought a new level of brutality to an unsuspecting audience at CHUNK in Leeds. The idea for a showcase came before we’d decided anything else. Orlando Ferguson were top of our wants list, and promptly agreed, before we’d even decided exactly what we were doing, both for the gig and as a band. We didn’t even have a name. Truth is, we were deafened and buzzed on adrenaline and beer and before we’d even dismantled the kit, had decided it was going to be a thing.

The rest of the lineup coalesced largely through Paul (Foldhead’s) immense network of far-out acts. This was always going to be niche, an event that was about putting on a gig we wanted to see, regardless of who else’s tastes it would likely appeal to. This is where venues like The Fulford Arms are vital to the arts, and are sadly few and far between. Midweek in York, as long as the cost of paying the sound guy is covered one way or another, anything goes. Selling some pints beats no pints. As a totally underground, completely DIY operation, it’s only this kind of opening that makes catering to more outré tastes and providing a space for artists with a minority appeal.

So we went up first. I was only our second show after all. We’d failed to get the Paul’s visuals projected behind us, so they played on the screens at either side of the stage. Not ideal, not the impact we’d been hoping for, but sonically, it came together, probably.

…(something) ruined

How did we do? Alright, for sure. We’d spent five minutes planning the shape of the set and how it would build over the first few minutes, and Paul’s awareness of my delivery led to a set given to more undulations in comparison to the blazing wall of noise that was the first outing. The broad consensus was that we were brutal, but loud enough? The majority seemed to think so, but no-one fled the venue crying or with their ears bleeding, and I could even hear my own vocals in the monitors for 70% of the set, albeit only when I shouted so hard I felt like my throat would erupt – so probably not. Then again, could we ever be loud enough? Again, probably not. But I did shift a hell of a lot of books.

Primitive Knot, over from Manchester, are showcasing material from the latest release, Puritan. I use the plural because Primitive Knot is a band, although on this outing, it’s just front man Jim doing the work and creating the sound of a full band. It’s impressive to witness him playing synths and churning out grinding guitars over sequenced bass and drums, while also performing vocals.

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Primitive Knot

Said vocals are often single words, shouted, with heavy echo, reverberating into a churn of metallic overdrive, repetitive cyclical riffs, strongly reminiscent of the industrial grind of Godflesh, complete with thunderous mechanised drumming. It’s dense, oppressive, harsh, relentless. And as the only guitar of the night, PK’s set provides an essential contrast, standing out for all the right reasons.

Continuing to forge further contrasts, standing starkly against the regimented, heavily rhythmic attack of Primitive Knot, Territorial Gobbings’ freeform improvisational irreverence is different again, and then some. The new album, Sausage Chain, is a mess of random noises, but doesn’t really prepare the recipient for the crazed performance art that is the live show. Theo Gowans is nothing if not a showman, and one who doesn’t care about popularity or reception: tonight’s set begins with swinging mics and clanking beer bottles and concludes with cables and kit and the artist in a messy heap strewn across the stage. People watch perplexed, uncomfortable. Good. Art should challenge, be awkward and uncomfortable. And this is extremely awkward and uncomfortable – which is precisely why it’s ace.

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Territorial Gobbing

John Tuffen and Ash Sagar, of more bands than I’ve had pints on a big night, are Orlando Ferguson. They sit twiddling knobs and looking intently at their kit, and don’t actually look like they’re playing chess this time around. It’s the bigger table and side-by-side positioning.

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Orlando Ferguson

Tonight’s set is so much more than electronic drone, and the long, sweeping notes that provide the foundations create an expansive field in which they conjure an atmospheric soundscape. Sonically, they explore an array of textures and tones, and their improvisation is magnificently intuitive. It’s a pleasure to watch, and an even greater pleasure to hear, and following the raging tempests of weirdness and noise from the preceding acts, their altogether more tranquil approach provides some welcome calm and relief to round of a varied yet complimentary array of far-out music. And if you missed it – as most did- you missed out.

