Fields of the Nephilim is the creation of vocalist and frontman Carl McCoy, a seeker of the greater truth, who sprang from humble beginnings in south London. Brought up in a religious environment, Carl became familiar with the stories of the Watchers and Nephilim at a very early age. Unquestionably, this influenced his decision to pursue a creative career in art and music which embraced the world of the occult and portrayed the apocalyptic climate of the American Wild West, typified by Spaghetti Westerns such as those of Italian film director Sergio Leone.
Not only did America’s discordant past inspire Fields of the Nephilim‘s emerging brand of dark aural delights – expressed in tracks such as ‘Trees come down’, ‘Power’, ‘Preacher Man’ and ‘Dawnrazor’ – but it also helped define the band’s unique appearance, both on and off stage. Wide-brimmed hats, long duster coats and cowboy boots, usually black and smothered in white flour as a substitute for dust, became its trademark in a world where designer label clothes were fast becoming the street style of the era. Fields of the Nephilim‘s distinctive appearance, meant that they quickly became noticed by the music world, ensuring a growing fascination that enabled the band to achieve moderate success with their early singles and develop a loyal fan-base throughout Europe.
Little by little that success was built upon until the release in 1987 of their single ‘Blue Water’, which with its chaotic video propelled it into the bottom reaches of the UK pop chart. This was followed in 1988 with the release of the band’s seminal classic ‘Moonchild’, named after a magical novel by controversial English occultist Aleister Crowley. It rocketed into the charts at number 28, forcing TOP OF THE POPS to play its heavily-occult inspired video. It shocked the nation, but also helped propel Fields of the Nephilim into the realm of a major league rock band.
The sequel, ‘Psychonaut’, a title inspired by a magical grimoire by chaos magician Pete Carroll, was even more shocking. Although it received next to no national airplay in Britain (save for the concerted efforts of liberal Radio One DJ Annie Nightingale), it found its way into the charts at number 35, allowing a limited exposure to its mind-altering, Grainy video which featured a Sioux sundance ritual in which the candidate is hurled up into the air by claw-hooks affixed to his bare chest. Interspersed between its constantly shifting scenes, cut up in a style similar to news reels of the Edwardian era, were brief, almost subliminal flashes of war and destruction in the Middle East, as well as Christian religious images, which blended to express an apocalyptic vision of coming times.
Then there was the release of the band’s uncompromising albums, including the awe-inspiring ‘Elizium’, released by Beggars Banquet in 1990. It remains arguably one of The Nephilim‘s most seminal soundscapes to date, invoking the energy of the Watchers and Nephilim and acknowledging them as the gods and demons of a mountain-like heaven towering above the Fertile Crescent, on which the civilisations of Sumer and Babylon evolved. Two highly evocative tracks, ‘For her light’ and ‘Sumerland’, appeared as singles, and each shared in chart success despite, once again, virtually no airplay on national radio.
Fields of the Nephilim‘s remarkable success story was aided perhaps by the manifestation among global youth culture during the late 1980s and early 1990s of all things black and gothic. Indeed, the band’s deep, dusky music style became the soundtrack of their lives. The band’s distinctive T-shirts and sweat shirts, adorned with occult-influenced designs, were virtually signs of recognition among many thousands of fans with a like mind. Furthermore, the Nephilim’s evocative soundscapes unquestionably inspired several talented people in their own particular lines of interest.
Among those who might credit The Nephilim’s music for their own creativity include Richard Stanley, the writer and producer of science fantasy films such as ‘Hardware‘, which featured Carl McCoy‘s acting debut as the ‘zone tripper’. Writers of graphics novels who have admitted listening to Nephilim music include Warren Ellis – the main character of his HELLSTORM stories, ‘Daimon Hellstorm’, being based directly on Carl’s enigmatic persona, on and off stage. Other graphic novels such as FAUST, LOVE OF THE DAMNED and GUNFIGHTERS FROM HELL, all with artwork by Tim and Joe Vigil, as well as their ‘Macabre Erotica Series’, published by Rebel Studios, owe a debt to The Nephilim, as do some of the Watcher-inspired works by Storm Constantine. Her Grigori Trilogy (Grigori is Latin for Watchers) pays its respect to the music of The Nephilim.
In non-fiction, ancient mystery writer and psychic questing pioneer Andrew Collins acknowledges enveloping himself in The Nephilim‘s spectral soundscape during the writing of his scholarly work FROM THE ASHES OF ANGELS, published in 1996. It tells the story of the origins, history and latter-day influences of the Watchers and Nephilim of Enochian tradition. He concludes that they were flesh and blood beings who once walked the earth and initiated the Neolithic revolution that culminated with the creation of the world’s first civilisations.
