COIL: Horse Rotor Vator

January 18, 2011

Today’s roll: 1 – 7– 9.
Horse Rotor Vator by Coil.

Sometimes it’s hard to write objectively about certain bands or albums. Coil were such an important part of my life for so long, they’re beyond criticism. Whatever might be good or bad about their music, it just is. And that’s fine unless you’re trying to write a review about their 1986 sophomore album.

I was a little apprehensive to take Horse Rotor Vator on. Having discovered Coil in 1991 with their magnum opus of sex, drugs and pagan magic, Love’s Secret Domain, I’ve always tended to listen to that album onwards as opposed to delving heavily into their back-catalogue—though I hunted it all down like religious relics.

I actually own Horse Rotor Vator on both CD and vinyl, but I’ve probably only listened to the album a half-dozen times over many years. So it was that my memories were a little hazy and I felt there was a real potential the album might be a terrible cheese-fest. It turns out it toes the line of cheese without planting a foot firmly in the ricotta.

That’s a purely subjective call, of course. Certain listeners might find the album embarrassingly cringy. Though a lot of timeless orchestral samples are employed, the keyboards and drum machines your hear are, of course, rooted in the synth-pop/EBM/electro-industrial of the early-to-mid 80s.

Also, the allusions to classic mythology and the heavy, medieval musical motifs (reminiscent of early Dead Can Dance) could be the very definition of cheese to some. I have to admit the heavy-handedness of select tracks from their early work has always kept me at bay a little. Yet, like Dead Can Dance, they generally manage to pull it off with enough theatrical panache to make it magical, but with enough restraint to keep it from becoming clownish buffoonery.

One thing Coil always did well, from the time of their first single, was not to pull any punches. Right up until the band’s final days (with the death of John Balance in 2004), there was always the sense they didn’t just turn corners others might have stopped short of, they weren’t even aware the corners existed. They managed to create a creepy sense of true menace which makes similarly dark acts like Skinny Puppy look and sound as silly as Kiss.
This is due, somewhat ironically, to the life and joy they inject into their music. When they evoke dark pagan sex magic it’s not the pantomime doom and gloom of a Norwegian death metal band, it’s a real celebration.
Ultimately, Horse Rotor Vator holds more value as a stepping stone towards the perfection of Love’s Secret Domain than as an album to be enjoyed on its own merits. Though anyone interested in uncompromizing, adventurous music would do well to pick up any album by the band. Including this one.

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