It’s funny how things just fall into place sometimes. The first few Download announcements didn’t exactly get the pulse racing, so when Goth-rock legends Fields of the Nephilim announced they were making one of their infrequent live appearances at the 2011 Wave Gotik Treffen shindig I decided to forgo the delights of standing in a muddy field in Leicestershire for a trip to the more exotic climes of Eastern Germany.
Fields Of The Nephilim were one of the first bands I ever saw live, at a converted roller-disco in Edinburgh waaaaaay back in what is usually referred to by us old blokes as “the day”. Everything was better back in “the day” you see. Anyway.. they created an impression on my young mind then that has endured to this day, and I still rate that show up there with anything I have seen since.
Some things never change though, you can still tell you are at a Nephilim concert by the number of fans outside desperately trying to be Carl McCoy, leather hats, sun goggles and generous clouds of self raising flour. After the pouring rain of the day before and then the hot sun I was surprised that the Agra hall didn’t smell more like a bakery.
For me, a big part of the band’s enduring appeal is that of everything tarred with the Gothic “dark music” label they have stayed truest to their original form and not changed what they do as fashions have come and gone. Their music has a timeless quality, and you’d never see Carl McCoy in a white suit 😉 Their aura is also maintained by the fact that they just don’t play that many gigs, and the ones they do are carefully selected.
Dry ice machines going into overdrive heralded the arrival on stage of the latest incarnation of the band. As Carl McCoy’s hired guns appeared through the mist for the set opener Shroud the atmosphere in the hall was, to use a hideous cliche, electric with expectation.
After that stunning opening the excitement built to a crescendo as the frontman appeared through the thick swirling fog, messianic, arms outstretched. Another track from 2005’s Mourning Sun followed in the perfectly crafted form of Straight To The Light before the welcome inclusion of Penetration, a track from McCoy’s The Nefilim project which he put together after the band fragmented in 1991.
From The Fire sparked one of those weird “nooo, it can’t be 10 years since that album came out” conversations common amongst those of us of advancing age and diminishing memories.
One of the most distinctive intros in rock music followed. If I’m honest I was waiting for this one more than anything else (well apart from Laura but I doubted they’d play that). Moonchild is an instantly recognisable classic which has that unique ability to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and also, coincidentally, send a room batshit. Over the whole weekend I had only really seen Megaherz get the crowd going (and they had “home team” advantage), but the reaction that Moonchild got was something else, something special. This was what it was all about, this was why I was here.
Now, if I’m honest I must admit to a degree of apprehension before the gig. I mean could they really be as good as I remembered…
Nope, not as good…
Staying back in the “classic” (well, pre 1990) days with Love Under Will and For Her Light the Nephilim took us through a masterclass in what gothic rock should be, dark and brooding one moment and soaring heavenwards the next. Whatever the myths surrounding Carl McCoy may be, on stage fronting this band he is something else. Impassive, imperious, enigmatic but still utterly captivating with a voice that hasn’t lost anything with the passing of the years.
It’s strange how us music fans form an attachment to a particular era of a band’s history. It’s usually from the time you first got into them and I have to admit that for the Nephilim it’s stuff from their first 4 albums that most wanted to hear. I mean I’m a big fan of most of their music but I don’t listen to their later work anything like as much as their earlier output, but tonight there was enough of everything to keep everyone in the (undeniably partisan) crowd happy.
The zig-zagging through the bands extensive musical history continued with the amazing New Gold Dawn and Zoon Pt 3 (which I have to grade “better live than I expected it would be”) which kept things moving before the set drew to a close on a massive high with the swirling majesty of Sumerland followed by Psychonaut.
So what about an encore then? Well how about Last Exit For The Lost?
And so, with the job well and truly done the band fade back into the swirling fog having proven once again that in a music scene obsessed with image and scene Fields Of The Nephilim stand apart.
No Preacher Man or Reanimator though 🙁
Massive thanks to Rob and Kirsty at Transcend for their help in organising this unforgettable trip. I owe them both a drink.