Fields of the Nephilim are one of those bands that I thought I’d never get to see live. I first started to listen to their music around 1991, just after they’d split up. Since then there have been a few abortive attempts to revive them and a large number of ever fragmenting spin off bands, but it’s only in the last couple of years that it’s looked like one of these attempts might actually succeed. Of course, by this point there’s only one original member of the band left. Their most recent album at the time of writing, “Mourning Sun” (2005), was performed by singer Carl McCoy and what he refers to as “Ghost Musicians”. For the touring band, everyone else is new.
So when I was presented with an opportunity to go to one of these two shows (only their second and third UK gigs since the last album, if I recall correctly), I leapt at the chance. I’ll tell you now, I was not dissapointed. The queue outside the venue for Sunday’s gig, which was named “Ad Vitam” in a typically occult manner, seemed oddly subdued. It was quite a curious experience, seeing everyone around me dressed in either their trad-goth finery or the band’s signature goth cowboy look… whilst I was there in black combats and a black nepalese shirt.
I used to be able to pull off the goth look, and to be honest, I could probably still give a reasonable showing in the Nephilim look, but on short notice I just didn’t have the wardrobe for it. Besides, in the baking sun I didn’t really fancy having to lug around a heavy, weathered leather duster, or even wear the multiple layers that make the look work.
Support Act and Venue
When the doors opened, it became apparent that people who’d been for the previous night’s “Ad Mortem” gig knew that there would be an hour and a half between the doors opening and even the support act coming on. So there was a fair bit of standing around to do. Since I’ve never been particularly inclined towards throwing myself around at a gig (I’d call it dancing, but for me that’d be a real stretch), I aimed for my usual gig spot… as close to the sound or light desk as possible. There I lurked until “[url=”http://www.myspace.com/pythiamusic”]Pythia[/url]”, the support band, appeared on stage.
I’m not going to dwell on them particularly much – they were always going to be outclassed as a support act for Fields of the Nephilim, especially as they’re a bit of an odd match. They were reasonable, if not to my taste and a little derivative (Nightwish called – they want their act back). What I will say in their favour was that they had good stage presence and didn’t fall into the usual support band slot of performing like they’d been nailed to their spots on the stage. (as an aside, I’m also amused by their [url=”http://www.myspace.com/pythiamusic”]MySpace page[/url], simply by the band member photos down the left hand side.)
Once they left the stage, the venue started to get more and more crowded, and two things became apparent to me. One: Fields of the Nephilim fans are, on average, unnaturally tall. Two: The stage at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire is too low. It was rapidly becoming clear that I wasn’t going to have the best of views, which did make me wonder if perhaps I should have headed for the front after all. It seems that I’ve become too used to other venues where the view is at least passable throughout.
A Powerful Opening
It started quite quietly and quite subtly. I think a fair few people missed the first, plainitve cry from a distant harmonica, but when the rest of the audience picked up in sudden anticipation they certainly heard the second. Using samples from Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack from “Once Upon A Time In The West” ([url=”http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064116/”]IMDB[/url]), The Harmonica Man is one of the most recognisable introductions you could ask for, and it immediately sets the tone for the gig. It immediately builds audience anticipation – they’re starting with a classic opening. Real, classic nephilim. The opening from their first album, in fact, which immediately puts to rest the idea that the band would only be playing newer material.
The fact that it lead straight into the instantly recognizable drumbeat of Preacherman practically sent the crowd into a frenzy. This is pure blooded goth-rock stomp, and it cements this gig as something special. At this point, my view of the bad isn’t too bad, provided I don’t want to see anything below the level of their chests… but the staging and lighting are good, so I don’t mind. I also know that my view is about to get worse. You see, where other bands have stage-divers, crowd-surfers and the like, Fields of the Nephilim have a long standing tradition of human pyramids.
Sure enough, it’s part way through Preacherman that they begin to form. Nothing serious yet – just a couple of people held up with their shins at chest height. You’d think that this would detract from the gig, particularly as it block my already poor view of the stage… but it actually does the exact opposite. It changes the atmosphere from one of passive entertainment into something special – the audience are as much a part of the event as the band on stage are. It sounds incredibly hackneyed, but seeing members of the audience lofted up into the air, stripped to the waist and just basking the music really is something special. In keeping with the band’s occult themes, the pyramids are like some form of ecstatic ritual for the audience. It’s powerful to watch and I have no doubt that it’s something even more for those involved.
