"GENESIS AND REVELATION" REVIEW
by Stuart Moses
Despite the disappointment of the recently cancelled tour, my love for the music of Carl McCoy remains strong. Having said that, I did approach this compilation with a little trepidation. Do I really need a collection of 'previously unheard early studio recordings, a reunion studio workout, a millenium live show plus a DVD of never before seen unique live footage'? Would Genesis and Revelation match the majesty of Fields of the Nephilim's classic albums or will the sound I hear be that of Jungle Records scraping the bottom of the barrel to make a few quid?
The initial signs are not good. The opening songs on the Studio Rarities CD are so similar to the official versions that if you aren't paying close attention you'll not notice many differences. There's a little more flanged guitar during "The Tower (O.Higgins mix)" but that's about the most obvious difference. More interesting is "Dawnrazor (demo)" which in this incarnation sounds more like The Sisters of Mercy than the 'normal' version. There's a wonderful ominous chiming noise. The drum sounds like a machine, making this a more perfect fit for The Reptile House than Fields of the Nephilim's debut album. The changes are cosmetic though -- I can't imagine choosing to listen to this over the album version.
"Power (Power Surge version)" is the most radically different version on offer here -- it's the first essential song on this CD. It has an almost Industrial/Nine Inch Nails feel to it. It's recognisably the same song, but it's like someone has pimped Carl's ride. If the 'normal' version was the sound of Carl riding his horse over the plains at a gentle canter, this version is Mr McCoy on a robot horse, which is jet-propelled, breathing fire, tearing down the motorway at a hundred miles an hour. It makes the other versions of this song sound weedy, though its nature as a demo means that the production is far from luxurious.
The most intriguing song is "Deeper Deepest Dub (1997 reunion)" which makes me even sadder that the reunion of the original line-up didn't bear more fruit. It sounds like the logical extension of the best bits of The Nephilim and Elizium albums. After a wail of feedback and discord, this song becomes a stately march up the mountains of the Gods. The signature throbbing bass is in place. There's also some beautiful filigreed guitar that arrives around the four-minute mark. The only thing absent is Carl McCoy's vocal. It's a missed opportunity as the basis is so strong it has potential to be as strong as anything the band have done.
So then we move onto Live at Roskilde Festival in 2000. It's not until three songs in that the casual listener would notice that this wasn't the original line-up. Four songs in we are presented with "Moonchild" which features guitars more frail than the original, but different enough to be interesting without being a complete reinvention. Despite what the inlay might say the next song is "Love Under Will". Both songs feature a subtle wah-wah effect not noticable on the originals. "Love Under Will" sounds a bit rickety in places, which can't be right. The early parts of "Zoon (Part 3 -- Wake World)" sounds shivers-down-the-spine exciting, though it later descends into the metal dirge that I remember from the album. I imagine that this gig was something special if you'd been there, but the recording leaves me feeling lacklustre.
For someone like myself who never got to see Fields of the Nephilim in 1986 the opening clips on the Unseen Performances 1986, 2000 DVD are a fascinating insight into the band. Though "Power" is billed as a Video Promo . and is covered with more special effects -- it is clear that it was filmed at The Zap Club Brighton, just like "Laura" and "Trees Come Down" which follow. Though the DVD cover warns that this DVD contains 'archive footage of varying quality', the retro effects and our inability to see the band all the time adds to the mystique. There are precious few shots of the crowd, bar the appearance of one Goth girl at the front. Is this the mythical Laura -- or is it someone the cameraman fancied? We may never know.
Though famed for their seriousness there's a magical moment at the beginning of "Power" when Carl spins slowly round. I'm sure that he is smiling. It's also great that Carl appears without shades, which means you can stare into the dual abysses of his eyes. Is his psychotic look the result of too many Aleister Crowley rituals -- or was it just the drugs? One thing swiftly becomes apparent though. Carl McCoy should never speak: "This is for all uh. all this lot here... we've got Indians down the front down there..." How can someone who sounds so enigmatic when he sings, sound so mundane when he speaks?
The next clip is from The Underworld club in Croydon circa 1986. It's weird to think that Fields of the Nephilim played the place where I live. I certainly remember the club existing. The word in the playground was that if you went there you would get beaten up. It is entirely possible that my contemporaries -- other 13-year-old boys - didn't know what they were talking about. If violence did mar this club, Carl and the boys manage to perform "Dawnrazor" without fisticuffs breaking out. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this footage is the four sheets of red flock wall paper which act as the backdrop. I can only presume they were supplied by the venue rather than the band. Though the sound is OK, this footage has the look of a superior bootleg. Once again Carl does his slow spin. He even plays a tambourine, which isn't a very magic(k)al thing to do. There's also an audible tape hiss during the quieter moments of the song. It doesn't detract too much from the enjoyment of the clip -- it just sounds like it's raining outside.
Then we skip forward 14 years and catch up with a later incarnation of the band at Mera Luna. This does really look like bootleg footage. At times one might suspect that the film has been specially treated to give it a washed-out look, which suits the performance, but I suspect it's just the quality of the source material. I wasn't at Mera Luna either so I'm grateful for the opportunity to see some of the action. This isn't professional footage though and was obviously filmed from the crowd. This means the viewer always feels distant from the stage. Talking of which, the greyness of the stage, mixed with smoke and lights, makes the scene look almost post-apocalyptic, with the adoring fans playing the part of the rag-clad survivors that appeared in the "Preacher Man" video (not featured on this compilation). I've watched many worse bootlegs, at least this one is mainly free from someone in the audience singing along and drowning out the vocalist we're supposed to be listening to. Though the clapping during "Psychonaut" just seems plain wrong. With performances of "Moonchild", "For Her Light", "Love Under Will" there's no faulting the quality of the songs, but if I want to watch them performed live I'm more likely to turn to the professionally-produced "Visionary Heads."
Finally there's a press conference with Carl and bassist Tony Pettitt at Zillo festival in 1998. This is fascinating, less for what we learn -- which isn't much -- more for the chance to see Carl McCoy speak in bright lights without smoke and noise to hide behind. It is interesting hearing Carl and Tony talking about separate Nephilim (studio-based) and Fields of the Nephilim (more traditional) projects, which with the benefit of hindsight we know would never reach fruition. Carl is genuinely amusing on a couple of occasions, though you can tell that this isn't his natural environment. It is slightly disappointing to hear Carl talking about his records as 'product' though.
Ultimately if you want everything Carl McCoy has ever done on CD and DVD you need to get Genesis and Revelation. It's suitable for collectors rather than the casual fan. The quality is superior to some bootlegs you can buy. On the other hand I've gone past that stage where I want to own endless versions of the same songs, often performed slightly less well than the 'proper' versions. The DVD is an interesting curio, but I can't imagine I'll be watching it in preference to the officially-released videos. For the completist this is an essential purchase, but it will never replace the proper albums in my affection.