(Click an image to see it larger -- photos courtesy Nod Wright)
I type this to you listening to the album, probably for the first time in 10 years.
"Dawnrazor" was written in the back of a freezer container lorry. We called it the Slammer.
We arrived in the snow after dark finally to be greeted by Robert Godfrey -- the studio owner -- a large, almost monk-like figure brandishing plates of macaroni cheese without the cheese. A humble, budget driven meal for our efforts so far. We had at least all turned up. Once he left the room, we all commented individually on his inverted belly button, much to our amusement. After our banquet we took a brief tour of the studio, unloaded the gear then settled down to watch "The Keep" on Betamax with a few homemade cigarettes and pondered the events ahead.
Recording the intro to "Dust" looking down the long, converted barn: Tony on top of a step ladder dropping peas into a bucket of water, Pete playing an old gate post far down the end in the dark, while Carl moonwalked around in a 2 foot tray of gravel with his famous cowboy boots. Crunch, squeak and drip drip went our song. All together now.
"Volcane" holds a special memory: the look on the engineer's face when Paul played the guitar solo. It leapt out of the speakers and smacked him round the head. Being a guitarist himself, the sheer horror on his face, he had never heard anything like it. I just grinned with pride; neither had we.
I once heard it said that music is just music and that it should not be treated as religion. While I tend to agree when discussing religion in the fundamentalist sense, good music can be transformative in the same way a religious experience can. There are moments when music causes epiphany, especially when you treat art and music as more than accessory or entertainment.
One of the most memorable and enduring of these experiences, for me, happened in 1988. An acquaintance with parallel yet somewhat different musical tastes had the occasion to drop a pair of headphones on my head -- quite literally. Coming through was a strangely heavy yet melodic, heavily layered and sonically textured sound -- almost a drone. And over it all was a voice that sounded as if it was something eerily familiar and alluring, yet not quite human. I had been listening to metal for years: the heavier the better, blacker and more intense all the more attractive. Yet at the same time, even the most violent and anti-social usually ended up seeming ... flimsy and insincere. I had recalled seeing pictures of a band in a metal magazine a few months earlier. (Coincidentally. Or not.) They dressed like extras from a Clint Eastwood western. Their name was complex. Not the usual metal, blood, and guts affectation. It referenced the biblical tale of giants I had read about. When my friend said, "do you like these guys?" I said, "yeah, they sound great ... who are they?" The song playing, I later discovered, was "Dawnrazor."
For anyone who knows me as John, the man who runs the most enduring, and perhaps most singly influential USA forum for Fields of the Nephilim and related bands, the rest should be history. But it isn't really about me. The experience since that day has been about a lot more than my own fandom. Chance after chance, coincidence after coincidence. The chord of souls has come together around this entity that is somewhere between a band and an atavistic cult. Most reading this will know I've had a lot of help, and made a lot of friends along the way. It has been a journey to strange and familiar places.
I once wanted to front a band. Something not quite metal, yet heavy and dark. Something filled with arcana and mysticism. I stopped when I heard the entirety of "Dawnrazor" for the first time. I knew I couldn't do it any better.
I can quite safely say that without Dawnrazor I wouldn't exist. Someone would but he wouldn't be Cobweb. He wouldn't have the same name for a start.
As the Beatles mentioned in 1967 there were once "Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire." By the autumn of 1987, when I was doing my A levels, it was pretty much just one big hole, but compared to my home town it was an exotic futuristic metropolis. They even had a record shop, and it was here that the transforming power of Dawnrazor first began to exert its influence.
I was the sort of pretentious teenager that nowadays I'd strongly advise to get a life and a girlfriend. I did actually have a girlfriend, but you get the idea. I had very advanced musical tastes for my age. By that I mean I had a record collection that should rightly have belonged to a Geography teacher in his late forties. I thought Dire Straights was party music.
