Pretentious occultists or the real McCoy? The flour-powered FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM ride out of the sunset with the new single, 'Psychonaut...'
The Nephilim in the flesh belie their image on record and onstage. There, in their element, they stretch out and clutch the hearts of a growing legion of fans with hands as cold as steel. They rifle through the darker, concealed and shrouded parts of the mind where hidden fears are kept away from the harsh light of day. They turn over the stones under which lie the scaly and menacing aspects of our lives, speaking of a universe helter-skeltering beyond control into a time of unmitigated chaos. Such is the course of the Nephilim's journey through the denser reaches of the human soul.
But in person, in the flesh, they seem far removed from this projected imagery. They seem like regular guys doing an irregular job.
So which is the artifice and which is the reality?
Well, neither really. Fields Of The Nephilim seem set on a course of dark and obtuse exploration through the mythology of Aleister Crowley, HP Lovecraft and Indian Shamans. But this doesn't stop them being good guys too. A journey through the dark side doesn't necessarily indicate either a malevolent soul or a hunger for cheap publicity.
Such is the nature of the beast that is the Nephilim.
The Nephilim have just issued a new single, 'Psychonaut Lib. III' on Situation Two (through Beggars Banquet). The Lib. III, I presume, is Latin for 'Book Three'. The single comes out after the band have spent some six months sporadically recording music that, in the event, is unlikely to see vinyl, at least not under the 'Nephilim' banner. The passages, with the exception of the single are all instrumentals and more geared towards film scores than stage entertainment.
There is still a new album to be recorded and released, but the Nephilim are currently engaged in attempting to find a finer balance between recording and touring. Some elements within the band enjoy life on the road, others the enclosure of the studio. Since the one cannot exist without the other a balance has to be struck, hence the current mini-UK tour in support of the single prior to a return to the studio to track their third album.
But balance implies order, and one of singer Carl McCoy's contentions is that the universe is naturally inclined towards chaos.
But then I get the impression that the Nephilim want everything and such goals are not about to stand in their way.
McCoy and bassist Tony Pettit are the Nephilim spokesmen, guitarists Peter Yates and Paul Wright, and drummer Nod Wright are dispatched to the rehearsal studio while these two submit to the bemused questioning. What, for instance, is a 'Psychonaut?'
"It's a modern term for a sorcerer or shaman," explains McCoy, himself largely responsible for the mystical tract of the Nephilim. "Parts of the Occult are now becoming blended with science. It comes out of my interest in quantum mechanics, magic and the development of a 'chaos science'."
Producer Bob Erzin once described the recording process as the application of science to create something magical. This combination was clearly strong during the Nephilim's sojourn in the studio if, ultimately, unproductive.
"In the past we've never actually achieved the sounds we imagined," says McCoy, "so this time we spent a long time getting the sounds we like in the studio."
"We were experimenting a lot," explains Pettit, "you can still tell 'Psychonaut...' is us, but we took a different approach to it."
"We used a lot more keyboards," smiles McCoy, freely admitting the Pink Floyd influence that has been absorbed here, describing them as "inspiring". He is also convinced that keyboards will once again be introduced into the Nephilim live set. Not that they're about to wimp out.
"We can't be that subtle, when we play live we have to be pretty raw to make it work," says Pettit.
"There's a certain amount of frustration that comes out when you play live," admits McCoy, "because that's the only chance you have to be yourself. It's a good opportunity to let all that energy out."
Which kind of brings us back to that other energy outlet, the Nephilim music, and in particular the often obtuse lyrical content. McCoy is guarded in his approach to this line of questioning, he is not anxious to lecture on his beliefs, nor to get into the conversion business. But, as he says himself, "There's certain things I'm interested in, which are natural to me, which are my life. I can only write about things that inspire me.
"I've got a fascination for the Occult, always have had since I was young. As a child I was brought up religiously and forced to go to church. It was a Christian religion - I'd rather not say which - but it made me think: 'What kind of religion does that to young kids? To say that this is right? And to try and put the fear of God into them?'
