Sunday, October 7, 2012
Fields of the Nephilim - Elizium (1990)
Well, it's October again and in honor of my favorite month crowned gloriously by my favorite holiday, I'll be spending this months featuring albums with a decidedly spooky feel.
The first of these is by Fields of the Nephilim, a gothic rock group influenced by the occult and spaghetti westerns, fond of performing in black cowboy outfits. Elizium is their second album, showing dramatic advancement over their solid, but not outstanding debut. I'll go out on a limb and say that I personally consider this to be the finest goth rock album ever produced. It's a strong statement, I know, but allow me to elaborate.
Whereas the band's first album was song-oriented, Elizium is much more sweeping in scope. The first four tracks all flow together to form one fifteen minute suite ranging from somber atmospherics to uptempo, but still quite dark, rock, then back to brooding stillness. The guitars are drenched in reverb, the drums boom in the distance and the singer's voice croons in a deeply smooth, yet sinister drawl. There is even a grainy sample of infamous occultist Aleister Crowley to ratchet up the creepiness.
I should take a moment to comment on the production which, although the song writing is very strong, is the main reason the album succeeds to spectacularly. I'm not sure how they got the effect, but the whole thing sounds like it's being played on a bonfire-lit hilltop several miles away across a foggy moor. The effect is as eerie as it is exciting.
The opening suite, collectively known as "for Her Light," is followed by a more subdued eight-minute track called "Submission," which is essentially a bass guitar workout for the singer to talk ominously over. Various vocal effects sch as echo and elaborate panning keep things unsettling throughout.
What's striking is how catchy these songs manage to be, and how much they rock, without disturbing the uncanny atmosphere. The eleven-minute rocker "Sumerland (What Dreams May Come)" is relentlessly entertaining throughout, and for me is the highlight of the album, while the final two tracks wind things down in a dreamy, hallucinatory way that makes you wonder whether you imagined the whole thing.
Music that tries to be spooky is always of danger of stumbling into a great many treacherous pitfalls, but Fields of the Nephilim manage to simultaneously avoid being campy, contrived or overly abrasive, a feat for which they surely deserve a great deal of praise.