Released September, 1988
Situation Two/Beggars Banquet records
"Does it hurt for I want you to remain?"
To any self respecting fan of vintage goth, the entire discography from the original incarnation of Fields of the Nephilim is worth its weight in gold. This band, largely unlike any of their contemporaries (beyond superficial similarities, such as hats and smoke), and indeed unlike any in the world, released a string of commonly regarded quintessential records from 1984 to 1991, comprising 4 now classic albums and a slew of equally good EPs and 12” singles including the gothic rock genre’s arguable peak (admittedly, one of many) in the form of the 12” version of “Psychonaut” (1989), a staggering 9 minute trip of a song. Sure, they kind of looked and vaguely sounded a bit like The Sisters of Mercy early on, but they had a different vibe. Whereas the Sisters’ music was more about reality combined with clever lyrical metaphors, FOTN’s music, image and everything else were steeped heavily in the occult, and mysticism, and bordered on hard rock and classical heavy metal escapism. Their discography defines goth rock as much as the other giants from that era like The Sisters, Bauhaus, and all the rest. When it comes to choosing the best of their classic trio of studio albums I find myself always coming back to one more than any other: 1988’s almost self titled, “The Nephilim”.
Why this album? Well, it seems to fit nicely in the middle of their progression as a band, being the 2nd of the 3 albums. Its heavier, consistently better and more densely layered than 1987’s nonetheless impressive debut “Dawnrazor”, and more energetic, punchy and concise than 1990’s somewhere-far-beyond-this-world Prog-goth epic “Elizium” (which despite having just as much potential to be the best, is let down at times by its own airiness and long winded arrangements). “The Nephilim” fits right in the middle of those albums and displays this band at its absolute best on the album format. Fields of the Nephilim is a band who in their prime, were able to completely transcend the limitations of their genre trappings and create a profound and timeless sonic experience, and this album is a perfect example of that. The classic line-up of McCoy, Yates, Wright, Pettit and Wright had a chemistry that was undeniable, all you need do is listen and hear their unique craft at work. From Tony Pettit’s distinctive bass playing (really, this guy was THE goth bassist, listen to THAT “Psychonaut” bassline or the intro to “Love Under Will” and just try to disagree!), the textural yet driving guitars of Peter Yates and Alex Wright, to Nod Wright’s propulsive drumming topped off with Carl McCoy’s unmistakeable intonations, these four guys were quite a team. There are plenty of live recordings (many bootlegs and an official live album) to prove that they were just as effective on stage too, and a concert film recorded on the tour to promote this album entitled “Forever Remain” is a must watch for any fan.
The atmosphere this album exudes is thick and almost tangible, otherworldly while being warmly familiar. It feels like returning to something sacred, submerged in a warm glow coming from some place that isn’t quite real. At least, that’s the effect it has to my ears. Backing up this unearthly atmosphere is some seriously killer songwriting including such instantly recognisable classics as the endlessly re-playable single “Moonchild” and the climactic “Last Exit For The Lost”, alongside fan favourites like the relentless “Chord of Souls” and the moving “Love Under Will”. “Phobia” sounds almost like Motorhead. All powerful, highly addictive songs. For me though, the real highlight has to be “Celebrate”, a subtle and haunting bass and vocal duet with whispers of guitar to bring shivers to your spine (it was perfected as a slight remix on the “Psychonaut” B-side, yet another reason why you really do need that 12”). The use of atmospheric samples to add layers to the sound and bridge the songs is revelatory in an album of this kind. The imagery inside the sleeve is as compelling and mysterious as the music within it. Carl McCoy’s lyrics have always been largely shrouded in mystic imagery which some might call clichéd or dubious, but they can make for some interesting interpretations for your own situations and his powerful, unique voice drifts over the songs with clarity and purpose.
Overall, this is a highly potent package that is commonly regarded as one of the essential albums of the style. If you want to get a good idea about 80s Goth music and just how good it was, get this album. Its a bewildering thought to me that this stuff was actually popular once upon a time, several years before I was born, in an era where contemporary popular music was vastly superior in (not just) my opinion. FOTN themselves are still around, albeit in a largely unoriginal lineup (the original band fell apart after “Elizium”, nowadays is essentially McCoy and hired hands, though bassist Pettit has been seen playing with them live again recently), producing the occasional inferior yet promising album like 2002’s “Fallen” (incomplete demos from an aborted reunion of the original band at the end of the 90s) and 2005’s underwhelming and self referential “Mourning Sun”. The essential body of work from this band remains in the 80s, created by the original line-up. Now, go and check out, and buy, this masterpiece of an album...and don’t forget “Psychonaut” while you’re at it.