Review: Coil, “Gold is the Metal (with the Broadest Shoulders)”

One of the first images I remember associating with Coil is the sticker that asked, “When you listen to Coil do you think of music?” After listening to Gold is the Metal many times, my answer remains a strong “no.” In a discography filled with bizarre and bewildering recordings, this collection of odds and ends still stands out as one of Coil’s most difficult and oblique.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more confused or disappointed by Coil than when I first heard “The Broken Wheel.” After hearing the original on a mix tape, I was expecting to get more of the driving rhythms and blaring sound effects that characterized the original, but what I heard instead was a perverse and playful recreation that annihilated both and made good on the title’s promise. Where I wanted a steady beat, I got a number of false starts and where I hoped there would be layers of sound, there was only fragmented portions of melody and miscellaneous noise. I was even more put off by the absence of John Balance’s voice, which is replaced by a comically exaggerated exchange between two very eager and unusual lovers. After falling in love with the songs on Horse Rotorvator, all of Gold is the Metal came as a great shock. And ten years after hearing it for the first time, I’m still a little confounded by its twists and turns. It helps to keep in mind that the record is a reflection of Coil’s cutting room floor: unused loops, awkward allusions, failed variations, and sketches make up most of its content. The rest is filled by unused songs that were intended for some record or another or simply forgotten amid the chaos of samples and demos that John and Peter left in their wake. Not every song is a success, nor is every experiment all that interesting, but Gold is the Metal does yield several pleasures, not the least of which is the aforementioned version of “The Wheel.”

Besides defying expectations and obliterating conventions, with Gold is the Metal Coil provides plenty of insight into how they wrote and produced their music. Samples used in both “The Anal Staircase” and “Penetralia” appear on songs that are otherwise unrelated to either, and ideas eventually fleshed out on “Ravenous” and “Slur” make an appearance only to be swallowed up in unexpected tangents and unfamiliar noise. “Cardinal Points” features a string arrangement by Bill McGee intended for Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. On its own it is a complete and gorgeous slice of orchestral soundtrack work, but there are enough similarities between it and “Ostia (The Death of Pasolini)” or even “Chaostrophy” that I’m inclined to think of it as a precursor or distant cousin to those songs. Throughout the record there are familiar references and unmistakable semblances that call to mind a multitude of their other recordings. That networking quality has the added effect of deepening and exaggerating Coil’s already daunting and seemingly bottomless discography. Some of these recordings are probably just early versions of other songs in disguise and it is likely that even more unreleased versions of the same thing exist somewhere. There are also several original and unfamiliar songs tucked away among the familiar. A couple point backwards toward Scatology, like the absolutely stellar “For Us They Will.” Others point in the direction of Love’s Secret Domain by way of The Dark Age of Love, like “Aqua Regalia” and “Paradisiac.”

These mixes are a good reminder that Coil’s acid-soaked follow-up to Horse Rotorvator was originally a kind of sequel to that album, with big Fairlight horn sections and apocalyptic gusts of noise. How it transformed into Coil’s “dance” record is all the more mystifying after listening to Gold is the Metal. With blatant bouts of nonsense and fun-house melodies vying for center stage, it is a small miracle that portions of the record actually sound continuous or work together at all. In general, the transitions and changes in style from song to song are quite severe and highlight that this is just a collection of outtakes. By casting their net so wide, Coil broke up their already damaged record into even more unnatural shapes, which sometimes causes me to question the integrity of the entire project. I can understand wanting to collect unreleased songs in one place, but each of the Unnatural History releases is more cohesive than this is and they compile music that spans decades too.

That has always been my biggest complaint about Gold is the Metal: unlike most B-side and remix compilations, it includes a lot of warts and unfinished sketches, which can make the whole thing sound like a sketch instead of a complete or finished statement. None of their later records, not even collections like Stolen and Contaminated Songs, are as dense and inscrutable as this. The liner notes to the CD version of the album include a proclamation describing some of the songs as “disappointments” and “discarded shards.” If that’s truly the case, I have to wonder why such failures were included at all. Demos and outlines might interest dedicated fans and close listeners, but for everyone else they’re distracting and only serve to muddy already dark waters. The CD pressings also intensify the disorder by mangling the last three songs on the album. Two extra songs are added, one from The Unreleased Themes for Hellraiser and the other from either of the 7″ singles for “Keelhauler” or “The Wheel.” Both manage to fit in with the rest of the misfits (if only because nearly anything would fit if one pushed hard enough), but neither are indexed correctly. Thanks to this goof up “The First Five Minutes After Violent Death” also starts at the wrong time. Without reference to Coil’s website or to the original LP, one might be left wondering why two completely different sounding songs are squished together on one track.

Typically, such mistakes and inconsistencies would be enough to frustrate me into submission, but I find myself returning to Gold is the Metal now and again. This is due in part to the album’s fractured gems and genuinely enjoyable failures (the insertion of “Greensleeves” into “…Of Free Enterprise” and “Aqua Regalia” comes immediately to mind), and in part to its proximity to Scatology, Horse Rotorvator, and Love’s Secret Domain. It both shines a light on the best albums from Coil’s first decade and manifests some of the spirit inherent in each of them. For that reason, Gold is the Metal can’t help but be appealing to a Coil fan. But with so many playful passages and intentional mistakes writhing about on the same record, it also can’t help but be one of the most idiosyncratic and trying records in my or anyone else’s collection.

Gold is the Metal (with the Broadest Shoulders) is available from Threshold House
Samples are available at Brainwashed.com

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