Whether you regard Field of the Nephilim as B-Movie Rock-schlock horror or as mighty mystical Metallers possessing of a dark incline and learning, you cannot but marvel at the rapid ascendance from side-show to full blown Gothic Drama. While THE CULT and THE MISSION have quickly dropped the legacy of their theatrical beginnings fast enough in the scramble for pomp-rock respectability, the Nephilim have maintained and nurtured the full ritual.
Over the last couple of years they have experimented with a variety of approaches to executing their art in the studio. There was a six week stint in the Real World, during which they indulged themselves with an orgy of technical excess, in order to come up with a single; though admittedly Psychonaut was about 20 minutes worth of single.
Last year, to the probable relief of the record company, they produced a whole album, Elyzium, in almost the same amount of time. Now the band have unleashed four live sides entitled Earth Inferno.
The album, recorded primarily at last years gigs at the Brixton Academy, Wolverhampton civic hall and Birmingham Hummingbird, covers material from the Nephilim Discography, from early favorites like Preacherman and Dawnrazor, through the grandiose dramatics of what Carl calls "a summary of events leading up to this particular moment in time".
Warts and All
Earth Inferno is a live album in the true sense of the term. A strictly no-overdubs affair. This is the Nephilim live and for real, warts and all.
"There are no overdubs whatsoever. The whole thing is 100% absolutely live," confirms guitarist Peter Yates. "It's not perfect but whatever mistakes are in there we can live with. There was nothing so drastic that it was worth losing that live immediacy for. We've always regarded ourselves as first and foremost a live band and this album is just that. I'm quite suprised that its come out sounding really punchy and many of the tracks supercede the original studio versions. There are a lot of really dodgy 'live' albums out there but this definitely isn't one of them. It stands out as as a really good introduction to the band for the people who haven't heard the band before."
That the Nephs could cut a live album in this manner is due, in no small part, to the lessons learned as a result of earlier experiences in the studio. Although the recording of Psychonaut had not been altogether happy, they determined not to turn away from their aims and intentions in the process of actually delivering an album without a budget.
The lessons from their brush with the excesses of technology had been learned for the recording of Elizium the machinery was enslaved and its power harnessed at its source.
Nod to MIDI
Drummer Nod Wright elucidates; "We had been working with the MIDI set-ups for almost a year when we recorded the album. I have a Casio FZ1N rack sampler, with a Tascam MM1 20 channel desk and SPX900 triggered from pads, running into a Yamaha DC1 percussion MIDI convertor. Pete has an ADA pre amp MIDI'd up to a Roland GR50 guitar synth which allows him to texture sounds and effects. It would have been easy to stick to overdrive pedals and stuff but we've taken all the technology that's there and used it. Once in the studio the ideas for the album could be dumped on to a tape and simultaneously loaded into the computer- a Mac running Performer with MIDI.
"My set up in the studio was the same as my on-stage set up," continues Pete. "A Yamaha P2078 power amp, a couple of Rocktron Hushers, the GR50 ADA MPI valve one. The power amp fed into sensible Guitar systems? Cab with a couple of Celestion 12s. I used my Les Paul with EMGs and my Gibson SG - the first guitar I ever bought. Paul used a JC160 and a Marshall 9000 Series pre amp. On the Live album he just uses two Marshall 9000 Series setups - into 4 x 12 cabs - and a Quadraverb. He played Yamaha SGs and an Ibanez of some sort."
It's no suprise that the man chosen to produce the Live LP was Andy Jackson, who had taken charge of the desk duties on Elizium and was Pink Floyd's recording engineer for some eight years. "On Elizium I wanted to keep everything as live as possible. We had everybody tie-lined through to the control room, with just Nod out in the live area. That way everybody could play live while monitoring in the control room, with just Nod out there with the Cans. We could get long live takes, a lot of the album just going down in just one or two takes. Even Carl's keyboard stuff was recorded through his little 16-channel mixer and Quadraverb (these are popular units with the Nephs), just taking a stereo feed from the mixer straight into the desk, effects and all because that was his sound."
His approach to the live LP was much the same, minus the overdubs of course. All guitars, keyboards and vocals went down live on the night. "There was no comp'ing together of different takes, to get the best bits from each one," continues Andy. "Although we had different versions of each song from each night's recording to choose from, they were all straight through takes, just the best version of each song that we had.
