Fresh from the vault (1)

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I have lots of music at home. My days of collecting vinyl are long gone, which is just as well since my CD collection encroaches upon this diminutive one-room studio flat more than I would like. I took 100+ discs across the road to the charity shop a couple weeks back (plus a similar number of paperbacks) and I swear you can hardly tell.

The sane side of my brain suggests I save all the music I like onto the pc and ditch the discs for good, but sanity be damned I’m just too attatched. I’m one of the dying(?) breed who just loves the physical product. I haven’t, unsurprisingly, considered buying a Kindle either.

Healthy to have a clearout once in a while, though. Not only to weed out the chaff, but to renew one’s appreciation for the golden, sun-ripened wheat. In the run up to The Mission gig I attended last weekend I dug out a few albums to refresh my memory that I might better be able to holler tunelessly along. I didn’t get very far. The Mission’s albums tend to be patchy at best. Better by far is the back catalogue of their special guest act Fields Of The Nephilim, and special mention deserves to be made of their 1990 swansong, Elizium.

Aficianados (the term does scant justice to the insanely devoted mob that dance to the tune of singer Carl McCoy’s pipe) will perhaps already be bristling. Much post-Elizium material has been released, some of it officially but this album is the last time that the ‘classic’ line-up of the band pulled together and rocked transcendent under the Fields… moniker. McCoy was always the heart and soul of The Nephs but the chemistry between Tony Pettitt (bass), Paul Wright (guitar), Alexander “Nod” Wright (drums) and Peter Yates (guitar) produced some extraordinary results over the course of three albums. If their debut long-player ‘Dawnrazor’ (1987) was representative of the Darkwave sound (think New Wave and, er, dark) Elizium was heading off into prog territory.

It’s song structure resembles something from the early ’70s classic Yes period – the eight listed tracks are basically four weighty, extended workouts subdivided into manageable chunks. Book-ended by two – ludicrously-titled – fifteen-minute suites, it further extended the epic, atmospheric explorations begun on The Nephilim and the Psychonaut singles. ‘(Dead But Dreaming)/For Her Light/At The Gates Of Silent Memory/(Paradise Regained)’ is an atmospheric masterpiece, moving from the spooky chords of the intro, through the surprisingly hooky (first single) ‘For Her Light’, into a positively Floydian expanse of Crowley samples, soaring guitar and crashing percussion (‘…Silent Memory’) before ‘Paradise…’ picks up the pace again and draws the suite to a close in a maelstrom of riffs. My only minor quibble is the fade-out ending – a pet hate of mine – and the live rendition featured on Earth Inferno (see below) is altogether more satisfactory.
‘Submission’ is something of a departure for The Neph – originally heard in stripped-down, instrumental form as a b-side on album trailer ’For Her Light’ it’s an expansive mood-piece, distinguished by squalling solos from Wright and Yates. As ever with Neph records, Nod Wright’s percussive skills underpin proceedings: he’s on a par with The Floyd’s Nick Mason or Marillion’s Ian Mosley in this repect – rock solid and unfussy percussion – though he’s arguably more precise than either. McCoy’s vocal is spoken, in contrast to his more usual delivery, though the growl remains as distinctive as ever.
‘Sumerland’ follows on in the hypnotic, industrial vibe of the ‘Psychonaut’ single – building to a breathy climax. In many ways it’s the closest thing to previous Neph outings, though no less effective for all that.
‘Wail Of Sumer/And There Will Your Heart Be Also…’ is a positively transcendental experience, showing mastery of mood over the album’s final thirteen minutes. Lush samples usher the listener into a deceptively chilled-out soundscape, overlaid with a restrained, crooning vocal from McCoy.

It’s an overblown yet sublime album, recorded by a band at the peak of their musical powers wth musical ideas above the station of Gothic Rock, and a fitting epitaph for the definitive Nephilim line-up. After five solid years of recording and touring the band had become skilled players and arrangers, and the peculiar theatrics – dust, dry ice and cowboy costumes – and equally Byzantine lyrical preoccupations – the Cthulhu Mythos, the Sumerian religion, Chaos magic and the works of Aleister Crowley – no longer came across as mere novelty. The band was tight and McCoy had drawn his obsessions together into a vision that was, if not coherent then certainly compelling. Furthermore, they’d recruited Pink Floys associate Andy Jackson to record and co-produce the album, resulting in a lush, textured sonic pallette not dissimilar to that band’s late ’80s – mid ’90s recordings.

British rock in the ’90s was to become a cool, detatched animal in contrast to the glam and theatrics revived in the ’80s. This is an album that plays the hand of excess not only impresses with its histrionic audacity but remains a rich, moving listening experience. A one-off album from a one-off band.

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3 responses »

  1. Cool read dude. I have the same problem with the CDs lying everywhere, and even though they are all backed up in my computer I could never get rid of them. I did make a huge mistake about 6 years ago where I tossed the jewel cases and put about 500 CDs into a CD book for transportation purposes, whatever what’s done is done. I got a Kindle as a gift last Christmas, it’s pretty cool and comfortable to read, but for some reason I keep reverting back to good ol’ paperbacks.
    I’m really digging the Fields of Nephilim band, that there is some damn fine music. I went and listened to some more of their stuff on youtube and will be picking an album up by them on my next Amazon shopping spree. Would you say Elizium would be the best one to get and start off with?

    • All their albums are worth checking out, with the notable exception of ‘Fallen’ which is a half-baked compilation of demos and new mixes released unofficially by their old record label, Jungle. ‘Elizium’ is my favourite but with you being a metal fan I’d also recommend ‘Zoon’ (released as ‘Nefilim’ )which is a harder edged take on their sound and nearly as good imo. Those would be first on my list. Also the non-album, ‘Psychonaut’ single is a solid gold fan fave.

      • Thanks dude! Zoon and Eliziium are added to my next purchase(they’re nice and cheap too!!!). I’ve been previewing Zoon on Youtube and I’m certainly digging it, so far it reminds me of a dreamlike pre-Roots Sepultura.

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