Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Coil - Astral Disaster

Coil
Astral Disaster


Released 1999 on Threshold House
Reviewed by FNS, 05/02/2010ce


‘Astral Disaster’ can be appreciated as a six-part ritual consisting of the following stages:

1. Summoning (‘The Avatars’)
2. Beginning (‘The Mothership and the Fatherland’)
3. Elevation (‘Second Sun Syndrome’)
4. The Heart of the Rite (‘The Sea Priestess’)
5. Doubt / Madness (‘I Don’t Want to be the One’)
6. Conclusion (‘MU-UR’)

‘The Avatars’ represents the summoning to the ritual, a queasy, distant, distorted electronic sound, blown on the wind, calling those who can hear to attend.

‘The Mothership and the Fatherland’ represents the beginning of the ritual proper. An echoed, repetitive, tribal drum sound beats at its core, producing a hypnotic, ‘drugged’, calm, trance inducing sensation, reminiscent of deep space travel or descent underwater (to the realm of the Sea Priestess?). Indecipherable messages and hints of subdued glossolalia play in the background.

‘Second Sun Syndrome’ is presented as a somewhat jerky circular dance number, providing a space or place of transition, a kind of elevation that leads to the heart of the rite, which is represented by the lengthy track that follows.

‘The Sea Priestess’ is notable for the humour of its opening lines, which follow an extended, subdued and beautiful musical introduction, consisting of an electronic blending of tinkling and resounding bells and a distant mournful choir:

“In the sea coast of Tibet
Egyptian Aztecs are arriving from Norway
They’ve been varnishing the woodwork
For forty four centuries…”

There follows a description of a temple inhabited by the Sea Priestess, a temple of Atlantis, and a narrative describing the singer’s adventures there, which forms a kind of guided meditation. Everything is built around and locates itself in relation to a central drone. Towards the end of the song we are treated to a form of Mongolian throat singing before the lyric ends as it begins. ‘The Sea Priestess’ is a prime example of Coil’s long form beauty.

‘I Don’t Want to be the One’ is a core song from the Coil repertoire, with lyrics about deepening crisis, reluctant sacrifice, the cursed visionary and impending insanity. The version here lacks the fury of the performance featured on Coil Live Four.

‘MU-UR’ reprises ‘The Mothership and the Fatherland’ at the beginning before proceeding to delight and baffle the ear with the sounds of a music box winding down, a distorted dulcimer, a flute and short electronic signals, which seem to be reminders of the stages of the journey, or the parts of the ritual. Messages emerge from the music, sometimes enigmatic (“Open your mouth/Let the gold coins fall…”), sometimes alarming (“God saved me from drowning/Then kicked me to death on the beach…”) before the tune and the album end with a pulsing and throbbing reprise of the opening of ‘The Mothership and the Fatherland’.


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