Peter Christopherson and Jhonn Balance, from Santa Sangre
A friend asked me to suggest five tracks by Coil that gave an introduction to their work. Trying to summarize Coil in 5 tracks is tough. I think it's probably impossible to fairly summarize Coil with any subset of their music, for two reasons.
Firstly, their music was the output of their work but I don't think is really the whole of the work itself. There's a real mystique around them. They were deeply interested in arcania, old magic, Aleister Crowley, scatology; they were both openly and happily gay and their work sometimes explored their experiences in various related underground scenes and sub-cultures; they lost friends to HIV/AIDS and that had a profound impact on them. They had a big influence on some people who discovered them who were exploring their own sexualities at the time and might have felt excluded from mainstream society. They frequently explored drugs, meditation and other ways to try to expand and open their minds; occultism. They were also fiercely anti-commercial, their stuff was released in limited quantities across a multitude of different music labels, often under different names, and often paired with odd physical objects, runes, vials of blood, etc. Later fascinations included paganism and moon worship. I read somewhere that they literally cursed one of their albums.
Secondly, part of their "signature" was the lack of any consistency in their work, or to put it another way, their style over time varied enormously. I'm also not necessarily well-versed in all their stuff, I'm part way on this journey myself... but these are tracks which stand out at least from the subset I've listened to.
Both original/core members of Coil have passed away and the legal status of their catalogue is in a state of limbo. Some of these songs are available on currently-in-print releases, but all such releases are under dispute by some associate or other.
1. Heaven's Blade
Like (probably) a lot of Coil songs, this one exists in multiple forms, with some dispute about which are canonical, which are officially sanctioned, etc. the video linked above actually contains 5 different versions, but I've linked to a time offset to the 4th: "Heaven's Blade (Backwards)". This version was the last to come to light with the recent release of "Backwards", an album originally prepared in the 90s at Trent Reznor's Nothing Studios in New Orleans, but not finished or released. The circumstances around its present-day release, as well as who did what to it and what manipulation may have been performed to the audio a long time after the two core members had passed, is a current topic in fan circles.
Despite that, this is my preferred version. You can choose to investigate the others, or not, at your own discretion.
2. how to destroy angels (ritual music for the accumulation of male sexual energy)
A few years ago, "guidopaparazzi", a user at the Echoing the Sound music message board attempted to listen to every Coil release ever made and document the process. He didn't do it chronologically, leaving the EPs until near the end, which is when he tackled this one (which was the first release by Coil, and was the inspiration behind the naming of Trent Reznor's one-time side project "How To Destroy Angels").
Guido seemed to think this was some kind of elaborate joke. Personally I think it's a serious piece and there's something to it but this just goes to show, different people can take things in entirely different ways. Here's Guido's review, and you can find the rest of his reviews linked from that one if you wish.
3. Red Birds Will Fly Out Of The East And Destroy Paris In A Night
Both "Musick To Play In The Dark" volumes (one and two) are generally regarded as amongst the most accessible entry points to the Coil discography. This is my choice of cut from volume 1.
For some reason this reminds me a little of some of the background music from the game "Unreal Tournament". I haven't played that in at least 15 years. I should go back and see if I can figure out why it does.
The whole EP is worth a listen, especially at night.
4. Things Happen
It's tricky to pick a track from either "Love's Secret Domain" or "Horse Rotorvator"; there are other choices which I think are better known and loved than this one but it's one that haunted me after I first heard it for one reason or another, so here it is.
5. The Anal Staircase
Track 1 from Horse Rotorvator. What the heck is a Horse Rotorvator anyway? I think it was supposed to have been a lucid nightmare experienced by the vocalist Jhonn Balance. So here they wrote a song about anal sex. No messing about, no allusion particularly, but why should there be?
Bonus 6th: 7-Methoxy-B-Carboline (Telepathine)
From the drone album "Time Machines", which has just been re-issued by DIAS records, who describe it as "authorized". Each track is titled by the specific combination of compounds that inspired its composition, supposedly. Or, perhaps it's a "recommended dosing" for listening along.
If those piqued your interest, there's some decent words and a list of album suggestions in this Vinyl Factory article.
Finally, if you can track them down, Stuart Maconie had two radio shows about Coil on his "Freak Zone" programme. The main show discusses the release of "Backwards", including an interview with collaborator Danny Hyde, who was the main person behind the recent re-issue. The shorter show is entitled John Doran uncoils Coil. Guest John Doran from The Quietus discusses the group and their history interspersed with Coil tracks and tracks from their contemporaries. Interestingly they chose a completely different set of 5 tracks to me.