…and the Ambulance Died in his Arms
erformed, recorded, conceived, and titled before Coil founder / vocalist Jhonn Balance’s untimely accidental death in late 2004, this 2003 concert captures Coil in another of their various live incarnations. This recording sees the bearded Balance in his final incarnation as an Edwardian / Gallifreyan gentleman; the greatest Doctor Who we never had. As with much of Coil’s work out of the post-Industrial shadow, he seems somewhat out of time, coming across variously as scrambled, disassociated but always polite and erudite. He even takes time out to offer sensible advice on jam making before varispeeding his own voice and intoning word associations and eerie rhymes on the set’s closing track.
When Balance comments at the crowd’s request for more volume that “excess makes the heart grow fonder” he makes a valid point. As much as the band were / are loved for their music, his taste for altered states sometimes made him a poster boy for those who get their vicarious thrills through others’ cultural, chemical, and societal barrier testing. As with many artists’ posthumous releases, …and the Ambulance Died in his arms is invested with sadness—the darker, lonelier sections of sound seemingly portentous of his early passing. Balance’s parting comment (“Enjoy the rest of the day”) may have been a polite farewell from the stage at the time; now it’s advice for life.
Playing a set of (at this time still) unreleased songs, with the exception of closer “The Dreamer is Still Asleep,” Coil unfurl a dark phosphorus sound which slips insect chatter amongst the drones. Along with a few other tracks “Snow Falls into Military Temples,” suffers from an unwelcome overexposure of intrusive xylophone, but retains a heavy atmosphere with unsteady waves despite the boneshaker melodies. The crash and clatter of Sleazy and Thighpaulsandra’s digital banging provides an unstable bed for Balance’s wordless invocations which are part Knights of Nee part Samoan Rugby player part Diamanda Galás yelping. Where other vocalists search and find their voice Balance seemed happier investigating his voice, remaining open to experience and other less conservative singing styles. The piece’s title merges with the sonic static like a snow drift across the mind’s eye creating images of decayed crumbling armed forces bunkers.
The John Carpenter themed instrumental introduction piece “Triple Sun Introduction” is revisited with a vocal version entitled “Triple Sons And The One You Bury” which sounds a lot warmer as a result. The release’s centrepiece, however, is the sinister “A Slip in the Marylebone Road” which twists the tale of a fall in the street into the threads of a descent into mental illness. The building narrative progresses through ill-omened and distorted imagery of horses ill in a hospital and gaping splits in reality. The music reflects this loosening grip on the existing world as it’s pulled and pixelated along struggling to maintain the circling beat pattern and mini-pulses.
With this live performance Coil manage and manipulate their environment, in this case a cheesy holiday camp setting, fashioning their own rip in reality for over an hour. Since you won’t be catching them live again, this is a must-have document.
Reviewed by: Scott McKeating
Reviewed on: 2005-04-18