I finished school at four and the bus home wasn't until half five so I always had time to kill. Mostly I'd go to the library, but I did occasionally visit thee record shop. One fateful evening I was looking longingly at the Jethro Tull LPs when I noticed a tape. It had a white cover with a tiny picture of what looked like a man in a hat with headlights for eyes. I wasn't deeply concerned about that, but one of the words underneath may as well have been written in ten foot high neon lights. It said "Nephilim." Nephilim was my word. Other than some of my parents' theologian friends, who I'd unsuccessfully grilled about it, I'd never met anyone who'd even heard the word. I'd spent the last few years trying and failing to find out anything I could about nephilim, and here it was on the front of a cassette. Obviously now all would be revealed.
I opened the box and pulled out the insert to read the lyrics. There weren't any. What kind of band doesn't put the lyrics on their inserts? What was on the insert was a picture of some blokes in a barn and something about a jumping pumping machine brain. I knew immediately that these people were deeply cool and I had to be like them. They looked fantastic, they'd heard of nephilim, and they had headlights for eyes, and a brain machine thingy (whatever that may have been). I didn't have any money, but I went back to the shop every night for nearly three weeks to look at that picture while I saved up. When I finally had enough cash it was gone, and I was gutted, but the transformation had already begun.
I got an old tail coat from a jumble sale, and persuaded my girlfriend to donate one of her hats. It was almost a top hat only shorter. She'd got it from British Home Stores, but it looked a bit like one from the picture so I was happy. I also took to borrowing my mum's talc in a feeble attempt to look dusty and mysterious.
It was another year before I actually got to hear the album, and it wasn't the first Fields of the Nephilim album I heard. I continued to visit the record shop and while Dawnrazor was to elude me for a few more months I did manage to get a copy of "The Nephilim." My mind was well and truly blown, and I needed Dawnrazor more than ever. By the time it was mine I'd begun to gather together the rudiments of a life, but had carelessly misplaced the girlfriend. I still had a hat so what did I care. I had a hat, and I'd found a band that shared my love of H.P. Lovecraft, and dust, and straight to video horror, and they knew about the nephilim. I thought I knew what to expect from Dawnrazor. I had the gloriously tatty brown album and had fallen in love with that, but this was different. It had a lot to live up to.
I always liked to listen to new tapes in the dark using headphones. It made it special, and it helped me give my full attention. Things started off well, but before the end of the second side I really needed the lights on. This was brilliant. It had everything I could have wanted. This was music for people with hats. It was alive, and wild, and scary as fuck. I had no idea what any of it meant, even when I could make out the words, but it felt terrific. It filled me with energy, and for the first time music wasn't about clever poetry and flutes, it was about screaming into the night. I still loved "The Nephilim" (it was so brown and tatty) but that was a sleepy summer album, and it was going to be a very dark winter.
The evolution of Cobweb had well and truly begun. Thanks to that picture on a tape insert I'd ealised you could actually wear whatever you wanted. That I could be the same on the outside as I was on the inside was a revelation. Inside I was all hats, and dust, and tatty brownness and now I could show it. Thanks to Carl's lyrics, and snippets gleaned from reading interviews, I was able to begin hunting down the mysterious nephilim in earnest. I realised I wasn't quite as unique or strange as I'd thought, and learned not to pretend I couldn't see the things I saw when I forgot to try not to. Finally I managed to combine having a life and a girlfriend, and friends who were quite happy with hanging round a tatty dusty man who lurked in corners like ... well ... like a Cobweb. Without "Dawnrazor" I'd have been someone else.
"It was twenty years ago today..." or something like that. If "Sergeant Pepper taught the Band to play" follows in your mind, you aren't the only one. But I'm here to write about another band -- one that is perhaps more obscure than the Fab Four, but great nonetheless. That band is Fields of the Nephilim, and my first exposure to their album "Dawnrazor."
Early in 1988, I was given a paperback book to read by my boyfriend at the time. It was by two guys named Skipp & Specter. The name of the book was "The Bridge." The story starts out with two guys who dump radioactive waste off of the bridge in question into the river below on the sly. They do it often, and pretty soon the flora and fauna of the river and its environs begins to mutate in strange and insidious ways. Eventually, the now sentient plants and mostly the insects take over the world. The hero of the story at last finds himself trapped in an abandoned house where the vegetation is rapidly choking the walls, windows and doors. He's thinking he's a goner when suddenly out of the creepy crawling green mass emerges what is essentially a Mother Earth sort of figure. She tells him that there is a "new world order" and things are going to start all over again. This time they will be done right. The story-line as well as the title of the book would later prove to be significant in the metamorphosis that has since undergone the Nephilim mythos as envisioned by Carl McCoy, the driving force behind FotN.
