Striding out of the dust-filled streets of Stevenage come Fields Of The Nephilim, shooting hard-nosed rebel guitar music from a suede clad hip. Lysette Cohen gets caught in the crossfire.

Let's put the record straight before we start. Contrary to popular (uneducated) belief, Fields Of The Nephilim do not sound exactly like the Sisters Of Mercy, never have done and never will. I let them state their case.

"They were much more simplified than us," says Tony, the Nephilim's bassist. "The best thing Andrew Eldritch could have done was to release that 'This Corrosion' single because it is so different from us."

"We're sick of the comparisons, sick of their name, sick of their records," mutters singer Carl McCoy. End of case.

I met the boys in their native new town concrete paradise of Stevenage, having just returned from a chaotic video shoot in Wales where they were torrentially rained upon. Having been together for about four years, the Nephilim were snapped up by Beggars Banquet last year and are fast becoming one of the biggest cult groups in this country. Their live shows have spawned a rapidly growing audience; they can now boast of sell-out gigs and records constantly appearing and re-appearing in the independent (and, more recently, national) charts. Do they feel the wait for success has been worth it?

Tony:" I think we are more prepared for it and what may happen."

Carl: "It has helped to change us as people. Our Attitudes have really changed. We seem to have been going against the grain from the word go. So we closed up and became more of a tighter unit."

It's not often that you come across a band who're as close as FOTN. They really are more like a family; ideas are shared and answers bounce easily off one another.

Tony: "In this band everyone can do what they want to because everyone knows what to expect from everyone else. This is an autonomous collective!"

The boys in the battered cowboy outfits and designer dust have just released a new single, 'Blue Water'. It is typical Nephilim - epic, powerful and characterised by Carl's incredibly deep and grisly sandpaper-like vocals. Have you always sung, as guitarist Paul put it, as if you've got a cattle grill in your throat?

Carl: "When I started I didn't have the range, 'cause basically I couldn't sing. Having been shouting for four years now, I can get anything I want from my voice without straining it."

Live, his voice sounds like the rumble of an earth tremor, hitting you straight in the stomach. And it is on stage that the band have built up something of a reputation for themselves. They start with the dry ice, stalk dramatically stage front, and - the dry ice just continues. Have you got a dry ice fetish or something?

Tony: "Ever since we started we wanted to use the stuff, although at first we didn't know dry ice machines existed."

Carl: "So we got a chemist friend of ours to mix up some chemicals for us, but unfortunately he included all this ammonia and it filled the place up with toxic gas! We nearly burnt our lungs out!"

Tony: "Now we can have as much as we like. I think smoke and lights on stage look really good. We can get an atmosphere going before we even go on stage."

Another thing that characterises the Nephilim is their similarity to the baddie in a Western after a fight - all battered and covered in dust. Have you always dressed like this?

Carl: "We've always worn shitty clothes. What we wear now is a development of what we used to wear."

Tony: "We'd rather dress down than up. When we started there were a lot of poncey looking bands around, really glamourising themselves. So we've done he opposite."

Paul: "On the 'Blue Water' video, we all had big spots and black faces from sitting around a fire. That's the way we like it - natural!"

Carl: "It makes us feel better. We've always done it. At our first gig we covered ourselves in bags of flour."

As you may by now have realised Fields Of The Nephilim are about wide open desert spaces, Westerns, dirt and sweat. Their album 'Dawnrazor' was lined out pretty much like a film, in that it flowed rather than having large ugly gaps between tracks. Do films influence your writing?

"I prefer watching a film to going to see a band," confesses Carl. "I don't get inspired by any bands, only this one. Steve Martin is a big influence."

"The ultimate gig would be us headlining and Steve Martin supporting," says guitarist Peter. "Brilliant."

So if you could all remake and star in one of the old Westerns, which one would it be?

Peter: "It would have to be 'Once Upon A Time In The West,' just for the bit where they all walk out of the bushes doing their flies up."