In the mid 1990s that which was Fields of the Nephilim underwent necessary transformations. With changes in the band’s line-up – leaving Carl McCoy as its sole full time member – and a shortening of its name to, simply. ‘The Nefilim‘, it now created an aural assault on the senses with the release in 1996 of its morphogenic offering entitled ‘Zoon‘, a deep, dark industrial album tainted by the death metal genre of music. It was a statement of great intent, a transition, that enabled Carl to conquer oblivion, and pass beyond that world into the one that faces the band today.
The Nephilim continue to create their uncompromising form of visual and aural art. Prepare yourself to continue what has become a way of life to countless followers of the fallen faith with the scheduled release of new material, as well as announcements regarding a more adventurous audio-visual project.
With the advent of the official Nephilim website all those who aspire towards the magical potency of the band’s uncompromising music can now feast on the knowledge and joy with which it comes. For it serves to spread the mission not only of its creative world in music, art and animation, but also that of its sources, inspirations and connections. For the Nephilim now look forward to a long reign that might take moments to experience but lifetimes to fulfill.
Gehenna to Elizium – Fields of the Nephilim
1985-1991(Written for KIA #1, October 1991, by Paula O’Keefe
( (c) copyright 1999- by Paula O’Keefe)
“No one really knows that much about the Nephilim, it’s a mysterious thing. We added “Fields”, which is to suggest magnetic fields, pulling in toward the Nephilim, not green pastures.”
–Carl McCoy on USA Network’s “Night Flight”, 1988
–I start by saying so much of this is guesswork and speculation: I realize “seems to be about” isn’t much good. (Then again, people have done yards of text on R.E.M. with not much more than that to go on.) We’ve all listened as hard as we can and here – in all its mystery, power and beauty – is what I believe I’ve heard.
Fields of the Nephilim defined themselves from the first as a guitar band and they’ve never been swayed by fads or trends. Worldbeat, acid house, sampling, Manchester pop have all come and gone unnoticed by the alchemist Nephilim, intent upon their dark focus, refining and purifying the primal foundation of guitar-and-drums. Not for them the too-hip soundbites of a PWEI or a Deee-lite. Technology has been allowed in – synthesizers appeared as far back as Dawnrazor- but only to illuminate and elaborate upon that foundation. And that foundation’s sound, built on dense, intricate layers of guitar that simply demand more room, pushing out the walls. Even in the early work with its basic rock’n’roll kick there is an echoing, rolling feel of distance and space, of an endless landscape and a vast horizon. (The wind blows, and the fashionable and temporary close the door and hurry back down the corridor to their playroom, frightened by the black sky and the close, burning stars…)
–And that’s all that’s immediately evident, which is what makes it a mystery, no? (I still can’t honestly say I know what, say, Dawnrazor or Blue Water is about.) Dark, cryptic, ominous, about the most one can say of the early songs with any certainty is that whatever’s happening in them is neither positive nor fun. Probably the funniest document in Neph history to date is their first American press release, wherein some unlucky flack armed with a couple of stills, the first LP and no guidance whatever tries to describe the FotN experience to an audience with even less suss. After some half-decent atmospheric paragraphs about clicking spurs and clouds of smoke the poor soul finally takes a few pokes at the record, with results on the order of “This (Volcane) is the one in which Mr. Evil really gives it to Mr. Good…”
The 1985 EP Returning To Gehenna, for all its relative simplicity, is distinctively Nephilim and contains some fine material well-handled. The Tower, with its sympathetic portrait of a despairing woman, is as touching as it is enigmatic; we never know why she’s imprisoned – if indeed she is – or what torments her (Is she possessed? Is she insane? Is “this force below” the call of Cthulhu or something she alone perceives?) but we feel for her lonely distress all the same. High praise too for such sensitive handling of an unconventional female character. Secrets is another standout, with a ringing repetitive guitar riff reminiscent of Blue Oyster Cult‘s Don’t Fear The Reaper and a lyric that might be the first hint of McCoy‘s favorite subject: “I’ve seen the heart of man fall/I’ve seen men crawl/Secrets I’ve seen where no one can find them/Behind the darkened wall…” And Returning to Gehenna with its hellish imagery, early though it is, is stamped with the band’s identity and purpose: “It’s become our name/We the Nephilim”.