"Everyone was miked up fairly conventionally and the recording was made with the Mobile, taking the feeds from the front of the house, only adding an additional overhead on the kit and replacing the Kick drum beyer that belonged to the PA company with a D112 from the Mobile. The PA's miking set up was very close to the one I would have chosen myself, so there was little compromise in taking a feed from them."
In addition to the mike feeds, additional DIs were running from the keyboards and also from Nods sampler and pads set up and these too were fed directly from the PA to the mobile.
While in the studio, Carl handles most of the keyboard work, whilst live the band are joined by Paul Chousman. "He's classically trained," boasts Pete, "so he knows what he's doing. We give him a S1000 and an EMAX-SE to play with and that keeps him happy. He uses all the disks from the original studio recordings."
As in the studio, Andy miked Pete's guitar and the GR50 sound together through the same amp, rather than taking a separate DI from the MIDI set up, recording his own stage mix of the two. The PA's DI feed was also used on Tony's Bass set up, again much the same as the one he had used in the studio, consisting of two Gallien Kruegers, one with it's own cab and one with an Ampeg 4x10.
"The desk in the Mobile truck is really old Helios," details Andy. "It's at least 20 years old but it's a good desk and they just don't want to change it. The EQ's pretty basic but you don't have much call for severe Eq'ing in these sort of situations. It's definitely a frequency band short by today's standards though. The tape machines are a couple of 3M-M79s, which again are really old but nice sounding, reliable 24-track machines.
No processing took place at the recording stage, except for some basic protection compressing on the vocals and the bass, as a matter of taste. I also recorded a sync code at the time for use on the video link and for later use on the desk automation.
"I mixed down at Eurythmics' Church Studio in North London, on the AMEK 2520 with Mastermix automation. It was fairly straight forward and pretty fast mix-down, there being two hours of material including the video soundtrack to mix over 10 days.
"This is where the EQ came into play, having recorded everything fairly flat. It's how I usually like to do things; get the full frequency range down onto tape to begin with. The EQ was mainly the onboard desk EQ, backed up by a couple of Neve Prisms on the kick and the snare. But the EQ on the AMEK is pretty close to the prisms anyway. It being a live recording, I didn't go gating everything. The principle gating and muting activity was on the vocal mike (a radio unit with an EV capsule). I also compressed the vocal a good deal with an old valve LA2A machine. The main Echo I used was the actual live area of the studio itself. I played the drums back out into the hall through a set of large free-standing Tannoys they have there and just miked it up with a pair of U87s at the other end of the room, facing the wrong way around. With close miking on the Kit, the sound on the tape was fairly tight. On the vocal I used a PCM 70 and AMS harmonizer (that's how he gets the definition when he sings so deep, and how he gets such a unholy voice ... Ryan) and a Roland SDE 2000 DDL.
" The guitar sounds were live enough to make much use of reverbs unnecessary and the sound were usually right there, especially as they were both using Quadraverbs with tons of chorus and stuff at the source. The mix itself was a straight forward balancing job, just doing ride-throughs with the automation until there was nothing left to adjust. There was a fair bit of ducking , cleaning up clicks and glunks of effects being switched in and out. There were also some extraneous noises to be removed and a real big problem were the smoke machines. They make a huge hissing noise when they go off. Which with the Nephilim is nearly all the time! You can still hear them in places, I just couldn't get rid of them all.
"There were some odd bits of vocal tunings in places but we kept them the idea was that this wa to be the warts and all record the band live."
Elizium and Earth Inferno are Andy's first excursions into the world of full production credits and described him as the most enjoyable recordings he's worked on in donkey's years. "I've worked with Floyd for so long that it's like stepping back into the real world again," he laughs. With Floyds recording schedule none-too demanding these days it will undoubtedly not be his last outing and offers are already coming in. Given the band's satisfaction with the results he has delivered it will not be his last Nephilim production either.
The band meanwhile have their eyes firmly fixed on the imminent Stateside release of Elizium on their new US label. They are billing Earth Inferno as the closing chapter of an era. We must wait for the spectacle that is to follow.