In the back of the book was a list of "inspirational music." I saw the names of several bands that a good friend had turned me on to in 1984 -- names like Sisters of Mercy and Skinny Puppy. There was a band in the list I'd not heard of before. You guessed it -- Fields of the Nephilim. I remember one of the songs was "Reanimator," from an album called "Dawnrazor." I knew what most of the rest of the music was like, so I figured I'd check these guys out.
I had to go to the underground music store to find it, and it was just a cassette tape ... but oh, what a tape it was! My father loved to go to the movies and see spaghetti westerns, so we always went and I grew up watching them. From the haunting opening refrain of the "Harmonica Man's" tune to the strange little song at the end ("The Sequel") this was an album such as I'd never heard before. It was a feast for the ears and my imagination -- not to mention that I was thoroughly captivated by the growling and ominous voice of the singer. Okay, he sounded a little bit like Andrew Eldritch of the Sisters of Mercy, but there was something else there that Eldritch didn't quite get. I took out the sleeve and looked at the strange picture of the band and what little information there was on it. You might find it hard to believe, but it wasn't until 1999 that I knew what Carl McCoy or any of the rest of them looked like. To me, they were just shadowy cowboys in hats with glowing eyes.
Anyway, after listening to it a few times, I was deeply hooked in spite of the fact I couldn't make out a lot of what he was on about. I just knew I loved it! I didn't have to know the words. Somehow, when I put in those earphones and closed my eyes, my imagination just took over and transported me somewhere else. I played that tape until the little felt thingy fell out of the tape, then ran and bought another to replace it. I played that one until it unwound just a little too far one time. I managed to take the cassette apart and fix it -- a few more times -- before I broke down and bought a third one. Does that tell you anything about how much I listened to it?
There wasn't anything particularly memorable about the time, other than the music itself, which ended up opening a whole new world to me. I say "new" but it wasn't really that new. I'd been interested in mythology and the stories in the Bible all of my life. I knew what the Nephilim were, more or less -- the "giants in the earth" from Genesis. Even though I wasn't exactly sure what it was he was singing about, I intuitively knew that it had to do with those things I'd always loved. Slowly, something in that music began to embed itself down into the deep foundations of my mind and inspire me to write like nothing else ever had. It started me on a quest to find I knew not what ... I only knew that I had to follow it wherever it led for as long as it took. It wasn't until 1999, when I finally got a computer and got on line that I was able to really start digging -- and realized that "Dawnrazor" and "The Nephilim" were not the only albums FotN had done. I'd languished all those years hoping to find more, and I looked, but at that time FotN music was as scarce as hen's teeth around here. Still is ... but not quite as scarce as it was then. I was overjoyed to find "Elizium," "Earth Inferno" and "Zoon."
Ahhh, I mentioned strange warps in time, didn't I? I suppose I should explain that. I had another friend that I worked with at a previous job, between 1982 and 1987. He was young and not very musically sophisticated ... but he was willing to listen to anything I gave him. I'd turned him on to Sisters of Mercy and other bands of the genre. He really liked Sisters. This is where the time warp comes in, and no matter how many times I go over this in my mind I still can't reconcile how I have this memory. As I indicated, it was early in 1988 that I read "The Bridge" and discovered FotN. I worked with this friend until 1987 and not after that. Yet ... I remember taking "Dawnrazor" to work one day and giving it to my friend to listen to at work. I said, "Here, you should like this. They sound kind of like Sisters, only different." He said, "Cool," with a big grin. Eager as always to hear something new, he popped it into his cassette player and put in his earphones. I went to my desk and started working. After listening for a time, he turned off the player and said, "Ray, are you sure this isn't the same guy singing?!" I laughed and said, "No, that's not Eldritch ... it's some guy named Carl McCoy." "I LIKE IT!" and turned it back on.