Next, the band moved on to From The Fire, a song from what’s best described as an awkward period in their history. From the album “Fallen”, the outcome of an abortive reformation of several original members. The album was largely made up unfinished rough-cuts from the studio, although it does seem that this song was one of the more finished pieces. Here’s it really works, and it’s clearly had time to settle and become a much stronger track than it was on the album.
The song that followed it technically isn’t a Fields of the Nephilim song. Penetration is taken from Zoon, the album released by Nefilim – the band Carl McCoy formed after Fields originally split up. That said, it continues the ideas and feel, even if the musical style is very, very different. A much more brutal song from an album that’s often dismissed by fans of the original band. Personally, I quite like a lot of it… just for different reasons. The version they played here was quite different to that on the album – driven a lot more by a pounding bassline that really give it the kick it needs.
Classics, Old and New
Then we’re treated to Moonchild. Not only one of the band’s classic songs, but a personal favourite of mine as well. Again, the pyramids spring up, getting a little further each time. I think it was around here that I saw the first attempt at a third level. This attempt never quite made it, alas. Instead it broke apart and became several smaller pyramids. This was followed by Requiem XIII 33 and Xiberia, both from “Mourning Sun”. One slow, atmospheric song and one heavy, throbbing beast of a song. With any other band it would be strange that these two would sit together so well, but this kind of versatility is one of the things that make Fields of the Nephilim so memorable.
Next up was another pair of tracks, one classic and one rare treat. Dawnrazor followed immediately by The Sequel. Dawnrazor is, as far as I can tell, a staple of Fields of the Nephilim gigs. The Sequel, however, is rarely played live at all – which is a crying shame because it’s a fantastic song, and it was great to hear it belted out here. Musically it’s an oddly jaunty song, but the lyrics manage to bring across a message that mixes hope with menace.
Just when I thoug
ht it couldn’t get any better I hear yet another distinctive opening – the plaintive guitar solo that is the introduction to The Watchmen, another of my favourite songs. It’s another classic, and as ever, the crowd goes more than a little crazy when it steps up a gear after the first verse. Pyramids are still springing up all over the place, but all of a sudden there’s a frenzy of them.
End of the Set
It made sense to have the last song of the set be one of the newer songs, and they couldn’t have picked a better one than the fantastically triumphant “Mourning Sun”. I think it was around now that the successful three layer pyramid appeared, and it was a sight to behold with the guy up on the top throwing his arms wide and letting the atmosphere wash over him. Usually it’s a problem when you can’t see a thing at a gig, but for this one I really didn’t care – it was a fantastic gig anyway.
Unlike many bands, they made us wait quite a long time between main set and encore. Not quite long enough to doubt that there’d be one, but long enough that it was definately distinct from the main set. Many bands walk off stage and then thirty seconds later they’re playing again. The encore started off with another Nefilim song – Zoon III / Wakeworld, which was always one of the songs I’ve liked more from Zoon.
That was followed up by Last Exit For The Lost. I’ve never been a huge fan of Last Exit… or more accurately, I’m a fan of the last third of the song, when it picks up the pace and becomes a bit less dirgelike. Perhaps it was just the crowd’s enthusiasm getting to me, but this time around I even enjoyed the first part of the song. I’d have been happy if the gig had ended here, as the end of Last Exit… is a fantastic way to end a gig.
But that wasn’t the end.
The second encore brought us Celebrate. In some ways it’s an odd one to end on, being a resolutely downbeat song, but it’s also a very powerful one, expecially performed as it was here. It’s also a song about new beginnings. I’m hoping this is a new beginning for the band, and wont turn out to be another brief reappearance before another messy implosion. The gig came to a close with the band leaving the stage as the coda of the “Unsealed” version of the song was played over the PA.
Overall, this was a hugely enjoyable gig. I’d given up hope of ever seeing Fields of the Nephilim play live, and even though this is a very different band to the classic lineup, the new musicians have really stepped up and do the songs justice. I’m very much looking forward to hearing more from them. I’ll even forgive them for playing nothing at all from “Elizium”.