Since splintering away from The Ocean in 2012, the three core members of Coilguns didn’t just form a band, but cultivate their own ecosystem. They have developed a large network of interconnected projects, featuring various combinations of the three and other, mostly Swiss, musicians. In turn, these projects make their way out into the world through guitarist Jona Nido’s Hummus Records label. Depending on how you arrange this network, Coilguns could be considered either the central nexus point or the vanguard of the collective.
Watchwinders is the third full-length Coilguns album, with roughly another albums worth of material having been released across a number of EPs, including a couple of splits (with Abraham and NVRVD respectively). The biggest change in the Coilguns camp since the second album has been the recruitment of fourth member Donatien Thievent, a multi-instrumentalist/backing vocalist brought in to help the band bring their newer songs to the stage, and to open new avenues of sonic exploration, especially in that live context.
Coilguns employed the same basic approach to the writing and recording process as they did with its predecessor, Millennials, which was released in early 2018, despite being recorded back in 2016. In keeping with the band’s spontaneous spirit, they sequester themselves away from the world for a month with nothing more than their instruments and an empty hard drive, and emerge with a completed record. There’s no anguished slaving over a laptop for months to dial in an absolutely perfect guitar tone or to precisely position the snare in the mix – it will be what it will be. That’s pretty punk rock.
Despite using this same approach (or maybe even because of it) it becomes very clear very quickly that Watchwinders is a very different beast to Millennials. Perhaps closer in tone to the bands earliest EPs, there are fewer of the longer, portentous and somewhat drone-like brooding experimentations that characterised Millennials, and more high-octane, white-knuckle barnstormers, careening along like runaway rollercoaster cars. Watchwinders still carries a certain air of danger, it’s more the type of danger that comes running at you with a melee weapon than Millennials, which had a more sinister, unsettling atmosphere.
Watchwinders is largely characterised by raging hardcore riffs given a sludgy twist by Jona’s eight string guitars, Luc Hess’ thrilling percussive mixture of D-beat and jazz spasms, topped off with Louis Jucker’s wide-ranging vocal acrobatics – sometimes a whisper, sometimes a babble, sometimes a ferocious bellow. There are still moments where they take their collective foot off the gas, but they are generally more concise and focussed than they have been in the past
The critical factor that makes Coilguns’ rather unorthodox approach so successful is the obvious strength of the musical connections between these three – and now four – musicians. Having played together for so long and in such a variety of contexts has clearly given them a virtually telepathic connection. The addition of Donatien is perfectly in keeping with their free-wheeling philosophy, and he is at liberty to add synths, percussion, vocals or guitars as the situation demands, giving the songs are wide-ranging variety of textures.
The fact that Watchwinders was written and recorded in a single, compressed period of time means that the spontaneity and vitality of a talented and connected group of musicians is seared into the songs. The songs on this album have a shared identity which is very separate and distinct to Millenials, but it is still unmistakably Coilguns. It also feels like the most cohesive and consistent album to date, with the added bonus that the songs are guaranteed to generate all manner of chaos when the band take them to the stage.
With Watchwinders, Coilguns have clearly matured, and the decision to expand the line-up has paid handsome dividends. They are a fascinating collision of high-minded, cryptic artfulness, pure knuckle-dragging brute force and a hulking great shot of adrenaline. Watchwinders is a practically essential listen for any fans of progressive hardcore.
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Watchwinders released on October 25th. You can grab it from the Bandcamp page above.