There is clear progress forward on the band’s longplayer debut, 1987’s Dawnrazor.. Slowkill makes a highly attractive opener, powered by strong drumming and a massive bassline and constructed from spiralling, brilliant guitars contrasting with McCoy‘s baleful growl. (The whole LP is sung in this gravelly, bottom-note rumble, which at the time seemed to be Carl‘s only voice. Time would tell.) The lyrics ponder suicide and the fascination of death, with lines like “I’m up here ‘cos I wanted to die…up here on the bridge of night, to fall would be so nice”.
Volcane was the first one to catch my ear and is still a personal favorite, a surefooted rocker with spacious guitar work ornamented with synthesizer swoops and wails and an ominous storyline that could pass for a plain old give-back-my-girl triangle if not for its weird, dark cutting edge – “Mr. Jealousy has returned to reality/unsecured by humanity/you’re living in danger..”. McCoy makes “living inside her this love volcane, burning inside her this love volcane” sound more like incubal possession than mere passion, while the brief two verses and chorus raise more questions than they answer.
Dust sketches a return from the grave and the afterlife with grisly trappings (“ride aboard the train/in this swirling pool of blood and brains”), as does, of course, Reanimator – which contains the unintentionally funny “babe, we look like sisters…” (they sure did…=) while Vet for the Insane suggests the wandering thoughts of a psychotic killer in captivity: “the flowers in your kitchen/they weep for you/I’m gonna shred them all to pieces/like I did to you”. The lyrics are balanced against a supple, sorrowful guitar pattern that echoes in space, giving this slow track a sense of isolation – solitary confinement, maybe, or the inner darkness of the killer’s mind – and the overall impression is one of eerie serenity. And the black hiss of “relax…”, sounding about as soothing as the slow escape of some poisonous gas, prefigures the just-as-reassuring “Sweet dreams my angel” of Love Under Will.
Laura has a black-and-white epic science-fiction feel to it, somewhere between Metropolis and Frankenstein, with the crazed title robotrix coming to life under “full menacing skies” and standing sentinel “on the line to guard it all” in her remote storm-blasted tower.
Listening to the three LPs out of sequence one can easily pick out Dawnrazors the band’s first album. It’s careful, almost guarded, and gives away very little. The sleeve design is Goth-scary but anonymous. The songs, while mysterious, are comparatively brief, direct and simple, and more importantly betray no trace of the occult and spiritual direction that would soon be the band’s most identifiable trademark. Plainly, judging both by the LP and by the tone of interviews from the period, the record-buying audience was perceived as an unknown entity which had yet to earn the level of trust already established between the Nephilim and their hardcore live following; and, as we’ve all seen, McCoy and company when distrustful are an extremely closemouthed lot. It’s almost hard to believe, listening to Dawnrazor now, that it was created by the same five people who would in only three years feel confident and mature enough to release such astral-travelling epics as Psychonaut and Elizium.
Of course, it’s exactly that sense of secrecy and mystery that puts people on the scent, and the less the Nephilim chose to say the harder the curious tried to persuade them. Their first few major features in the British press took the band’s refusal to tell all as their main theme. Falling back on sarcasm and annoyance as their questions failed to elicit any idea of the Nephilim‘s inner workings, journalists concluded spitefully that they had nothing to say in the first place, and were in fact so utterly clueless about their own motives and behavior that they seemed to operate under radio control from another planet. (–To give the press some credit, those early interviews were frustratingly uninformative. Why the Western gear? They’re just comfortable in it. What was the inspiration for their sound? Oh, everything that was around at the time. We have no formula, they’d say, we just work toward a certain atmosphere and all of a sudden it explodes. What were they trying to accomplish? Couldn’t rightly say. Okay, granted, the press had a bit too much fun hectoring them, but damn they were exasperating…)
Death and relative sanity, and their intersection, are favorite FotN themes, and circled back to the fore on the second album, 1988’s The Nephilim.. In every way this second LP expresses the band’s increased sense of direction, identity and control. Time and experience not only developed and refined their music but gave them the confidence they needed to open the door a bit wider, and the result is magnificent. Dark, rich, evocative, containing McCoy‘s first open references to Sumer and Cthulhu and arriving packed in a beautiful Frontier Gothic sleeve, The Nephilim well named: a true reflection of its creators.
