"DEAD POOL RISING" AND "LIGHT MY WAY" REVIEWS
BY STUART MOSES
With the triumphant return of Carl McCoy and his Mourning Sun album last year, I spent some time wondering whether we would need Fields of the Nephilim spin-off bands like Last Rites and NFD now the master has returned. While Mourning Sun was glorious beyond our wildest expectation the live dates that McCoy promised have yet to materialise -- and one begins to wonder quite how long-lived his return to music will be. Which brings us neatly to NFD, a band who have never made a secret of their members' connection with McCoy, either members of Fields of the Nephilim proper in the case of bassist Tony Pettitt, or live incarnations in the case of drummer Simon Rippin. NFD have also covered Fields of the Nephilim songs in their live set.
It's easy to see why opening song "Light My Way" was chosen as a single. It's straightforward gothic rock, reminiscent of The Cult circa their Beyond Good and Evil album. It's good fun, but lightweight compared to the majesty shown elsewhere. No-one can argue with singer Bob's sincerity when he emotes: "In the fading light of day, I've got to find another way". Much like McCoy, or Wayne Hussey, it's more about the way the words are delivered than the content of the lyrics. There is also talk of 'effigies', of which no doubt McCoy would approve. NFD get extra marks for the double meanings of 'possession' on second song "My Possession" though lose some for rhyming 'possession' with 'obsession' which is too obvious to impress. This song is another fast gothic rocker, but it's a little too by numbers to really astonish. Tony Pettit's bass is to the fore during "Caged" providing a strong foundation to the song. Who else is qualified to provide "Psychonaut"-style bass riffing than the man who played on the original? "Caged" is another fast gothic rocker, but has a stronger chorus than the previous song.
So far Dead Pool Rising has been enjoyable listening, but hardly essential. Then things change. The pace drops slightly for "One Moment Between Us." Three and a half minutes in NFD create an atmosphere similar to the closing half a minute of "At The Gates Of A Silent Memory" on Fields of the Nephilim's Elizium album. NFD have gained subtlety now they aren't just playing as fast as they can. "One Moment Between Us" has an almost trance-like effect, transporting this listener to another time and place -- just like Fields of the Nephilim do -- and you can ask no more of a song than that. Even some heavy metal drumming only adds to the effect. This is as good as it gets, you might think, until you hear the majesty of what is to come.
The way "Rise" makes me feel is the reason I like this sort of music. After a languid beginning, with acoustic guitar and gentle piano, the song builds slowly. Tony does some simple but shiver inducing slides on his bass. You know the calm before the storm in "Last Exit For The Lost" or the dreamy soundscapes of "Wail of Sumer/And There Will Your Heart Be Also" -- this is as good as that. Singer Bob is no McCoy, but here he plays the role perfectly. Five minutes in, the music drops away, there are some monks chanting, some delicate piano, then all the instruments kick back in telling my brain to release chemicals of pleasure into my blood stream. "Rise" is nearly eight minutes long, but I feel betrayed by the slow fade that ends the song. This song deserves to be twice as long ... at least ...
After such towering majesty it is inevitable that the next song is going to suffer in comparison. "Black Sun" has a slowed down glam-rock feel and shows a different side of the band, but feels disposable, much like "Shiva" on The Nephilim album. It works as part of a greater whole, but would shrivel under too close an examination.
We're back in The Cult territory for "Descent" - indeed it wouldn't take much of a stretch of imagination to hear Guns N' Roses performing this. The emphasis is on 'rock' rather than 'gothic'. I don't know if the band have aspirations to drive down Sunset Strip with Jack Daniels in their left hand and a peroxide blonde in their right. I had any number of rock cliches, which I was about to mock the band with, but they wrong-foot me mid song. The music is stripped away once again. Some atmospheric keyboards give us an interlude of gothic beauty. Then the heavy-riffing guitars erupt again and we're back in more mainstream rock territory, which will be enjoyed by bandana-wearing men in blue denim and cowboy boots everywhere.
Tony reprises his "Psychonaut"-style bass playing for "Senseless" which with an eight minutes plus running time promises to be a gothic rock epic. Unfortunately I can't get Axl Rose out of my head. The line: "I'll give you something that is real ... what do want?" is intriguing, but not entirely captivating. Then four and a half minutes in the music once again breaks down, with presumably sampled monks providing atmospheric backing. But the eight minutes pass without leaving much of an impression.
This brings us to "Dead Pool", which starts slowly and atmospherically. Here NFD show signs of a Pink Floyd influence -- much like late-period Fields of the Nephilim. The guitar histrionics wouldn't shame David Gilmour. I'm not sure how strong the central image of a dead pool rising is exactly, but then Carl McCoy's imagery was always best when taken at face value, without too much conscious thought. This is music of the id, not the ego. "Dead Pool" is an effective closer, though doesn't capture the majesty of "Rise".
This album shows that NFD are a rock band, with gothic trapping. From a financial point of view this is probably prudent. The rock market is much bigger than the goth scene after all. My problem is that I like them more when they are being Fields of the Nephilim than Guns N' Roses. Whether the band will escape the weight of their history remains to be seen, but this is a strong second album, which has been delivered promptly, which is more than can be said for certain of our goth founding fathers.
Songs like "Rise" and "One Moment Between Us" justify NFD's existence. They aren't the first ones to make this sort of music -- but they are making music as good as Fields of the Nephilim at the apex of their power. They are not consistently hitting this height, which is frustrating, but when they get it right it is difficult to find words to express how they make me feel.
"Light My Way" is a good choice for the single. It showcases NFD's upbeat gothic rock to full effect, though it's not the most interesting song on the album. On the single you get the Radio Edit, which cuts 40 seconds of playing time. This doesn't make much difference to the listening experience, though I'm intrigued to know which radio stations NFD thinks will want to play their song if is it three and a half minutes long rather than four minutes plus. If there are stations out there playing this then I'd like to know as I think I'd rather enjoy tuning in.
A remix "Light My Way (The Fog Descends)" walks the delicate line of changing the song enough to make the remix worthwhile, without producing an entirely different track. The main changes include heavier use of keyboards, which does add greatly to the atmosphere of the song, making it sound more gothic. Augmented by some additional electronic noises it makes an interesting cul-de-sac rather than a vital destination.
This leaves "Unearthed" to determine whether this purchase essential. The good news is that this song is rather wonderful. With a very Fields of the Nephilim bass line at its core, this has echoes in the FX-laden guitars of Indie-underachievers Kitchens of Distinction. The story behind the lyrics is enigmatic. Bob sings: "Run away from the complications..." It seems to be the tale of a woman who seeks to escape the soul-crushing humdrum nature of life, "When she smiles, it's something precious..." I like this delicate side of NFD. They can rock out with the best of them, but it's the Romantic side of the band that I find most intriguing. There's no real resolution, either in the music or the narrative, but "Unearthed" works as a snapshot of a life. It's easy to see why this is a b-side, as it has an unfinished feel, as if it could have been developed further. Having said that, what is on offer is charming and makes buying this single worthwhile.