I remember that vividly, and yet, it couldn't have happened. Eh ... the mind is a strange and sometimes twisted place, so I'm not going to ruminate on it too much. Still, it is quite puzzling. The only thing I can think is that listening to "The Sequel" too many times did something to my brain ... "This is the sequel, this is out of sequence..."
I remember being given Dawnrazor by my best friend ... I believe the statement as the cassette was handed to me was, "I can't get into this at all but you will love it". Truer words have never been spoken and I have been a fan ever since hearing it for the first time.
If I recall correctly, I was in my one-bedroom apartment in South River, New Jersey. I had heard "Preacher Man" on the Gothic Rock compilation (Hey, Cleopatra Records is good for something every so often!), but I hadn't heard the whole album. I waited until twilight to listen to "Dawnrazor." Somehow, that seemed right. Once I did hear it, I proceeded to drive everyone I knew crazy with it. I have subjected every significant other I've had to the "Revelations" VHS tape (and none of them has run away screaming.)
I was a big Sisters fan, and originally sneered at FoTN as copycat merchants. I saw them before "Dawnrazor," was released -- a bit noisy, a bit brash but very raw and rugged -- no polish like SoM! The album got released and I nicked it off my mate; "I saw them, so I might as well listen to it," I thought.
Not that impressed on first hearing. Then I taped it off my mate and started to listen to it!
"Intro (Harmonica Man)": I am a big Eastwood fan. The image of cowboys raw and rugged the spaghetti western films I love and adore, so this was my hook and I thought, "OK. I can see a reason to like you," but the music was still not there! Then one night, in my student digs, the lights were out, the shades were on, the curtains closed, came a song...
"Dust": "Awirling pool of blood and brains" and "Walk real high to see today" kept in my head -- over and over and over -- and it was the underlying Tony Pettitt bassline and that engine that hooked me. The growling vocal was just that -- JUST.
So I listened again. "Laura II" fell into place and the guitar bit after the main song -- perfect driving noise. That's when the thought of the texture to "Power" hit me and I thought, "Hang on, there's more to the imagery going on."
"Reanimator," "Slowkill," and "Volcane" followed on, and again, driving rhythms and subject matters -- some of which I was interested in, and others that started opening some doors.
Move on a few months and "Blue Water" was released, and obviously the "Electrostatic" tour in the UK. My fave song hit my TV. That was it! Back to "Dawnrazor," and then then the sound got inside me.
"Dawnrazor" itself: it took me ages to get it, but I got it. It took me places that I knew I wanted to be, and when coupled with seeing it live ... to transcend with the music ... that was that.
The whole mix of image and meaning and sound did take quite a long time, and I suppose if FoTN were not that good live I would have ditched the album. But the music has to be listened to live, because then you find out what it is.
I was fifteen in 1987 and I had heard of the Nephilim in school but had not heard any of their music until one day I was off ill. I decided that I probably wasn't that ill so got on my bike and pedalled to Blackpool where all the best record shops were. I saw the Dawnrazor cassette and was immediately taken back by the picture of the band on the front and the font.
By the time I got back home, I really was ill. I felt sick, I was sweating and all I wanted to do was go to bed. But I had to listen to this new tape. I had to find out what "Dawnrazor" and "Volcane" meant. So I brought down my duvet and my sister's bubblegum pink Sony cassette player and lay down on the sofa and listened to Dawnrazor for the first time.
I was mesmerised. I played it over and over again, turning the tape every twenty minutes or so. It was like being taught a new language in an afternoon, one that no-one else had known for centuries. I was unaware at the time that a Pavlovian effect was taking place inside my brain. It only became apparent a few days later when, fully recovered from my illness, I listened to "Dawnrazor" again, I felt sick. Every time I took out the cassette, I would feel nauseous. The sensation lasted for years but I always fought it because it was such a damned good album.
To this day, I have no clue what "Dawnrazor" or "Volcane" mean, but that afternoon twenty years ago was the beginning of a love affair with the Nephilim that is just as strong today.