(Digressional note: While it’s obvious to anyone that Carl McCoy is the mind, heart, and soul of Fields of the Nephilim, I like to give credit everywhere it’s due. No one would be more likely than Carl to understand the magickal uses of sound and vibration in conveying a meaning or evoking a response, and the Nephilim are a total sound, this density and texture of guitars, airs and percussive bedrock. Paul’s grace and power, Tony‘s melodic sense are impeccable and distinctive. They doubtless work under McCoy‘s direction and toward his still-unseen ends, but I cannot believe they do so without any freedom or creative input, and while we can’t say no one else could ever be The Nephilim this lot’s done dead good. Try convincing me that the guitarist who destroyed his tremolo bar to push Submission past the limit is a mere tool…)
Anyone wanting to study the tone and intent of the Nephilim‘s work can start right here. The band told a radio interviewer that they chose The Watchman‘s lyrics to be printed because they felt it was the keystone of the LP, the first track written and the source of all its themes. Reviewers seemed to think it had to do with the brilliant Alan Moore comic book of that name, which I somehow doubt; McCoy told the Christian magazine Cornerstone that it was an invocation of Cthulhu. (Indeed the tour with which they took the second LP on the road was called “The Mark of the Watchman“, and the band had been including “all our Watchmen” in record credits right alongside their machine brain since Blue Water.) The title character, a brooding outlaw obsessed with his psychic power over life and death, gazes into the future like some apocalyptic Old Testament prophet and foresees the inexorable coming of Chaos: no Saviour will save us and all information will be in vain when Tiamat/Cthulhu, the Primal Force, rises from the deep…
“My life’s turning pages, I see a promised day
Watchmen never age here they just sleep in vain
Drowning people stand here – they don’t care to fall
I rebury the pages, Kthulhu calls
You’ll see, you’ll see her when she starts to form;
you’ll see, you’ll see her when she starts to call..”
(the unusual her, since Cthulhu is generally considered to be male – though I don’t even want to think how anyone would know – resolves itself via the Necronomicon, in which Cthulhu is considered a counterpart to Tiamat, the Sumerian Chaos-Goddess. More about this in future.) –and the infamous “In the name of Jesus Christ won’t you fear my name/I’ve been alive since Moses – your preacher never came”.
Here is the great theme of inevitable chaos and destruction, the mass end of humanity as expressed numerous times in print by McCoy and company; here it is on record. And here is the first time we might begin to sense that one of the Nephilim‘s aims is to hasten the day. “Remember she’s calling for you..I’m calling for you” becomes, astonishingly, “Kthulhu I’m calling for you” (Great Mother of Gods, Ama Gal Dingir, he actually said that..!); empires fall from view and our guides go where we cannot follow.
The upheaval and destruction continue through Phobia, in which life-forces are drained and “all my days are turning over”; we “disable the sun, enter its space”. The “righteous day” of Moonchild dizzyingly weaves reincarnation, memory and punishment by death – “I knelt down where I burned before” – then it’s back in the saddle and barely a chance to stay ahead of the scathing fury of the headlong, run-for-your-life Chord of Souls.
McCoy‘s preacher persona returns but reveals himself as no man of God (kin perhaps to the Watchman) spitting curses in a ravening snarl – “It’s not your God I’m after…I hate your country and I hate your world…tear my fucking heart out,” he rages, calling down havoc like the tribulations of end-time. “Let it be the end, believers… over to the other side.” The band outdoes itself, setting a breakneck pace from the start and blazing through the finish neck-and-neck with McCoy’s bloody-throated shrieks. The whole first side crackles with scorn and righteous wrath. (Divine fire consumes the corrupt land; the Nephilim stand on the hill overlooking the burning cities with grim smiles of pitiless satisfaction, their eyes glowing through the clouds of ash and dust…woe unto Babylon…)
But don’t make the mistake of thinking we’re discussing mere Christian sin and retribution here – remember Cthulhu. Chord of Souls echoes in the distance for a moment, dust settling in its furious wake, and is followed by the serene and disturbing Celebrate. One of the Nephilim‘s most beautiful works, as still and dark as a reflecting pool and sung in a surprisingly smooth baritone (our first indication that Carl possessed an actual singing voice), Celebrate passes calm and final judgment on a humankind which has lost touch with its gods, its past and its legacy.
“With no faith in mind, to the Magan blind” we have lost the simple and primal grace of “the lesser blessed…in our lesser days.” The Magan is the Summer Country or Sumerland, where souls rest and dream between incarnations, but, it seems to say, we’ve forgotten our souls, lost our true nature in our pursuit of high-tech ease and novelty on so many new highways. And we’ll pay for that: for our past selves, love and praise, but us, we’ll burn. – The song proceeds through a truly lovely guitar bridge – cool and echoing, as open as a summer-night sky – and returns to the motionless poise of the moment where we stand.