Opa Loka Records OL1904 – 14th September 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Seeking a vehicle by means of which to explore the more ambient and experimental aspects of industrial music, Fire in the Head’s Michael Page began recording as Sky Burial in 2006. Thirteen years on, The Forcing Season: Further Acts of Severance is his sixteenth album under this guise. Owing more to the gnarly noise of Throbbing Gristle than the mellow sonic swathes of Royksopp, The Forcing Season isn’t what many fans of more populist contemporary ambient would consider ambient. The subgenre classification of dark ambient, with its industrial connotations is perhaps a closer demarcation, but it’s still not entirely accurate, as there are extensive passages of levity and tranquillity within the album’s ten tracks, simply titled I through X.

Progenitor of the ambient music, Brian Eno said that ‘Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting,’ and The Forcing Season certainly meets this criteria: its strength lies very much in the exploration of contrasts. There are stretches where it is extremely easy to zone out, and the lack of clear structure accentuate the drifting, amorphous nature of the compositions. ‘VII’ and ‘VII’ are exemplary, as slow-turning crystalline drones eddy in a rarefied air form smooth, soothing sonic expanses that somewhere along the way build levels of turbulence or otherwise jolt the listener out of that fugue-like state with jarring tonal incongruities. In short, it’s also interesting, imbued with a sort of suspense over when the next unexpected turn will come, when next there will be a sudden switch from background to foreground, from comfortable to uncomfortable and challenging.

‘I’ opens the album gently with soft waves of sound, but soon takes a turn for the more attacking, with smooth, chilly synths layering down over abstract washes and muted beats consumed by juddering bass undulations and wailing mid-tone pulsations that rub against one another at differing frequencies and echo in different times to disorientating effect.

‘II’ moves into more murky atmospherics, with a low, throb providing the backdrop of incidentals that scrape and scatter like breaking glass. There are flickers of discernible melody in the conventional sense for a brief moment on ‘IV’, as tinkling keys ripple tunefully and offer a certain relief. But this isn’t about relief, at least not sustained relief: The Forcing Season is an album built on turmoil.

The final track is the definition of ‘sprawling epic’: twenty-seven minutes of dissonance, as flickers and whistles of bat-pitch feedback and twitters flutter around dank low-end drones, clunks and a mid-range hum that hovers like mist in a graveyard. Over time, a grating, grinding swell of sound grows in volume and density and immense thunderous crashes punctuate the sustained surge… before it too tapers away to be replaced by an ominous hum rent with thumps and crashes. And from hereon it gets darker, denser, more unsettling as difficult drones with serrated edges eddy around beneath dungeon door thuds and whip-crack explosions of noise. And gradually the tempest abates, simmering down gradually to spacey waves of cinematic spaciousness that ebb and flow.

Because it’s truly ever-shifting, The Forcing Season: Further Acts of Severance is difficult to place and difficult to digest – which ultimately renders it an artistic success.

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ArtiosCAD Plot

Christopher Nosnibor

I love getting weird shit in the post. Not literal shit, of course, not the kind of shit one might have received for panning The Levellers in a review in the early 90s, but the kind of sonic faeces people I associate with might send me when they have a new release or project in the offing.

I clocked the sender’s name on the envelope: one P.A. Morbid of Middlesbrough. Having been moving in the same circles for a while, the arrival of a package in itself was no major shock, but I hadn’t been aware of anything musical in the offing from this North-Eastern master of bleak lines who, having recently published a collection of poetry split with local luminary Harry Gallagher, has also been working on some flash fiction pieces. It’s not entirely clear where this fits in: on-line sources suggest it was released back in 2017, but the infrequently gigging band also look set to make a rare hometown appearance in July.

Morbs is credited as providing ‘vocals, rhythms, noises’ on this three-tracker, produced in collaboration with Peter Heselton, who’s responsible for guitars, electronics, keyboards, and also rhythms.

Most of those rhythms are sequenced pulsations, with the vintage feel of analogue or at least early, primitive digital drum machines, and overall, the production on this experimental electro effort is primitive to the point of condenser mic in the middle of the room standard. But this kind of straight-to-tape DIY approach is integral to both the ethos and the appeal.

