Welcome to the inaugural edition of Black Metal & Brews’ newest expansion, Synths & Suds. This will not be a separate entity from my writing on matters of extreme music, and many posts may well be filed under this as well as my general music reviews. The purpose of Synths & Suds is to give folks who enjoy my beer criticism and electronic music writing to seek out these posts without filtering through a slew of harsher sounds. Conversely, if you wish to avoid these posts, the unique categorization will make it easier for you to skip them without checking to see if it’s of interest or not. As a passionate fan of all forms of music, I thoroughly encourage all of my readers to check out all of the music I share, but I realize that we won’t always see eye to eye on these things.
We begin this new column with a review of an album that transcends the normal “remix album” concept. Rather than this being an album rooted wholly in its source material, this is an album that serves as an interesting cross-section of two fantastic artists’ creative efforts at a very important time in each of their careers. I was raised on the music of Nine Inch Nails and it’s no secret that I still enjoy almost anything Trent Reznor does (although there have been a few albums I enjoyed less in recent years), but my love of Coil has only developed in the past three or four years. Still, I’ve taken to Coil in a fashion that borders on obsessive, so I feel like I’ve got a decent grip on each of these artists’ works and can identify what’s going on here.
In the mid-nineties, Coil and Trent Reznor developed something of a friendship. I’m no scholar on this, but aside from Coil member Peter Christopherson’s role in the Broken film, their mutual admiration led to this collection of Nine Inch Nails remixes that have remained little more than a rumor until now. While audiences were treated to an earlier version of the “Closer” remix in the opening credits for the film Se7en, the rest of these tracks have been the domain of filesharing programs and internet forums until now, thanks to UK-based industrial & noise label Cold Spring.
So, with a batch of tracks newly unearthed and presented for our consumption, do they live up to the hype? My opinion is that this album brings a fresh perspective to my understanding of Coil’s music while also serving as something that more open-minded fans of Nine Inch Nails can appreciate, although it may be less for that audience. Perhaps this is because I grew up watching most Nine Inch Nails fans in my life solely liking them as a rock group, often dismissing the creative genius contained in the many bizarre electronic forays and haunting remix albums as boring or inconsequential when held beside the more aggressive tunes. Still, with these five songs, my appreciation of each group grows just a small bit.
Opener “Gave Up (Open My Eyes)” is the only song here not originally from The Downward Spiral, and it also happens to be the song most noticeably rooted in its original incarnation, but even here there is a lot of manipulation of the original piece. On this and every song here, Reznor’s typically passionate vocals are stripped of their soul and left cold and mechanical. This allows the listener to hear the other side of the tale of self-destruction in a new way. Instead of hearing a cry for help, we’re given the detachment and coldness of addiction. Instead of lust in “Closer (Unrecalled),” there is an almost slick confidence that seems bred from apathy more than lust. While the first song uses some of the frenetic drumming that the original piece is known for, this album seems to flourish when the vocal tracks are placed into an entirely new context. Instead of club-ready industrial beats, there is a warm emptiness that is all too familiar for fans of much of Coil’s works. In particularly, the atmospheres generated in the two separate remixes of “Eraser” seem to foretell the dark, pensive ambiance that Coil would play with in the final few years of their career before main member Jhonn Balance’s passing in 2004.
It’s important to note, too, that this is not an album with a disconnect caused by heavy technological reliance. While there is certainly an art to creating things entirely digitally, much of the ambiance generated here is created by use of items like baby alarms and other true electrical wizardry. This is a testament to Coil’s history of sonic experimentation and shows the band acting in fine form as they provide a truly gripping treatment to each of Reznor’s tracks. If anything, Coil’s steady hand guides songs into far deeper waters than Nine Inch Nails would have originally visited, showing a versatility to Coil’s skills and adding new dimensions to songs that were already bursting with ominous potential.
As a fan of each band, this album has yielded multiple plays for me, often receiving two or three consecutive listens in one sitting, but I’m not entirely sure this will win new converts to either band’s cause. Regardless, I cannot recommend it highly enough to any fan of industrial music. It’s truly delightful that these songs have made their way to the public. Let’s hope there are more hiding out somewhere on a hard drive that have yet to be unearthed. Listen to “Closer (Unrecalled)” now and prepare for this album’s release on February 24th.