After that one can only contemplate the equally serene beauty of death and returning, and so we do. The shining Love Under Will, that graceful and ghostly midnight canter across the badlands (the title is of course from Aleister Crowley‘s famous dictum of which most people seem to know only the first half), considers the near-death experience as an experimental tool for out-of-body journeying and communion from the Unseen World, perhaps the passage into death itself. “I need to be alone tonight…lay down I’ll die tonight, smother me or suffer…” (We hazard a guess that the reference is to the well-known meditation technique of temporary oxygen deprivation unto blackout, the glimpse of death probably allied to the variations of Austin Spare‘s Death Posture.
Carl has mentioned an acquaintance with it.) Exquisitely played, with a fluid, melodious bassline, clear starry guitars and a smoky near-sensual vocal, it invites us to keep vigil, to “pass through my soul” and lie beside the dream-traveller awaiting our message from beyond the black veil: “when I’m gone, wait here, discover all of earth’s surprises…I’ll send my child my last good smile”, which becomes “my last goodbye” …perhaps there’s no reason to return to the body, and the surprises we’re to discover become “all of life’s”. (and maybe further…was the invitation to “lay down for me, lay down with me” merely to keep watch or to join in death and the journey?) (Either way, hard to resist.) Words really do not convey the flowing, uneasy swing and nocturnal glow of this one – it’s just sublime. Sleep, death and the realms beyond. “Sweet dreams, my angel, my last goodbye…sweet dreams.”
And if you can still wake up – or want to – (there’s much more on these topics in the next LP, but we’ll get to that presently) there’s one more, which is the other one the band chose to print on the sleeve – the summation of all before, Last Exit for the Lost. Dismissed by the rock press as a melodramatic turn about Goth death wishes and suicide, it’s more than that: the message from the Sumerland we were waiting for. Do you really want to die just to see me again, it asks, “does it hurt that I want you to remain?… I run your hair through in another decade, Sumerland holds me in Sumerian haze..” – We’re remembered and our faith cherished; the rest is a flood of memories, images, energy from between the worlds and the passage between.
Death as escape from lovers’ mourning, “precious to the lost”. Faces, childhood toys, doors appear and fade; Chaos surges and falls (Cthulhu reappears here, in the last track as the first), and we’re guided over the Styx we’re apparently determined to cross (“You’ll seek it, though it’s a thousand miles”, so “take what fate brings…”). But we never quite get there: the door we see may not even be there, and the last word is only “closer…” Is this discouragement? Are we to think twice before taking the dive, cautioned by the frightful danger of the journey and comforted by the knowledge that those we’ve lost dream in the Magan? Or is the seduction of dreaming there ourselves too strong to resist?
Which brings us to the Sumerian splendor of Psychonaut, the next release from the Nephilim. Released in May 1989, this epic (of which we’ve never heard the full version: twenty minutes long, it languishes in uncommercial glory in some vault. Sigh.) came to us in matching Sheer Faith sleeves adorned with a quote from William Blake: “Of Behemoth he saith he is chief of the ways of God/of Leviathan he saith he is king over all the children of pride.”
–Now this is where we head into really deep waters, so attend closely. More than ever before we’re allowed to look inside. Psychonaut, structured with meticulous care on ancient numerological and mathematical principles, recorded by candlelight and incense and with an incantation at its core, is a spell and we’re all part of it. You’ve heard it, you know the words, it’s vibrated through your mind and used your brain’s lifeforce to be sung; you’re in the loop and so am I.
And if I tell you that the chorus “zi dingir kia kanpa, zi dingir anna kanpa” means “spirit, god of the earth, remember/spirit, god of the sky, remember”, and is pure Sumerian via the Necronomicon, will you realize what’s been done? we’ve all joined our voices, we’ve shared power in a sound no one voice could make, we have been part of a calling to the gods. “We dilate our throats and resonate the ancient names…we convoke the Nephilim and they come to us, strangers with the eyes of men…” Children, siblings, listen: Celebrate warned us we’d forgotten; Psychonaut intends us to remember.
(“I wanted to make music that takes me when I close my eyes,” McCoy said once, and I don’t for a second think he’s the only one taken. And I don’t, don’t mean to say that I feel we’re used or manipulated or lured into some evil snare, Goddess no, never; I feel many-splendored beyond words. A Great Work here in our time and place, gloria dea! whether for order or chaos, weal or woe, surely bringing rock and roll to its highest state of grace…)
But I digress. Psychonaut gave us McCoy‘s finest voice to date: clear, resonant and virtually polished clean of the old throttled growl, full of authority and drama. Built around a pulsating bass riff and as dizzyingly multileveled as a Lorenz attractor, the song (after three very audible, measured bootsteps up to the mike!) sweeps out with the majesty of a Spanish galleon and sails straight for the edge of the world.
