Fields Of The Nephilim & The Membranes - LIve Review - Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Fields Of The Nephilim & The Membranes - LIve Review - Shepherd’s Bush Empire

by john / Dec 19, 2022 / 0 comments
Saturday, 17 December 2022

Fields Of The Nephilim embark on another dark voyage as they perform their landmark 1988 album The Nephilim in full.

Few bands have as strong an identity as Fields Of The Nephilim. Even seen in silhouette — partly obscured by a dry ice fog; wearing their trademark wide-brimmed hats, mirrored sunglasses, long duster coats, cowboy boots, and a shroud of mystery — they’re unmistakable. Musically, there’s nothing quite like their pairing of what would become goth signatures (baritone vocals, chiming chords, bleak soundscapes, a bass player convinced they’re lead guitarist) with twangy Spaghetti Western slide guitar. And lyrically, Carl McCoy’s interests — religion, the occult, the Victorian underworld — shaped a post-apocalyptic world to match the music’s brooding sense of unease.

That identity is once again on full display at Shepherd’s Bush Empire tonight as the group perform their landmark second album The Nephilim in full. Never mind that only guitarists Gavin King and Adam Paul Leach are in the complete cowboy getup — there are enough steampunk gunslingers in the venue to make up the numbers amongst the obvious young and old goths, punks, metalheads, and T-shirts-and-jeans brigade.

As evidenced not just by their clothing, a Fields Of The Nephilim audience is far more diverse than the band’s unique character may suggest. Even as album opener Endemoniada progresses from slow, quiet instrumental to galloping wild west overture, ethereal dancing (lots of swaying arms and hips) coexists alongside mosh pits where shirts soon come off. And by the time the steady marching Love Under Will arrives, less than an hour in, a shirtless man is standing on another’s shoulders soaking in the transcendence of it all.

Having crafted such a fully realised world since 1984, McCoy knows that speaking will only break the spell. So, apart from saying “thank you very much” twice, he lets the nine tracks of 1988’s The Nephilim — and three classics for the encore — do the talking. John Robb (whose new book ‘The Art Of Darkness – The History Of Goth’ is the first in-depth book on the music and culture and is available from here), frontman of support act The Membranes, uses a different but equally effective approach. As conversational and dynamic as McCoy is silent and enigmatic, the singer and bass player really engages the early arrivals at Shepherd’s Bush Empire.

As one might expect from a music journalist, each song gets an introduction (the majestic What Nature Gives… Nature Takes Away is about “Life and death and nature and those kinds of things”; the raging Snow Monkey has its title and political implications explained). More importantly, for the live setting, each is performed with the energy and intensity they demand. When Robb’s not delivering lines like the poetic “The sweetest fruit tastes so good released from the surrounding tendril finger…” or incisive “Life is cruel in the mid-winter freeze/ You get what they think you deserve”, he’s bounding around the stage, scissor kicking like he’s back in Blackpool in 1978.

No slouches either are drummer Mike Simkins, Amelia Chain on keyboards and dreamy backing vocals, and guitarist Pete Byrchmore. The post-punk quartet go all-out during their eight-song set that draws heavily from 2019’s What Nature Gives / Nature Takes Away, with the trancey The Magical And Metaphysical Properties Of Plants, pummeling Black Is The Colour, and protean legend Deep In The Forest Where The Memories Linger particular highlights tonight. The treacherous, suitably haunting In The Graveyard, from the album Dark Matter / Dark Energy, is another standout alongside big-jangle set closer Myths And Legends.

The ’80s classic, and crowd pleaser, is the perfect introduction to the night’s other legend, which only grows with each passing year under McCoy’s watchful eye. Choosing to recreate The Nephilim in full on stage is another astute move; although (like all albums) it provides a snapshot of a time and place, when these songs are played in order they tell a story that encapsulates everything Fields Of The Nephilim are about.

The scene-setting Endemoniada (big, bold) makes way for The Watchman, where restraint becomes battlecry. Thanks to bass player Tony Pettit and drummer Lee Newell, the galloping Phobia kicks up as much dust as a herd of wild horses, while Moonchild rightly remains one of the band’s most beloved songs (as evidenced tonight).

Chord Of Souls amplifies the tempo and intensity, before the lumbering Shiva lowers the pace, if not the impact. Celebrate, which is as much about Pettit’s melody as McCoy’s vocal, really emphasises the lyrics. For the audience it offers a momentary breather before the two nuanced widescreen epics (Love Under Will and Last Exit For The Lost) bring the journey to a rousing climax. As the band play harder and faster and the audience keep pace, a growling McCoy promises: “We’re getting close to you, I can see the door/ Closer and closer, or is it there at all/ Forever remain, forever remain.”

Forever is a long time, but everyone remains for a spirited run through Preacher Man (all urgency and conviction), free-flowing Blue Water, and moody Dawnrazor before reluctantly departing these Fields Of The Nephilim once more.

Rating out of 11: