by Tom Popson

About four years ago Carl McCoy and Tony Pettitt, two Britons living in the London area, linked up with some friends to form a band called Fields of the Nephilim.

At the time, the band members were fans of spaghetti-Western movies, drawn to the genre in part by the gritty look of the films and by their settings in wide-open spaces, which can seem a bit exotic to folks living in England.

As Fields of the Nephilim got under way, McCoy and Pettitt say, elements of those films began to affect the band's music and look. The band's playing took on a dark-saga, malevolence-in-the-shadows quality, and the members began to wear weathered bits of Western-style garb onstage.

Although the band eventually posed for some publicity photos that had a heavy-duty Western motif - one player even had a pistol strapped to his leg - vocalist McCoy insists the band's bad-hombre look was never a calculated image designed to reap an extra fistful of pounds.

"It was just a development from the scruffy stuff we used to wear anyway," says McCoy. "We've always worn sort of battered leather clothes. But then we started wearing the Western hats, and that really caught people's attention, and they said, 'Ah, cowboys.'"

"It's a loose thing," says bassist Pettitt. "We're not into wearing things like chaps and stuff. We'd wind up looking like 'The Virginian.' A couple of us wear hats. We look a bit scruffy. When we started, there were really a lot of these romantic types around, like Gene Loves Jezebel, but we weren't into that."

Fields of the Nephilim currently is making a tour of clubs across the United States-arriving at Cabaret Metro Saturday - to test response here and to help promote its new album, "Dawnrazor." The LP - sometimes proceeding at a measured pace, sometimes fast and swirling - sports a kind of dark-epic feel in its arrangements and McCoy's portent-of-doom vocals.

Released in Britain before it was released in the States, "Dawnrazor," which is on the Beggars Banquet label, has spent eight months on the independent-album chart published by the British music publication Melody Maker, says McCoy. That sustained performance apparently is a bit of vindication for Fields of the Nephilim.

"We've never been one of those flavor-of-the-month bands in England," says McCoy. "We've been a very unhip band because we never followed the fashions. We looked unlike other bands because of the cowboy image, which was totally uncool unless you were a country-and-Western band.

"But we've become very strong-minded and a very closed unit. We've learned to do it totally alone. When we started, we went around to see a few record companies to try to get advice, and they left us with a really negative attitude. Basically they said, 'You've got to conform, be a nice, pretty-boy band - then you're going to get on.' It was people telling us that over and over again that made us put our first record out on our own label."

During its American tour, Fields of the Nephilim will be playing material from "Dawnrazor," plus some numbers the band has written for its follow-up LP.

"I don't think people come to see us because of what we're saying in the lyrics," says McCoy. "They come because of the way we make them feel when we play live, the aura we give off. That's what people get off on. Hopefully, the atmosphere we create will speak for itself."