Maybe it’s testament to how far their devout, exploratory spirit has spread throughout the metal scene, or the announcement of tonight’s guest appearance by Behemoth’s Nergal, but Fields Of The Nephilim draw a very mixed crowd these days.
Elder goth followers of their 80s incarnation – including the the regular Carl McCoy doppleganger, down to the leather breeches, braces and dusted wild western hat – rub shoulders with a younger crop of devotees in various extreme metal t-shirts, all waiting in anticipation for a band whose spiritual resonance has become such that to follow them feels like a calling. Tonight’s also a unique occasion. The Academy is no shoebox, but with a larger, Forum gig to come, this is by far the most intimate venue the band have played for decades, and if the scale of the room doesn’t match up to the grandeur of FOTN’s vision, their knack for transporting you far beyond the immediate remains undimmed.
Materialising amidst banks of dry ice that would give Sunn O))) pause they launch into a sumptuous Dawnrazor, as McCoy’s rich, weather-worn incantation, returned Tony Petit’s sensuously prodding bass and languid guitars like sunbursts reflected across a field of crystal and dissolving into the lushest of cadences all massaging the senses until they reach an ecstatic state, and the crowd respond in kind.
Arms are raised, in a time-honoured rite, worshippers stand on shoulders, held in place by a circle of human scaffolding as panicked security rush in and are warned off, and if the effect is one of communion, it’s not just with your fellow punters, it’s with something sacrosanct and other.
A fevered Moonchild and For Her Light’s flight though moonlit mazes in classic if still transcendent gothic fashion are also amongst the band’s most unforgettable anthems, and even on this smaller stage, Nephilim’s fully-fledged aesthetic remains one of the most immersive live experiences you’re likely to encounter. The droned intro to Psychonaut unleashes another flood of endorphins, it’s tribal, Floyd-ian groove a march across a psych threshold that has the entire room losing its shit, and when the band return and bring on a sympathetically attired Nergal for the piledriving, metallised Penetration, the rapport between him and McCoy becomes something more than the sum of its parts and a testimony to how music comes alive when it knows no boundaries.