Fields of the Nephilim – Dawnrazor

FOTN_DawnrazorDawnrazor is a goth-rock album. This is a fine album for a goth-rock band. And Fields of the Nephilim are a goth-rock band, right? So everything is fine.

Except to the true believer, to the psychonautical, the FotN are something much more. They are a monolithic religious experience, with an emphasis on the religious. They are truly pagan rock, singing about what happens to the mind and soul when they are divorced from the mortal coil. They’re about the stuff you’re embarrassed to tell your mates you worry about late at night, when you look at the sky and know there’s something more than nothing there, but can’t tell what.

Dawnrazor is a collection of nifty goth-club tracks. Chorused guitar (and occasional bass), repetitive arpeggiated guitars, and above all Carl McCoy’s growling vocal. They fit in coming over your speakers after a track from the Cure’s Seventeen Seconds, before some Siouxsie. The best of them, and the big single from the album, is “Preacher Man.”* It’s a post-apocalyptic fantasia that would be the theme song to something in the weekly 2000 AD anthology. It bounces, it has a strong central riff. You could even dance to it.

*According to Wikipedia (and this is the sort of thing Wikipedia is good for), “Preacher Man” was a single release and not on the UK LP at all.

But the title track points the way to the future. It’s a monolithic song, big enough for a cathedral, the beginning of the twinned guitar attack that dominates the band’s sound for the rest of their run. “Dawnrazor” is the biggest damn thing on the record, on practically any record. The lyrics are unintelligible, but damn if they don’t sound important. Soon, very soon, for at least a select few, FotN would become very important, indeed.

  • One hint that FoTN knew how to be properly dramatic: opening the album with a recreation of the iconic “Harmonica Man” track from Once Upon a Time in the West
  • One hint that they didn’t know how to sound properly serious: several movie samples, mostly from The Evil Dead. These are all attempts to be spooky, instead of taking on the religious grandiosity (pomposity? I wouldn’t call it that, but the pompous never do) of their later releases
  • “Vet for the Insane” is the ballad, and it suffers from having a slightly similar sound to Metallica’s “Santiarium” while being nowhere near as awesome
  • For my money the best version of “Dawnrazor” is on the incredible live album Earth Inferno

NAQ (Never Asked Questions)

When did you get this album?

I have no idea. I got the Nephilim albums in reverse order, Elizium, The Nephilim, then Dawnrazor. I must have been in high school, in those heady days when getting goth albums meant heading miles from home to Melrose, where bootleg VHS tapes of UK video releases were openly sold.

What other album does it sound most like?

Sisters of Mercy’s First and Last and Always. This is goth rock, and much like Floodland did for the SoMs’ sound, the next album takes it into a much larger, less genrified direction.

Where should you listen to this?

In a goth club, thirty years ago, across the Atlantic (says this Californian). It’s goth rock from when keyboards were still not 100% welcome in rock bands (which is anachronistic, since by ’87 every rock band had keyboards).

Best songs?

The two mentioned in detail here, “Preacher Man” and “Dawnrazor”.

Last word?

This is music for the club, for heading out with friends who don’t ever want to listen to the radio. The next two albums, they take you to church.

About Kent Conrad

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