Dingy pulsations drive ‘Das Jenseits’, the first cut on here, and it’s pure Throbbing Gristle. Murky drones and extraneous noise that all sits in the mid-range form a drifting sonic fog. There are vocals lurking in the smog, but they’re distorted and low in the mix: the result is that they’re an abstract disorientating addition to a difficult mess of abstract disorientation.

‘Standing by the Grave’ is more direct: a whipcrack snare cuts though the infinite murk of the guitars while Morbid moans and grunts impenetrably. There are hints of neofolk, but equally goth-tinged post-punk in evidence. The atmosphere is oppressive, dense. You don’t really know what it’s about or what’s going on, but it’s like wading through treacle and a suffocating airless smog that lies thick and heavy.

The closer, ‘what light remains’ is a mercifully short four minutes in duration. Rippling shards and quivering synths shimmer through the atmospheric fog. It’s dislocated, difficult, dark ambient; percussionless desert rock, reverby chords echoing out across space and time rippling in a heat haze.

I’m left dazed, feeling strangely alone and wondering what it was all about.

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Cold Spring – CD 3rd August 2018 / LP 10th September 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

There are so many moments lost in the annals of history. This particular one has been languishing, unheard and unreleased for some 35 years. As collaborations go, this one is particularly special, and captures the spirit of the underground scene in the early 80s, with the original Coil lineup of John Balance and Peter Christopherson joined by John Gosling and Marc Almond. Although renowned as a pop singer, both solo and with Soft Cell, Almond has a raft of interesting collaborations to his credit: his work with JG Thirlwell as Flesh Volcano is a persona favourite, the pair amping up the sleaze and grime to deliver something quite dank and slimy. Better still, their live rendition of ‘Ghostrider’ for the BBC. And, lest we forget, undocumented save for some (painfully) ropey bootlegs, The Immaculate Consumptive, a short-lived live project (just three shows in three days in October / November ‘83) which featured Almond, Thirlwell, Nick Cave, and Lydia Lunch.

‘How to Destroy Angels’ was recorded shortly before The Immaculate Consumptive broke Brian Eno’s piano, on 24th August 1983, at the Air Gallery in London. And the recording has languished ever since, until now, emerging cleaned up and consumable. Although it’s still pretty raw, and if truth be told, sounds little better than some of the recordings of my own spoken word performances recorded on my phone. Of course, this has rather more cultural significance and wider interest.

As the liner notes observe, ‘the music bears only scant resemblance to the ‘How To Destroy Angels’ 12” that Coil would release as their debut vinyl the following year.’ And so the performance which would preface Coil’s studio debut was very much an experimental effort, a collaborative piece born of happenstance and a coalescence of creative fermentation that was bubbling around the time.

It’s Lunch’s influence that seems strongest on Almond’s contribution here: his narrative – a bitter tirade against an ex-lover – is full of bile and expletives as he spits the words quickly and abrasively against an eerie, unsettling dark ambient backdrop. Challenging is the word – but then, that’s entirely the point.

The Kos Kia remix of ‘How To Destroy Angels’, which whittles 23 minutes of audio to just over eight, feels a little redundant here. It’s not bad by any stretch: in fact, as weirdy ambient remixes go, it’s pretty good. It’s just a question of fit.

‘Baptism of Fire’ is an unreleased recording of Zos Kia and Coil at Recession Studios, London: dating from 12th October 1983, it’s contemporaneous with ‘How to Destroy Angels’. It’s the shortest piece here, and concludes the set with four and a half minutes of battering percussion, howling ululations and clanking, clattering noise that’s very Throbbing Gristle and very uncomfortable indeed.

While so many archival recordings and onus cuts on anniversary reissues – often of bands who were only of limited merit in the first place – feel like sloppy cash-ins, digging out second-rate demons , acoustic versions, remixes outtakes and live recordings of well-known studio tracks, this is a real rarity, which sheds new light on the origins of band whose effect has been significant and enduring. Moreover, it’s not only vastly illuminating in context of the nascent Coil sound, but a document which joints a number of dots in the wider context: and for that, this is an essential release.

