Fields of the Nephilim
Revelations/Forever Remain/Visionary Heads
It’s in the way they come on like a zombie Magnificent Seven in the iconic first shot of “The Preacher Man,” forcefully wedding the oeuvre of Sergio Leone (and Near Dark) to the darker corners of the nascent goth scene. It might never get this good again. The singer and visual focal point, Carl McCoy, looks like Nick Drake crossed with the Outlaw Josie Wales. The rest of the band look fabulous in leather, dusty overcoats, beat-up cowboy hats, matted hair and piercing stares. This cowboy/goth crossover, a major visual motif, would soon be in full effect from the Batcave to the Danceteria. Why don’t Goths look like this now?
The next video, “Blue Water,” picks up where the nightmare thematics of “Preacher Man” left off, with the limp body of McCoy hanging loose on a noose only to escape a la Incident at Owl Creek Bridge (backwards) and get pursued by cannibals. The “Moonchild” video, the BIG song, is full of Lynchian imagery and ghostly children. “Psychonaut” is replete with grainy chaos, an eerie hybrid of Altered States and A Man Called Horse, complete with a re-enactment of the infamous Sweat Lodge scene. They were really carving out fabulous aesthetic territory here — the videos have aged damn well. Just to show you how ahead of the zeitgeist they were, when a quick cut world-chaos montage begins there is a shot of a young, hale Saddam Hussein. And check the scene of the singer overlaid upon a gharish Jesus icon. The colors, man. “For Her Light” opens with a fan flashing Dio’s devilhorns into the white hot concert lights. And this heralds the first performance video, copious use of dry ice make it a winner. “Summerlea” feels like it’s directed by David Lean circa Lawrence drunk on Technicolor and the pope’s blood. The tattered shrouds and overcoats blowing in the wind make for striking imagery. Damn fine performance video on a pentagram-festooned mesa buffeted by snow and dry ice.
There’re two gigs included as well; the first, “Forever Remain”, is a superbly filmed show at the Town and Country Club from 1988. Starting off with gritty black and white shots of the audience waiting in line and the band slowly walking to the stage. The colors then phase in, intense primary stage lights obscured by billowing dry ice and fog. The band is confidently on form; Doc Holliday in Tombstone attired like Flannery O’Connor’s worst nightmare. Band of Wisebloods with huge guitars. THIS is classic goth. And yet I can’t help thinking that they should have been in mega arenas, in Red Rocks, not U2. Their songs are huge darkling anthems. Carl McCoy’s stage presence in undeniable — attired like a debauched pioneer beneath bug eye glasses and long tangled hair. There is nothing fey or willowy about the Nephilim. Obviously at the peak of their powers — as a transcendent reading of “Moonchild” give testament to.
The editing and camera angels/shots are just genius, way above the bar for an underground band’s concert video — art in itself. McCoy’s stage moves are incredibly sinuous and commanding; I figure that he and Andrew Eldritch had quite the little competition going. Cavernous, chilling vocals. The dust-stained black overcoats and rags — classic. Nine Inch Nails ripped their look off wholesale, you realize. The shots from the back of the hall reveal the crowd dancing like Hells Angels at Altamont at the mercy of five stern cowboys and blinding white light from the mouth of infinity. Their musical atmosphere actually equals the incredible visual spectacle. Especially on “Last Exit for the Lost,” total lush drone beauty. A frenetic “Laura” brings the concert to an end with avalanches of treble guitar and an amazing iron-lunged vocal showing.
A scant two years later in London’s Brixton Academy, the Nephilim were captured to tape again. “Visionary Heads” begins with grainy black and white shots of a sea of hands reaching toward a white light, worthy of Fellini. This wall of pure light then dims gradually to reveal the band. The camera work is still tight — alternating between expressionistic black and white footage that dramatically slows the action and more cinema verite shots using what seems like a VHS camcorder. Jarring contrasts. Though, paradoxically, the VHS tape lends a high-definition crispness and clarity — serving especially to emphasize Carl McCoy’s teen idol features. The Fistful of Dollars starring Rimbaud imagery is still in full effect, and the band is even more powerful and dynamic — having a larger body of work to draw from. But the performance is strangely muted — missing some of the desperation, drive and danger of the other show. Perhaps with assurance comes a certain complacency? A death metal growl meets the traditional dramatics/gravitas that are essential to goth’s all-or-nothing emotional extremes. “Last Exit For The Lost” is so elegant and delicately formed — McCoy smolders behind the mic stand. Surely a band this might could only be stopped by a series of incredibly self-destructive moves? Well, since you asked…
Okay, so here’s the “rest” of the story, après band fragmentation. The death rattles of a once unstoppable force. McCoy’s offshoot Nefilim vomits forth “Penetration,” an expressionist black-and-white clip that comes off like a busier “Unforgiven” (Metallica), and the music is a regrettable extreme metal offramp. Not to be outdone, Rubicon, aka everyone else from the Fields, produces an airy and minimalist performance video that sees them exploring more restrained and even positive music. HOWEVER things go horribly wrong with a final epilepsy-inducing video and an unfortunate grunge (Stone Temple Pilots) style makeover for Rubicon that obliterates any strides made over the course of this DVD. What a sad ending to a long and gripping story.
How concert films (and goth music) should be. Buy this.
Beggars Banquet: www.beggars.com/us