For anyone who knew the man or his music, Nergal’s appearance onstage with Fields Of The Nephilim in May 2011, nine months after his diagnosis of advanced leukaemia, was testament to an artist who’d always embodied the defiant, will-powered ethos of extreme metal. But as much as his recovery, and the rise of Behemoth into metal’s upper echelons since is a huge victory, no one makes music as vast as the Poles or Fields Of The Nephilim themselves without having some sense of humility, without an awareness of forces larger than yourself, and it’s why Nergal’s recent reappearance at the occult gothic legends’ most intimate show for 30 years was as much a moment of utmost poignancy as it was a fist-in-the-air thrill.
Appearing onstage at the end of Thursday’s Islington O2 Academy set to huge cheers, face painted deathly pallid white and partly hidden beneath a wide-brimmed hat, he one more lent his searing vocals to the track Penetration – recorded by The Nephilim, the more metallic band frontman Carl McCoy formed after Fields Of The Nephilim originally split in 1991 – as the piledriving riffs and sheer propulsive force drove through any remaining boundaries amongst the diverse audience. It became a true, incensed act of communion.
Fields Of The Nephilim have long been an inspiration to the metal underground. Enigmatic frontman Carl McCoy’s only ever guest appearance on Watain’s Waters Of Ain from 2010’s Lawless Darkness album was the most outward sign of a spiritual resonance that’s touched bands as diverse as Immortal and Secrets Of The Moon. For Nergal, however, the band have left an even more personal mark.
“Obviously I knew the lyrics,” Nergal explained after his first appearance with the band, “but right before I went on stage, I was like, Eureka, what the fuck! I remembered the lyrics ‘Shining like gods/New body, new blood/The fire that I feel/Armageddon’. I was blown away, and this was magical, I can tell you. It was something super-special. I made this gesture onstage and showed my veins to say there was new life in me and I wanted to give the lyrics an extra expression. It had a double meaning to me, first being out of the transplant, and then such an important performance with a legend.”
As much as the world of extreme metal can sometimes seem too imperious or too impersonal to the outsider, the higher forces it aims to invoke are the ones that put our humanity into sharpest relief and calls upon it to respond. Nergal and Fields Of The Nephilim together brought that thought home in the most immediate and profound form.