The skies darken and the wind rises. “Children now the curse is come, and glory days, our kingdom comes..time stops…” and the fallen, enraptured, “returned for new souls”, begin to manifest. “Let us gather hallucinations from our private minds, let us witness the reincarnation of the Sun… May the mountain shake you to the core,” the song’s first quote from the Necronomicon, and then the plunge.
The earth shakes. You are listening to words six thousand years old, and if no chill runs up your spine you just might be following the wrong band. “Pray for Leviathan,” Carl thunders, exalted, terrified, identified with and overwhelmed by the power raised from the deeps, “I hear them come, pray for me…” For his salvation or his apotheosis? As whom is he speaking? “I break down, yes I do…” No telling; the song passes over like the Angel of Death and is gone, and I know we sat there shaking. You probably did too.
And after that it was more than a year before we heard from them again. (Cripes, after that it was nearly a year before we could breathe.) May 1989 passed into May 1990, and only one phrase escaped the sanctum: “The 1990 Project”. Little did we know.
September of 1990, then, and the clipped single versions of For Her Light preceded the emergence of the third album, Elizium. The single didn’t give away any secrets, an energetic guitar and synth gallop with the expected ominous lyrical undertones (“Your effigy dissolves in my hands…you can’t wake up, you can’t wake up…”). It was the B-side that made us blink: a bass-powered dark instrumental with a voice-over no one could place at first, a male voice reading an occult verse; none other than Aleister Crowley, from a privately-circulated tape of an Edison wax cylinder recording, reading his own At Sea. Didst ever think you’d hear the Master Therion‘s own voice? …”Gods roamed the earth,” he recites, “anointing them, asperging with tears, and sanctifying the solitude…Man is so infinitely small, man is so infinitely great…” What’s this now? Have they finally decided to spill the beans? Oh, never more bated breath…
And then Elizium arrived and left our wildest hopes gasping in the dust. This is the one anyone who really cares has been waiting for, the one that utterly transcends the World of Form and the conventions of rock to walk the winds, travel in time, dream in the Sumerland. The doors open: Sumer, the Watchers, Austin Osman Spare, Cthulhu, everything the Nephilim seem to care about is offered for your attention, for the faith and care you’ve at last proven you can give them. This is the journey, the vehicle and the destination all in one; the soul’s journey, drawn to the afterland of peace yet seduced as well toward incarnate life, contemplating past and future lives at once (all time is now, all space is here…). And yes, it’s still got guitars, plenty of ’em.
Let me briefly cover the printed statements relevant to Elizium; McCoy and company had become notably more communicative since the Dawnrazor days. Over the past several years they’d averred that they felt most of humankind did not deserve to be saved from the inevitable coming of Chaos (though according to Peter you’d be surprised at who would and wouldn’t rise above the fall: “You’d be well amazed. Some people shine.” – the most esoteric statement from any other Neph yet recorded); that – as in Peter Carroll’s impressive two-volume course in magick, Liber Null/Psychonaut – we’ve passed through three eons of time relative to magickal and spiritual matters, and are in the atheistic and man-centered fourth; that the soul is a prisoner of life; and that central to many of these views is the worldwide concept of a haven of peace where souls rest between incarnations, the Summer Country, Shining Isle, Magan or Sumerland – in Greek myth called the Elysian Fields. (‘hem.) And we had inferred from earlier material that the band saw part of its role, or one of its roles, as that of an apocalyptic herald-angel, even an outright agent of Chaos.
Not this time.
Opening with the instrumental (Dead But Dreaming) – actually the only real Cthulhu Mythos reference here – and the bright riffing of For Her Light you might be taken off guard. Pay attention to the title, though, because there’s something new on this LP, a definite female presence. At The Gates of Silent Memory/(Paradise Regained), for all its preoccupation with present concerns (“…where the night has become/Elizium for the sleepless souls and our days to come…maybe I’ll just pass away or maybe I’ll stay…”) could even be called the nearest the Nephilim have come yet to a love song.
Nice to think that even as unearthly a creature as Carl McCoy might have a soul-mate. – “But I feel alive with you/And I feel some kind of heaven…Be my refuge from the night/Love of my life pour your light/On the faith I can feel, make it real.” All this and at its center a guitar bridge of breathtaking beauty, a winged swoop off the cliff with all the world falling away under your feet. Glorious.
