Unnatural History was the second of many Coil albums that compiled a slew of non-album tracks in one central form, if only as a footnote for the completists. Before this was the “stopgap / breathing space” of Gold is the Metal (with the Broadest Shoulders), a closetful of outtakes from the Horse Rotorvator days or earlier. History pulls together pieces from as far back as 1984, but doesn’t attempt to make any kind of chronology or narrative out of them. Not that we really need one: if you’re a Coil fan, it’s almost certainly on your to-do list anyway, and if you’re only a casual listener then you should only come here after listening to the actual album material.
That said, there’s some genuinely intriguing material here that might well appeal to even non-fanatics. One of the biggest pluses is the inclusion of several tracks from an earlier release, Nightmare Culture, where Balance and Christopherson paired up with Boyd Rice under the moniker Sickness of Snakes. (The flipside, with Current 93, is on Nurse With Wound’s In Menstrual Night CD and is absolutely worth seeking out.) “Various Hands”, “The Swelling of Leeches”, “The Pope Held Upside Down” and “His Body Was a Playground for the Nazi Elite” are all wonderfully nightmarish and unsettling. This was back when Coil had gotten their hands on an Emulator III and were using it with gruesome, creative flair — it took me forever to figure out that the noises in “Pope” were pig’s squeals, with a good deal of LFO and other processing applied to them.
The rest isn’t as impressive, but there are a few bright spots. I particularly liked the string-laden “Never”, which reappeared later on Coil’s soundtrack for Derek Jarman’s film The Angelic Conversation, and “Penetralia II” is a neat alternate mix of the Horse Rotorvator track of the same name. But the rest is a pretty uninteresting grab bag — including, sadly, what was the very first Coil 12” release, “How to Destroy Angels”. That sounds, to my ears, like the raw sessions for the gong-beating that was worked into Nurse with Wound’s Homotopy to Marie. It’s fine if you like that sort of thing, but for my money you’re better off picking up the full How to Destroy Angels CD (sadly out of print for now), which does indeed take the raw session and turn it into something otherworldly and haunting.
Part of the problem I’ve always had with Coil is also one of the things that was most endearing about them: they were so eager to try out so many different things that their discography is incredibly diffuse, and in some cases terribly underdeveloped. When it did all come together, though, it was nothing short of magic(k). Unnatural History, though, isn’t the best place to hear that magic for yourself — not at first, anyway.