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Coil - The Ape of Naples

And so The Ape of Naples the final Coil studio album is released, a year or so following the tragic and futile death of Jhonn Balance, following a drunken accident at home. Lovingly realised by his former partner Peter Christopherson, assembled from the tapes recorded at Trent Reznor's New Orleans studio together with material from the North Tower, their former home in Somerset, England, interspersed with remnants from live recordings. As such its creation from such varied sources results it in being something of a patchwork release. It ultimately fails to be the definitive Coil album that thresholdhouse.com purports it to be. It is not Horse Rotorvator nor does it match the incredible Moon Musick volumes. However given its creation from the most unusual and difficult of circumstances it is a fitting epitaph to the work of Coil and tribute to Jhonn Balance.

And at points it's a painful piece of work too, and as someone who has lost someone special recently, I've no idea how those close to Balance could immerse themselves so closely in this whilst shouldering their grief. "Does Death Come Alone" are the opening words by Jhonn Balance on the first track, 'Fire Of The Mind', over the angelic hum of a sacred choir. Electronics percolate over intermittent pumping hurdy gurdy. It's a beautiful track and effective distillation of the electronic and organic approach Coil had been pursuing on latter live performances and various short-run tour CDs. It's an approach that is used throughout The Ape of Naples, where with the assistance of Thighpaulsandra, Tom Edwards, Cliff Stapleton, Mike York and Ossian Brown they have created a strong clutch of song based material whose poignancy is unmistakeable.

A rather stoic representation of 'Amethyst Deceivers' here entitled 'The Last Amethyst Deceivers' is included. A wandering bass line augmented by an intricate marimba score. The electronics furnish the track with icy stylings, as Balance commands: "Pay you respects to the vultures, For they are your future". Towards the end a piano score appears and is joined by the disorientating blur of the electronics.

The haunting Weimar styled waltz of 'Tattooed Man' is by far one of Coil's finest momemts. The European sensibility is firmly entrenched in the tradition of Scott Walker, Marc Almond right through to Black Sun Productions but the marimba flourishes and tinkering electronics make this firmly Coil. The tone is sombre, and made more poignant as Balance sings "There's a man lying down in a grave somewhere, with the same tattoos as me".

Both 'Triple Sun' and 'It's In My Blood' seem to remind in parts of Horse Rotorvator. Perhaps its the brass derangements of the former, while the guttural and primal vocal urges of 'It's In My Blood' recall the animalistic grunting realised on 'Circles of Mania'. Both tracks feature bass throb, and while marimba and flickering electronics feature on 'Triple Sun', 'It's In My Blood' features orchestral stylings from Thighpaulsandra. Further orchestration features on 'I Don't Get It'. A weeping score over discordant plucked strings, chicken squawks and processed electronic dischord. Balance's clever wordplay comes to the fore on 'Triple Sun': Then I swallowed the one yew (you) bury (berry). These batch of tracks capture the varied facets of Balance from possessed shaman to the impassioned delivery of 'Heaven's Blade'. The throbbing electro of 'Heaven's Blade' is cleary from the ill-fated Backwards sessions, despite obliquely referencing Balance's tendency for self-mutilation, it's Coil's only real concession to generic dark industrial music. I would even say that this segment of tracks somehow breaks the overall cohesion of The Ape of Naples.

Balance's stoic voice on the harrowing 'A Cold Cell', all sorrowful synths with a billowing bassline is mesmerising as Coil make a rare political statement. There's a reappraisal of 'Teenage Lightning' from Loves Secret Domain, here replacing Coil's skewed take on house music with a sombre arangement of marimba, piano and stuttering electronics. The final vocal track from Jhonn Balance is 'Amber Rain', where he sounds almost aware of his fate. Over a looped melody and an assortment of pipes, there is an air of melancholy and resignation as he signs off with the sad refrain: "I don't expect I'll ever understand, How life just trickled through my hand". The closing track with Francois Testory on lead vocal would in normal circumstances be regarded as being out-of-place but 'Going Up' is clearly a dark-humoured tribute to Balance. It was performed at his funeral and was, I believe, the final song Coil performed live. 'Going Up', Coil's take on the theme tune of the seventies sitcom Are You Being Served?, is sublime. Testory's operatic vocal is stunning as he lists the store departments over yearning synths and tinkering marimbas. Barely audible is the voice of Jhonn Balance at the start repeating the curious question: "Are You Ready To Go Now?" and again at the close of the track where he can be heard again.

Under difficult circumstances those involved, especially Peter Christopherson and Ian Johnstone, should be applauded for producing such a fine piece of work. Ian Johnstone executed the sleeve design and insert with curious artwork, photographs and sculptures. It's a beautiful fold-out affair but very brittle; my copy has already split at the seams despite minor and careful handling. Oh we'll moan that there are other (in many cases better) versions of these tracks available elsewhere. Some tracks are too brief. It could have been this, it could have been that. But in the end the final words belong to Balance: It just is. For more information go to www.thresholdhouse.com