Then…there’s Submission. Right, you’ve just gotten your mind tucked around the concept of the Nephilim doing a love song and suddenly you’re mopping blood off the walls. (McCoy, praising the LP, said that it had managed to keep “the original spark of how I was feeling when I wrote it, which sometimes isn’t very nice.” Right.) Savage and frightening, black as the Pit, Submission whips up Chaos in all Her rage and finds She was inside one all the time.
“We’ve remedies from the Ancient Gods/to heal the morals of our shadows,” chants Carl in echoplex and then a dense sudden roar: “Devil come to me, open up the door, lead me ciahra to the center of it all…” Possession and banishing? murder and release? what is this? The fury and tranquility and fury again of the passages surrounding the characters – “she cried, holding me, someone’s inside/too cruel to suffer for what she wants” and the awesome climactic “loose her who’s inside me/let’s use her for what she wants” – I could be wrong but it’s hard for me not to hear Kingu’s blood and the bellow of Tiamat in here, all the rebel violence of our heritage.
Yet at its center it’s serene, dreamlike, with Paul‘s exquisite guitar hovering over the bassline like a dragonfly and Carl‘s enraptured voice: “to this radiant morning…somewhere else…oh where have I been…”. The liner notes cast an even darker glow – “The souls of those who quit the body violently are most pure.” “Such end true lovers hath…” Again souls trapped in flesh, death as release and maybe a gift of highest grace. It charges to a ferocious climax driven by a tour-de-force solo, a consuming blaze of speed, tremolo and wah-wah that ends with a grinding skronk – the tremolo bar literally breaking under the strain!
And now we enter the core of the LP, the spiral center of the labyrinth. (Though there are numerous titles listed, for my money this album has four tracks, with Submission and Sumerland standing alone side by side at the center flanked by two suites. And Sumerland and its suite, Wail of Sumer/And There Will Your Heart Be Also, flow as one sequence – in which the 12″ variations of Sumerlandal so belong.)
Sumerland is the most significant, central and magickal creation the Nephilim have yet made: a statement of purpose inside a trance induction of fathomless serenity and power. I’ll probably miss the point five times here but I don’t know how to say half of what I feel is in this wondrous piece of work. The soul, purified by its violent release, walks between brief “life and all its pleasures” and timeless infinity, attracted to both, yearning for the peace and freedom of the Sumerland…”we could dream together, we could sleep forever, take the dream” – but seeing itself as free to truly join neither. “But I can’t hide and I cannot die…on this earth I will wait, by the roots of my soul.” What exile have we here, of neither earth nor heaven? – and then there they are at last. (don’t know about you but I’d been expecting them…)
“Shapes of angels the night casts/lie dead but dreaming in my past…and they’re here once more/they want to lay with you/they want to take you/to the shame of your past/Take the dream…” Surely these are the Watchers, the angel sires of the first Nephilim, conjured from far memory by a voice so dark and dreaming it could truly be one of those immortal, restless giant souls, borrowing a human throat for its song. (As they’ve been said to do.) And as you think about that the sound slips away to a steady pulse and the dark voice seems to come from a great distance, and if you’re very objective and focussed you recognize you’re being entranced; the rest of us will just go under. “sleepers in you…shapes of angels so deep within you…feel your soul…drowning…loosen your soul…drowning…”
I have watched people slide into the deep waters of this one; I don’t think I myself have ever listened to it in a wholly waking state. It is that subtle and strong. I don’t presume to say what it’s intended to do: but my feeling is, it’s to wake distant memory, stir the sense of soul, remind us that eons ago we walked with gods and angels; and to teach you to let go. Submission, non-resistance, does-not-matter… the true wonder is, the Nephilim can do that. It’s like something created in a trance-state with the intention of opening itself to the listener, opening the listener to trance, it’s an extraordinary experience. The promise of Psychonaut fulfilled.
And it draws you out as neatly and carefully as it drew you in. A sinuous, Eastern melody line rises like the thread tied at the entrance of the labyrinth to be followed back, McCoy pelts an unseen entity – Watcher or God? A Nephilim soul to its father? – with demands and questions: take me, tell me, the nature of reality and “do dreams fall from God?..tell me what dreams may come” (Shakespeare yet; is there nothing the man hasn’t read?) then with a wide-open crash like the hypnotist snapping his fingers in come the Nephilim again, guitars, drums and bass, and we’re off at a high gallop to the finale. We’re prisoners of life; we’ve dreamed our past in the Sumerland and seen the chaos at our dragon core but we’re here still and all our hopes are pinned on someone we beseech: “you’re my ticket outta here…take me away, take me there.” Our better angel, in whatever sense of the word. And here we sit, having glimpsed the supernal tranquility outside space and time, courtesy of a little rock band from Stevenage that some people laugh at. Whew.
