I’ve never been much of a post and/or alt-rock guy, but the expertly crafted promo blurb for unsung U.K. act Final Coil captured my interest enough to review their 2017 debut, Persistence of Memory. It was an engaging little album too, mixing post-rock, restrained prog and grunge for a fairly unique sound. The album had its flaws, but I sensed a band that could go on to bigger things. Now a mere year and a half later, their sophomore effort The World We Left Behind for Others arrives with little fanfare, but that same sense of potential and promise. This time the band delivers a dark concept album about a WWII veteran suffering from PTSD and the toll his illness takes on his wife, their marriage, and ultimately, their lives. The band uses this grim unifying theme to expand their alt-rock sound, weaving in prog, stoner rock and the occasional doom influence for a broader musical palate than they displayed on their debut. The foundational element of Final Coil‘s sound is still Tool, but there’s a Katatonia influence too, as well as recurring references to Kyuss and sundry 90s alternative acts like Helmet. This all makes for a less diverse and dynamic listen than you might expect in actual practice, but the band’s approach is still an interesting one.
After a sullen introduction, “The Last Battle” reintroduces us to the Final Coil template which revolves around heavy groove riffs paired with melancholy harmonies, a big bass presence and the somewhat Maynard Keenan-esque vocals of Phil Stiles. The song sounds like a more proggy Tool one minute, then something skulking out of Seattle circa 1992 the next. At certain points, the riffs morph into Kyuss-like desert rock and back to mopey grooves again. It’s a good song with sharp moments, but it feels like something holds it back from taking that next big step forward. The 7-plus minutes of “Scattered Dust” offer a hearty goulash of downbeat, droning vocals and moody guitar/bass noodling, with only occasional flashes of urgency and aggression. The band makes this style work, and it remains engaging though it runs too long. When things kick up a notch as on “Empty Handed,” they find an especially sweet spot, sounding like a collaboration between Tool and Kyuss after they attended a mutual acquaintance’s wake. It’s definitely not upbeat but it catches and holds your attention.
The high point is penultimate cut “Imaginary Trip,” where the band opens things way up for a spacey, trippy but resolutely sad number, drifting from A Swarm of the Sun funeral hymns to extended Pink Floyd-like moody guitar jams. The closing title track is something altogether different, amounting to over ten minutes of Tool-flavored doom metal with heavier than usual riffs and nods to Katatonia and Ghost Brigade. It’s definitely overlong, but successfully engaging.
For all the band’s talent and interesting ideas, some of the same issues that haunted the debut arise here as well. They still have a penchant for repeating refrains to the point of tedium, and their writing can still tend toward the monotonous, with tracks like “Convicted by the Right” and “…And I’ll Leave” over-recycling ideas. They also struggle to self-edit at crucial moments. The biggest issue however remains Phil Stiles’ vocals. His voice isn’t objectionable, but he has a limited range and his delivery is entirely based around a low tenor with little variation in urgency or exuberance. This lends a droning affect to his vocals that can wear on you over time. As the album is an hour in length, that becomes a sizable issue, and though intended to be heard in one sitting, the combination of problems makes that a big ask.
This is a shame because The World We Left has a lot going for it. There’s a collection of cool moods and textures to be found here, and it plays fairly well as a whole if you’re patient and determined. I enjoy a lot of the moody, bleak guitar-work Stiles and Richard Awdry slather the album with, and their blend of minimalist riffs and haunting harmonies really shines, as do the production and mix. The bass-work by Jola Stiles is quite impressive as well, and plays a big part in their overall sound. Improve the vocals and trim things down and you have a considerable piece of dark art right here.
The World We Left Behind for Others isn’t the kind of album you can spin once and get a handle on. It’s a fairly demanding listen with moments of sincere emotion to be found, even though the overall package gets dragged down by innate flaws.1 I still feel Final Coil have a monster album lurking somewhere within them, but this isn’t it, despite a good concept and generally good execution. It’s still well worth hearing though. It’s a sneaky grower, and it may captivate fans of post/alt-rock. Keep grinding, guys (and girl).