The Outer Limits: Fields Of The Nephilim
They've been branded gothic rock and even spaghetti metal, but we have to ask: How prog were Fields Of The Nephilim?
Nurtured on a diet of film soundtracks, psychedelia and Pink Floyd, these gothic cowboys emerged from the post-punk scene with one thing on their mind: to experiment.
Gothic rock and prog might not seem to have much in common, but dig deeper and there are similarities. For starters, they both refuse to stick to standard song structures, often have a penchant for evocative atmospheres and a passion for cerebral lyrical concepts. Yet Fields Of The Nephilim’s story starts not in Highgate Cemetery, but in the Hertfordshire town of Hitchin in the early 1980s.
“We were all trying to make experimental music – even as separate individuals,” remembers singer Carl McCoy as he relaxes in a hotel lounge ahead of the band’s sold-out show at the Bram Stoker International Film Festival in Whitby. “When we got together, we made a good sound.”
And that sound was quite unlike anything Hitchin, or indeed anywhere else, had heard. Along with bassist Tony Pettitt, guitarist Paul Wright and his drumming brother Nod, they experimented with elements of The Velvet Underground, Steve Hillage, Pink Floyd and even dub, infusing them with punk attitude. “We didn’t like the standard sounds of any instruments,” McCoy says. “We’d have to mess with everything… We never wrote songs with any sort of standard structure – pre-chorus, verse, chorus. No, it didn’t really work like that!”
Despite their punk leanings, the Nephs weren’t interested in making fast and furious two-minute songs. Instead, they wanted to create atmospheric soundscapes punctuated with McCoy’s ‘gargling with gravel’ vocals (said to be the result of the singer burning his throat when he was younger). The band worked outside the box, playing with tape loops and any musical gizmos they could lay their hands on. Equipment more commonly used by surf rock bands, like the vintage ‘spring’ reverb unit and Roland Space Echo, became integral to their psychedelic-infused sound.