Tag Archives: Fields Of The Nephilim

Close, but no (Have A) Cigar

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This is my first encounter with Andy Jackson as a musical artist in his own right, though I’m previously familiar with his work as sound engineer with latterday Pink Floyd and on one of my favourite albums of all time, Fields of the Nephilim’s Elizium. As recordist and de-facto sound designer on the latter, he realised the – progressive – potential of a band whose originality and seriousness of purpose is too often sidelined beside ‘Goth’ clichés revolving around liberal application of flour and swathes of dry ice. Frankly, it’s a fuckin’ masterpiece.

Signal To Noise isn’t that. It’s very much of a piece with Jackson‘s work with latterday Floyd and, to an extent, Fields of the Nephilim, albeit significantly different to either.

Jackson plays all the instruments and sings. His vocal style perhaps most resembles Richard Wright when he takes the lead on Floyd cuts such as Wearing The Inside Out (from The Division Bell) and the latter’s solo album Broken China. Musically, he’s more than competent – sometimes very good. What’s missing is the character, the yearning, tortured depth of a Gilmour or a McCoy.

Much like The Verve‘s Richard Ashcroft, or Johnny Marr, one is left with the impression that his best work is to be found within collaborations – his real skill, with due respect to his day job, is embellishing (or teasing the best from) the ideas of others. STN is good – a propulsive, atmospheric, reverb-drenched thrum that draws the listener in – but it’s not great. What it shares with TER – in contrast to Elizium – is it’s unrelenting, mid paced, monochrome tone. Sure, there are ebbs ond flows; but no gnarls: nothing explosive or grating, such as …At The Gates of Silent Memory… or Submission to shock us out of easy-listening torpor.

There’s surely an element of pastiche/homage which, whilst it perhaps suffers by comparison to the best of Floyd‘s work, acquits itself somewhat favourably next to the warmed-over ramblings of The Endless River. That Jackson conceived these tracks as songs rather than mere instrumental atmospheres is the key factor here. There is a focus that TER lacks, and his voice is possessed of a certain grit that neither Gilmour nor Wright can (could) manage.

As much as I enjoy the album I can’t but help feel that a certain something is missing, if only by a hair.

But therein lies the separation between talent and genius…

 

 

 

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Hold your breath … ’til you feel it begin…

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Further to ‘Lightbulb Moment…’ here’s a taster for the upcoming Edison’s Children album The Final Breath Before November:

The Final Breath is the opening cut from the new album and hints at something darker than In The First Waking Moments, pushing further into ‘gothic’ territory: in particular (singer, Eric) Blackwood‘s breathy vocal is faintly-reminiscent of Fields Of The Nephilim‘s Carl McCoy.  Musically I’m also reminded of the lush, spacious textures (that band) peddled on The Nephilim and Elizium, also by Levitation especially on the moodier second half of Need For Not, and Gazpacho‘s Night conceptual opus. These are albums that build intricate layers of sound into immersive mood trips, whether by alternating post-rock style repetitive riffs with explosions of muscular prog or interpolating evocative tonal details and haunting synth washes.

Pete Trewavas and Eric Blackwood are no slouches in the musicianly stakes, but it was utilizing these kinds of writing and recording ‘tricks’ that made In The Last Waking Moments such a memorable album, rather than in yo’ face showboating. Conversely, whilst neither are technically-proficient singers, their pleasingly-raw delivery and sincerity impart real character into the songs.

Here’s hoping their ‘Final Breath…‘ is nothing of the sort…

This track does it’s job as a teaser well: it gives little away yet leaves an indelible impression. I want to hear more…

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.

On a Mission

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I saw The Mission live for the second time tonight at London’s Brixton Academy. In 1991 they were blown away by their opening act, Irish indie rockers, Power Of Dreams. By all accounts I caught them in a bad patch, with inter-band tensions having already resulted in the departure of guitarist Simon Hinkler and soon to spell a temporary hiatus.

Tonight I attended with no particular expectations. To be honest the main draw was special guests Fields Of The Nephilim and I hadn’t kept up with recent Mish releases. So, WOW! What a revelation. But first…

The Neph were as good as I knew they would be. No matter that singer Carl McCoy is the only remaining original member, the songs stand up for themselves. Shroud and Straight To The Light from last studio outing, Mourning Sun aren’t really up there with the ‘classic’ period but they set a suitably sombre tone for the rest of the set which represents the band’s oeuvre well. Inevitably, favourites like Preacher Man and Psychonaut elicit the most powerful response but it’s good to hear highlights from the underrated Zoon album like Penetration (an atypical thrasher) and the title track [part 3]. It was a greatest hits set but most of their back catalogue fits that description. Genre notwithstanding, The Neph are in a league of their own – just a very good rock band.

I wanted to leave then – for surely nothing could top that?  I nearly did but I’m glad I stayed for at least some of the rest.

Leaving aside the dreaded ‘G’ word, The Mish (and indeed, The Neph) belong to a certain strain of ‘cult’ act. Earnest yet humorous with it, never breaking really big but refusing to lay down and die, they attract the kind of adulation reserved for Premiership footballers and X-Factor hopefuls – even if frontman Wayne Hussey looks more like a geography teacher these days. There’s an almost ritualistic level of devotion that’s easy to ridicule but harder to rationalise. There was a real vibe in the house tonight; real love. That was what made it. I kinda felt like a traitor for leaving.

Beyond The Pale was a storming opener. In the live arena it’s all about the rock and Hussey’s ear for a well-worn cliche barely grates as it can on album. Hands Across The Ocean and Serpent’s Kiss were nearly as good. Garden Of Delights and Severina worked far better live than on their tinny-sounding early recordings and special mention must go to the touring drummer who tore into his parts with obvious gusto. He’s the only non-original member, with Hinkler back on lead guitar and an Alarm-revitalised Craig Adams on bass. I departed to the fading strains of the sublime Butterfly On A Wheel, a very happy man indeed. I would loved to have stayed longer were it not for the fact of work in er, seven and a half hours, but it was time enough for the Mission to restore – in my eyes – their rock’n’roll reputation.