"One of my parents was religious and the other more interested in the Occult, so I managed to read all these books when I was little. Since then I think I've witnessed a lot of things that other people probably haven't - I actually 'felt' a presence in the house as a kid. And that really opened up my eyes.
"I get a lot of interest from other Occult writers and I contributed recently to a couple of books. I like doing that because it's me, I can say what I feel and can bring in my own philosophy. But when you're in a band with four other people who aren't involved in those things you have to compromise. Whatever makes me conceive these ideas, I don't think they're relevant in a band interview.
"I don't think I have to justify why I write what I write. I don't think I'm harming anyone. I suggest things in my lyrics, I don't preach. It's all suggestion so people can take it either way, they can interpret it how they like."
The body of McCoy's lyrics is so dense and all but impenetrable that the listener is liable only to get the haziest notion of what he's on about. I wondered how he reacted to the more blatant use of Occult imagery by Heavy Metal bands: are they Devil worshippers?
"They are. They all worship the flesh don't they? They do it for shock value and I don't think it's in particularly good taste because I don't think they really know what they're dealing with. They shouldn't be so ignorant, they should learn something about what they're saying. You get these bands with pentagrams and skulls on their covers... it's pathetic, really."
Something else the Nephilim find a little pathetic are the 'audience participation' rants much beloved by many bands. But then, they appear to have an ambivalent attitude to this one: on the one hand decrying it, yet on the other appreciating the value of control over their audience. Today a Nephilim gig is often a carthartic experience - intense and even brutal. Was there a time when the Nephilim failed to inspire such response?
"Oh yes," Pettit recalls, "especially early on, playing in front of skinheads and Hardcore fans. They weren't really indifferent, they just sat there staring at us. But we didn't get any grief from them. It didn't feel that good, though, playing to people who didn't shout, just stared."
"In our early days we really knew how to shut a crowd up," recalls McCoy. "We'd come on as a support band and people would be rowdy, making noise. But after we'd played two songs the crowd would be quiet, watching us. They wouldn't clap, but at least they'd be quiet for the rest of the gig. And that was a hell of an achievement considering the audiences we used to play to."
Those are hardly problems facing the Nephilim today. Indifference is certainly not an emotion they inspire from today's audience. Indeed, the degree of devotion they enjoy is quite startling. Yet paradoxically as they have got older, they have noticed that their audience seems to have gotten correspondingly younger.
"I think with a lot of these kids the sole reason they're into it is the sound," assess Pettit. "They're not trying to go off too deeply into the whole thing, they just like the sound of it. They like to get home and listen to it."
"Our music triggers the emotions it should be triggering, and that's good," McCoy determines.
Triggering the right emotional states in their audience will be the prime objective on this tour, but after that, what then?
"After this tour, all we've got planned is to record the album. We've been promised that nothing will be set up for us until it's finished. So we haven't got the idea stuck in the back of our minds: we've got a deadline to keep." Pettit sounds enthused by the idea of getting back into the studio again.
"The only thing is," cautions McCoy, "we've got our audience to keep. So everything, really, has to revolve around that."
"That's why I think taking our time over the album and doing it in the best way possible is the way we are going to keep them," concludes Pettit.
Somehow I don't think the Nephilim are in danger of losing their audience, nor they, in turn, of deserting the band. Fields Of The Nephilim, after six years of development, have finally closed 'Chapter One' of their history. 'Psychonaut Lib. III' represents a transition into 'Chapter Two', a chapter that should open with the grandeur promised by their third album.
'Psychonaut...' is a fascinating glimpse into the future of the Nephilim, retaining their old power and glory, now coupled with a new freedom and experimentation as they push back the boundaries of their art. It holds enthralling possibilities, and not a little danger. But then, as Carl McCoy is the first to point out: "It's the sense of danger that always makes us perform best."
Dangerous times lay ahead, but then what would life be without a little danger?