Backwards with Coil: context

UK label Cold Spring Records recently released a previously unavailable recording ‘Backwards‘ from British experimental industrialists Coil. I spoke to the album’s mastering engineer Gregg at Hermetech Mastering for some background on the album and how it came to be.

23 years after its initiation… Differing substantially from the later, remixed incarnation, ‘The New Backwards‘ (2008), ‘Backwards‘ contains the original versions of Coil’s much-loved tracks; ‘A Cold Cell‘ and ‘Fire Of The Mind

Darkfloor: You were the mastering engineer for this ‘new’ album Backwards, and indeed also the engineer on last year’s EP Recoiled. The four track EP comprised of ‘priest song creations’ from Nine Inch Nails’ Downward Spiral era material.

How did you come to be mastering the material, and what’s the album’s history. Wasn’t it already been released?

Gregg: In late 2010, around the time Peter Christopherson passed away, I met Danny Hyde (long time Coil collaborator) via Facebook, and we struck up a nice correspondence. At that time I was just trying to get my mastering business off the ground, so as a huge Coil fan since the late 90’s, I offered to master something for him. A few months later he came back and asked if the offer was still there so I ended up mastering his ‘Svay Pak’ EP, which I think is the best solo thing he’s done. It came out really well and he was happy with my work.

A while later the NIN Coil remixes surfaced on the NIN forum, again via Dan I think. I am not sure of the the exact sequence of events, but Dan asked me to master these, so they could be offered as a free download. A while later it was decide they would get a “proper” release on CD and vinyl via Cold Spring Records. As it turned out, the label added a load of extra limiting to my masters before the release, which I wasn’t over the moon about, but these things happen.

Same story again, a while later Dan was working on the second Electric Sewer Age release, ‘Bad White Corpuscle‘  for Old Europa Cafe (an Italian label). This collected the work of various members and associates of Coil, the first one being the final part of Coil’s ‘Moon’s Milk‘ series, and this second part containing all new work (although there are many traces of Coil tracks left behind for the train-spotters out there) So I’d slowly built up a good and lasting working relationship with Danny Hyde.

Around this time a good friend of mine in Scotland, who shares many of my interests (Industrial music, the occult, the work of Austin Osman Spare etc.) sent me a mysterious CDr containing the unreleased Backwards album from the mid 90’s. I was pretty shocked as the quality was very high, and much better than the unfinished demo’s ripped from cassette and encoded to very low bit rate MP3 that had been flying around on Soulseek for years. According to my friend (who would prefer to go unnamed) he can’t remember where he got it. As you know, people trade and download music, and things lie on hard drives for years, so it’s all a bit of a mystery. I ripped all 12 tracks, and there they sat on my hard drive for probably a year to 18 months. It was always in the back of my mind to give them all a bit of spit and polish, just for my own enjoyment. Mark Godwin (a good friend of Sleazy’s in Bangkok, and the mastering engineer on a number of the later Coil releases), told me that many Coil tracks from their middle period were unmastered, and came straight from Sleazy’s Mac to the pressing plant. I had done a little bit of mastering on some of these tracks before (The ‘Moon’s Milk Bonus Disc’, for example), just for practice and fun. I had no inclination that this ‘Backwards‘ would ever be released.

I had some spare time in the summer of 2014, and just went for it.Mastering one track a day for a couple of weeks, just trying to get everything sounding as great as possible. I was very happy with how it sounded, and so started sending it to some of my Coil inclined friends. I sent it to Dan and Drew McDowall, of course, as they were the only people involved with the recording still left who I could easily contact. The feedback was fantastic, and also ended up in me receiving another mysterious CD from another contact in Germany with yet another copy of Backwards on it, this one apparently given to him by Sleazy directly. However, this second CD had mostly different mixes from the first one, with notably poorer sound quality throughout, so I didn’t use any of these in the final master. Dan was keen to try and get it released properly, and started talking to Cold Spring again. My idea was just to release it for free to the fans on the 10th anniversary of John Balance’s death, as it had always been a labour of love for me, but that unfortunately didn’t end up happening. Not that it makes much difference anyway, as you know it’s all out for the taking in torrent land anyway.

That was it really, things were pretty quiet for over a year before the official announcement from Cold Spring in August 2015, so it was actually pretty unbearable not being able to talk about it in public, knowing what a big splash it was going to make.

How has the reception been to the unearthing of the material?
Coil fans are a passionate, and often obsessive bunch, but there seems to be diversive opinions behind any Coil reissue.

Reception of the music on the release itself has mostly been extremely positive, with a lot of people happy to see this material finally out there in high quality, and on vinyl. I personally think the music is amazing, although somewhat dated in places. But that version of the final track, ‘Fire Of The Mind‘, is probably in my top three Coil tracks ever. And a lot of fans seem to feel similarly.

However, there is always a political shit storm that follows any posthumous Coil release, which I had been bracing myself for. Some people are unhappy for various reasons, you’ll have to read their opinions online, as I wouldn’t presume to speak for them. Both Thighpaulsandra and Drew McDowall have mentioned the release in recent interviews, and have some interesting things to say about it.

I think it’s the same with any posthumous release from any artist really, as the main collaborators are no longer around to make decisions and watch over quality control. Coil being Coil, often involving themselves in drugs, addiction, the occult, and transgressive acts in general, (with many of their fans seemingly following close behind in their wake), it’s inevitable that some people are going to be upset. I’ve had to grow a somewhat tougher skin and know that I originally mastered this release for all the right reasons, and hope that this is what shines through in the release that people can now finally hear.

Coil – Backwards is available now on CD/2LP via Cold Spring Records
(vinyl repress available December 20th)