It is hard to imagine a more revered gothic rock act, a longer running force of darkness, or a more influential underground act than Fileds Of The Nephilim. Formed back in 1984, the Nephilim share much in common with ‘Disintergration’-era Cure, offering up reverb drenched guitar lines and a frozen atmosphere, but the key difference is that while the Cure were content to meander, lost in their own desolation, Fields of the Nephilim’s rage was cut from stronger cloth, the guitars moving from shimmering darkness to raging excess on a knife edge, whilst Carl McCoy’s vocals embodied menace rather than misery. This is demonstrated clearly on this massive 2 CD and DVD set entitled ‘ceromonies’ and released by EMI on March 19th (new date) 2012.
Although we are, sadly, unable to comment on the DVD portion of the album, ‘ceromonies’ is a package that oozes quality. A stunning 17 track exploration of the band’s illustrious back catalogue, the mixing and mastering was clearly a lengthy and expensive process because the sound quality far outstrips that of normal live concerts. Opening with the rippling menace and growled samples of ‘shroud’ is the perfect showcase as the drums pile in and the keyboards swirl, it is a fine example of the sonic clarity of the mix and an awe-inspiring set opener that draws the audience fully into the experience that is a Fields of the Nephilim show. It’s a tense exercise in dynamics, the song building as guitars come roaring in, building a solid wall of sound that threatens to overwhelm before the band pull back from the brink for a flawless rendition of ‘straight to the light’. As the band rages around him, it is Carl McCoy who typically attracts attention, his world-weary tones combining menace and wisdom like some kind of blackened Tom Waits, peering out from behind the veil of the apocalypse and seeing only desolation and carnage before him. It’s a remarkable performance from an artist who has influenced more than most, and the band sound as ferociously tight as you might expect. Chiming bells ring out at the start of ‘from the fire’ before John Carter’s throbbing bass rings out, claiming centre stage until the guitars combine to blaze a new path for the track. It is here that you can see the Nephilim’s influence on so many bands from Paradise Lost to Type O Negative with the delicate balance of menace and melody perfectly retained.
If ‘Ceromonies’ does, as Carl hopes, mark the end of one phase of Fields of the Nephilim, then it is the perfect epitaph. The ominous brooding of the first three tracks is quickly supplanted, on track 4 (‘penetration’) by a searing, visceral attack on the senses that sees the band unleash a ruinously metal attack on an audience who had been cleverly lulled into a sense of false security. With the mix providing a crushing weight to the riffs and the drums propelling the track along with a mechanistic fury it’s a chance to break out of the velveteen reverie the band have ensnared you in before plunging into the softer ‘shine’ which is equal parts A perfect circle and Joy Division. The rarely heard ‘wail of summer’ appears from behind the cloud of dry-ice induced fog and proves once more to be a delicately crafted work that showcases a mildly progressive edge to the Nephilim’s frequently complex work. It’s a rare treat for fans, many of whom may never have heard this in the live environment, and as it drifts around you it’s hard not to contemplate the countless bands influenced by the band’s remarkable music. As the music segues gently into ‘And there will your heart be also’ you can hear, in the background, the applause of the audience as they realise the band has pulled off a blinding manoeuvre that highlights the band’s musical subtlety and expansive ambition. The first disc finishes with the pounding paranoia of ‘trees come down’ and the bass-led horror show of ‘psychonaut’ – both tracks providing a fine close to proceedings.
CD 2 is no less mesmerising with ‘harmonica man’ arising out of a sea of fog and noise that comes across like a mix between The Orb and Metallica; elegant and mystical it leads straight to ‘preacher man’ – a chiming, melancholic mix that swirls and eddies around the listener with its folk-tinged guitar line and bass-heavy percussive attack. ‘Moonchild’ is a gravel-throated, fast paced and hypnotic number that stands at odds with ‘requiem – a slow burning musical gem that takes several minutes before vocals are even introduced. At seven minutes it is a lengthy, emotionally draining work and so it is good that the band opt to follow it with the heavy, progressive ‘xiberia’ which breaks the sombre mood created by its predecessor. Another hard rocker follows in the form of ‘zoon (wakeworld)’ with the band sounding utterly vital thanks to the razor sharp guitars and Carl’s gritty voice tearing straight across the surface of the band’s metallic fury. One of the true highlights of the album, however, appears next in the form of ‘mourning sun’ which is epic in length and every bit as dusty and desiccated as its creator’s voice. A stunning rendition perfectly captured, no further evidence than this one track is needed if you wished to demonstrate the importance of Fields of the Nephilim to the uninitiated. ‘Celebrate’ closes the album and as the audiences handclaps get frantic, a roar greets the return of the band to the stage who proceed to unleash one last devastatingly weighty missive to a crowd who would crawl on hands and knees through broken glass to hear more. Such is the power of the band that even on CD they sound as vital and as unique as any band you’re likely to hear this year.
Of course ‘ceromonies’ is not just about the CD – it is a total live experience with the basic package augmented by a full-length DVD of the show which allows the viewer to see the band as up close and personal as one could ever wish for. Sadly the DVD itself was not available for review, but the band have released ‘Penetration’ as a stand-alone video, giving readers the chance to judge for themselves the quality of what’s on offer. For true fans there is also a collector’s box which contains the CD, DVD, vinyl pressing and random offerings all within a wooden box, which will undoubtedly have the faithful selling off their homes in anticipation.
Overall one can’t argue with the sheer quality of ‘ceromonies’. Overseen personally by the band and mixed to perfection, it is a powerful and adrenalin-charged performance of one of rock’s most enduring catalogues. For the band’s loyal following this is, of course, essential; but even for the uninitiated this is a welcome and perfectly crafted introduction to a band whose work clearly belongs on the shelves of any self-respecting hard rock fan. Long may Fields of the Nephilim run…