But we will escape; we’re nearly there. Wail of Sumer opens at a calm rippling pace that’s quickly flooded in swoops and cries of synthesizer and built to massive walls by the band. We’re airborne over the desert, looking down on the Tigris and Euphrates and the ruins of Ur, and once again we dream of the Sumerland and the exiled Watchers, “taken from God…sent into the dark to play.” (Okay, pure speculation here. The lyric of Sumerland is specific about “shapes of angels…in my past” and then “they’re here once more,” making it pretty clear that we aren’t transcending time but speaking in terms of comprehensible past and present.
Wail of Sumer says “from life here I led them, taken away from where they lay…” Could it be that rather than raising inchoate Chaos Herself to speed the demise of unworthy humanity, McCoy has bent his powers and the band’s to raising the sleeping Watchers, those imprisoned teachers and guardians of early humankind so unjustly banished by a jealous and petty Deity, and returning them and their wisdom to a needing world – to bearing not the end of the fourth age but the dawn of the fifth? Certainly – as should be evident by now – the overall tone of Elizium is far more peaceful and comprehending than the Nephilim‘s earlier works, as though something accepted or learned had changed their sense of life.
Then again, maybe I just read too much…) We touch down and breathe the serene and ancient air, looking around us: “no sound, life, no essence…I’m seeing through an age who I am, through Sumerland lead me.” It’s so still, a place where memories lie, where all past and future times are one. A monumental calm that shows life’s busy flurry for the trivial moment it is. Wail of Sumer glides imperceptibly into the closing And There Will Your Heart Be Also; triumphal, beautiful, it accepts earth and incarnation as part of a soul’s journey even as it even as it escapes and transcends them.
No longer “take me away” but “I’ll end this moment to be with you/through morphic oceans I’ll lay here with you…you’re here to stay, stay here in Paradise.” The one we beseech is perhaps only the one we love after all (sweet dreams, my angel…). A majestic coda carries us to the fade, synthesizers trill and shimmer like hot desert air, and there’s silence. Here in Paradise…
Elizium, The 1990 Project, opened to mixed reviews from the delighted raves of Carol Clerk, blessed be she, at Melody Maker to baffled snorts of derision at NME, where they never did get the point. (But then, what could we expect them to make of an album two-thirds of which happens in the hereafter?– It probably didn’t help that McCoy was feeling self-assured enough to summarize the LP’s topic flippantly to their scribe: “death as the ultimate leisure activity.”) –It was followed with surprising speed –
April 1991, only seven months later – by a two-record live LP, Earth Inferno. Though not, IMHO, containing the definitive live versions of all its tracks (there’s a Parisian soundcheck boot of Love Under Will from 1988 that outshines this one effortlessly), it stands as the Nephs‘ documentation that they could indeed play Elizium live (some had suggested that its density of studio-contrived sound was such that it could never be reproduced onstage. Ye of little faith…) and contains some stunning moments, most notably Psychonaut.
Besides, the sleeve alone, a brilliant photo-montage interpretation of Spare’s “The Self’s Vision of Enlightenment” from The Book of Pleasure, plus the astonishing (channelled?) liner note, is worth the price of admission. (I did wonder why a piece from that book was chosen rather than one from Spare’s Earth (Inferno) itself, but who’s to ask?)
And here we are. One has to wonder what can possibly follow it. It’s axiomatic in the world of rock that no band stays angry forever; no matter what frustrations and grudges fueled their debut, time eventually mellows the hardest heart, later records sweeten and the kids find some other band to stomp to. This is that, and other. It may not “rock’n’roll” as it once did, but its anger is blackest Chaos and its calm is Elysian radiance. Above and beyond.
However, there’s still the question of what preceded it: the roots of its soul, so to speak. What do the Prophet Enoch, Abdul Alhazred, H.P. Lovecraft, Cotton Mather, Dr. John Dee, Aleister Crowley, Colin Wilson and I (we’ll leave The Tenth Planet out of it) all have to say about this matter of souls, angels, strangers and men?
…to be continued in KIA #2…
(see KIA 2 essay and Zoonelsewhere on this Web page.)