THE NEFILIM: ANIMAL MAGIC
by Harry Cleaver
As the mysterious presence at the front of Goth legends Fields of the Nephilim Carl McCoy rasped the words that thousands into a swoon in the eighties. Now with his new musical incarnation as The Nefilim, the man in the cowboy hat has unleashed an album that, occult-influenced metal, 'Zoon', upon us. Harry Cleaver tracked down the Stevenage seer to discuss the man's music and magic.
Carl McCoy is something of a legend in his own lifetime. As lead singer and mysterious presence at the front of Goth band FOTN, he was the cowboy- hatted, flourdreched looming figure you saw emerging out of the smoke at his band's staggeringly powerful and atmospheric live shows. The Neffs, as they were fondly known at the time back in 1998 or so, came along at the time when all busy inspiring fervent devotion from their fans, who'd scrimp, save, scrounge and steal to follow groups like New Model Army around on tour. The resulting combination of near-blind adulation and some of the most incredible rock music ever was nothing short of astonishing.
McCoy, though, had to jack it all in in 1991.
"I seem to have pleased a few people down the line", he begins, "but it was very hard to please myself. I mean, I'd never say anything rude about the Goths. They were the fans! I remember even back as the first gigs in the early 80's, the audience was all in black, just a sea of black. We were one of the first bands who had that kind of audience, whereas everyone dresses in black now. But it was getting a bit tiresome with FOTN. Our last album 'Elizium' I found quite tedious to play live. To perform it and get out on stage made me feel a bit cold, I'd be walking onstage and, nothing happening there, even though everyone in the audience was going crazy. That's why this LP is more fiery and energetic, because I geared it to be played live. My last few years were a nightmare, I weren't happy at all. Very strong feelings. But that's not their problem! They got the chance to do what they wanted to do!"
Exit FOTN into the history books and legend, enter The Nefilim, along with minor spelling change.
Zoon, McCoy's debut album in his new incarnation, is the product of four years' chopping, changing and experimentation, Carl proving as hard to please in the studio as his reputation might suggest.
Because of his friendship with Morgoth, rumours had been flying round the German scene (where the Nephilim were huge) that Carl would be working with them; instead, it's been a stream of unknowns and even on occasion unnamed "name producers" who've provided the teething troubles for his new band. Now, with a stable line-up and a self-produced album in his back pocket, McCoy is ready to take on the world.
Instantly, from opener 'Still Life', with its blast beats, double-time slayer riffing and ferocious, relentless pacing, you soon realise that this is a very different beast to 'The Nephilim', the previous bands' best album. Back in the old days, the Neffs would never go harder than Motorhead on disc or onstage.
Here, Carl's clearly digested all the same things we have.
"Everyone in the old band had a wide variation of taste," he begins. "I used to love Slayer from the time when 'Reign in Blood" came out, but no one else liked the extreme stuff. I'm not saying I'm a real Slayer fan nowadays, but I like bands with attitude. A lot of the extreme stuff's the same, though, Sepultura, I think, get away with it 'cos they're not Americans, but everyone else seems to all follow each other round, it's very competitive, and I wouldn't want to compete with what they do.
"I fancied the challenged. This material is much more in character with myself; this time I crafted a sound around my vocals, but kept the feeling and vibe. The old band had had a sound, but I had to establish a new one, which took a long time! I didn't want it to be diluted."
Lyrically and in their use of imagery FOTN were well ahead of the pack and even a bit ahead of their time. From their Babylonian, Sumerian and HP Lovecraft references on 'The Nephilim', through to the overarching sensation of deep mysticism, the Neffs ensnared and seduced their Goth fans into a world replete with allusions to the Occult. The indie music press, clocking this bunch of Stevenage mechanics (which is what many of the band did as day-jobs) going 'alright mate?', concluded that the pose was pure pretension. McCoy, as usual, would beg to differ. 'Zoon', which means 'beast' or 'animal' in Greek, has its references - there's a track named 'Pazuzu', after the demon of maelstrom winds - but they seem more like motifs and metaphors for McCoy's deeper artistic expression. They might not be Stations Of The Upside-Down Cross, but then again, most Black Metal lyrics are really only metaphors as well.
"I find it very hard to take away the lyrics from the music. I've tried to play it down before, but it's a massive part of my life, it's also very personal. But none of the occultists I know in music have moved on. It's all medieval shit they read in a lot of books. I've been guilty of that with 'The Nephilim' LP, using John Dee imagery. I find it weird that in Death Metal and Black Metal as well as the Goth scene there are all these people going round pretending they're vampires and Satanists. To me, that's all front and imagery, whereas the people I know who are really into magic generally don't go around sacrificing chickens. In the modern world, different rules apply. Who worries about their crops going bad? Back then; it was just about survival, which is why they all performed those rituals. It's a very cosy kind of interest, that medieval period. I had it when I was a kid, I got my hands on everything that was available. But I don't carry medieval or sacred books around. I've got me own! After all, what magic is about is being creative."
Carl's hit the nail on the head, of course. After all, the 19th Century Occult revival went hand in hand with Decadence, Modernism and the ever- increasing expansion of the numbers of artists. Even back in the 17th Century Habsburg Monarchy at the time of the Baroque, magic and hermeticism went hand in hand with art.
Art is magic, and vice versa.
"Osman Spare used to be a big influence on my artwork," Carl agrees. "Especially his automatic drawing, I loved that. To others he was just a Black Magician, but he was a great artist! I mean, people from that side were drawn to the Nephilim because of it. The first time we played in the States, I had an invite from the Temple Of Set, Anton LaVey's lot, who were all great people, living an alternative lifestyle. But I always felt it was already very corny terminology, Satanism, it's just a complete joke. On the other hand, I know a couple of writers, two guys, who write stuff for their own order. They've contributed stuff to what I've done in the past and I've contributed to them. There are things going on out there, but the people I know are getting on and doing it, and not talking about it, generally."
Shut up and get on with it? Sounds fair enough to me.