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COIL ZOS KIA MARC ALMOND - Lo res album cover for web

Front & Follow – 6th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

As a child in the late 70s and early 80s, I used to play with three fox stoles that belonged to my mother. I was fascinated by their glass eyes and the clips that made ‘mouths’, and didn’t really consider any of it to be strange at the time. As an adult who’s been vegetarian for over twenty years, the very idea of a real fox stole – not to mention the sheepskin rugs that adorned each of the bedrooms in my parents’ house – horrifies me beyond words. Perhaps it was this sense of horror that pushed these recollections out of my mind for quite literally decades. But in the opening scenes of Penny Slinger, the film directed by Richard Kovitch, we see Penny walking down a stately driveway (Lilford Hall), draped in fur coat, accessorised by a fox stole, its beady artificial eyes looking fixedly over her shoulder toward the camera. This is our introduction to both Slinger and An Exorcism, the work which defined her career before her swift disappearance from the public eye for a very long time.

There’s another personal preface I feel a certain obligation to include here: I first encountered Richard Kovitch in around, maybe, 2008, in the days of MySpace. Although now known as an award-wining director, Kovitch is something of a polyartist, and was writing – both fiction and essays – back then, and I had the privilege of including one of his stories, ‘For Reasons Unknown’ in the first Clinical, Brutal anthology in 2009. The story showcased Kovitch’s keen eye for both narrative and visual, something that’s common to much of his work, and the feature-length documentary Penny Slinger – Out Of The Shadows is no exception.

The film is pitched as ‘the incredible, untold story of the British artist Penny Slinger and the traumatic events that led to the creation of her masterpiece, the 1977 photo-romance, An Exorcism’. Much of the story is told by Slinger herself, who proves to be a remarkably cogent and articulate speaker. The documentary notably features contributions from Peter Whitehead (who collaborated with Slinger on the shooting of An Exorcism at Lilford Hall in 1969, and it’s footage from this which opens the film) and Michael Bracewell, amongst others, and the ‘talking heads’ segments are comfortably paced and helpfully cut with pieces of Penny’s work in a way that satisfies both the well-versed and uninitiated. Ultimately, it’s most notable for its well-structured narrative. And its soundtrack.

The soundtrack in question is the debut album for Psychological Strategy Board. Taking their name from the committee responsible for overseeing strategies of psychological warfare in the US in the 1950s, it’s perhaps appropriate that biographical details about them is scant, beyond the fact Maybury and Paul Snowdon are perhaps better known as johnny mugwump and Time Attendant respectively, and that their only previous release is an EP, also released on Front & Follow, back in 2012. That. And the fact that the creation of this soundtrack, which began in 2011, was a challenging experience, both musically and personally. In context, it isn’t entirely surprising.

As it transpires, their near-invisibility proves to be something of an asset, as well as an indication of their modus operandi: while the soundtrack – released on vinyl and download split into thirteen tracks – is a continuous presence throughout the film’s one hour and thirty-three-minute duration – and very much steers the mood and accentuates the atmosphere, particularly when accompanying the more dramatic shots or narrative moments, it’s subtle in its delivery. Within the context of the film, it works well.

The measure of a soundtrack’s quality is whether or not it succeeds on its own merit, as a musical work, when separated from the film it was designed to accompany. This does, not least of all because it’s a largely ambient work which conjures image and feelings – often of disquiet -that any ambient work of a darker persuasion might. Dank rumblings and slow churns reminiscent of Throbbing Gristle nudge against hovering dissonance and creeping fear chords.

Spurts of electronic dislocation bubble and fizz over thick ripples of amorphous, atonal synth sound, hissing static and whispering winds. Sonorous low-end notes resonate, hanging in the air before they slowly decay, submerged by tense undulations. The atmosphere is dark, ominous, unsettling, but not oppressive. And while the narrative of the documentary and the creative process which yielded the supremely surreal and highly sexual An Exorcism is not – and never could be – conveyed in musical form, the otherness of the work itself very much is.

AA

Psychological Strategy Board – Penny Slinger Out of the Shadows