On the cool check in:
- A band looking like mean, wasted horsemen from a steam punk wild west? – Check!
- Cool-ass LP title? Dawnrazor – Check!
- Evocative signature tune cover of Morricone’s ‘The Harmonica Man’*? – Check!
- Amusingly gothic purple prose? ‘The flowers in your kitchen WEEP for you!‘ – Check
- Mysterious, shady LP cover? – Check!
So why isn’t the 1987 debut by the Fields Of The Nephilim mine and your favourite LP ever? it may depend on your tolerance for thunderously pretentious goth rock sung by a man who sings in the manner of Dr Faustus wrestling with his last night on earth. I really like it but there again I would, as I’m a thunderously pretentious reformed goth.
‘Intro (The harmonica Man)’ makes for a great atmospheric opener and it really makes me want to watch the film all over again, then we thunder into the spritely ‘Slow Kill’, which is all declaiming and dark, jangled guitars. As a marker for the basic style of the Fields Of the Nephilim it’s a good one, their music is rocky in the manner of early Sisters of Mercy, a bit more brash, ragged and thrusting maybe, I can definitely hear some early Cult in here too. Throughout Carl McCoy yowls and baritones away – his lyrics big on atmosphere and soundbites, less so on coherence:
Don’t cry on the bridge of starving
So cold, first light
Up here on the bridge of night
Forsake me but listen
Dawnrazor is, as I mentioned a great title in its’ own right but check out ‘Volcane (Mr jealousy Has Returned)’ too, you can’t have (too) many brackets (in song (titles)), I always say. ‘Volcane … ‘ is also a really rather spiffing track, my favourite one here actually, propelled by a great beat and guitar sound and it has a breakdown drop out bit too, which is always good for some added gothic drama – not to mention a good guitar solo. The overall sound dovetails with all the greasy rock bands like Crazyhead and Balaam & The Angel that were being pushed as ‘grebo’ at the time by the UK press. I’m also rather fond of the quieter ‘Vet For The Insane’, source of the rather overblown lyric about weeping flowers above, McCoy’s stentorian growl really sounds menacing on this cut.
My criticism of Dawnrazor is that a certain sameyness sets in on side 2; there’s nothing wrong with ‘Dust’, ‘Reanimator’** or ‘Dawnrazor’, they’re all perfectly okay but I’d struggle to tell one from the other after a few minutes and you do ache for a change of pace after ten minutes in.
But the good news is that the band did hone their songwriting chops massively and two LPs later unleashed their own dark masterpiece on the world, Elizium – which I really think is one of the great underrated albums^. Dawnrazor ranks as a good, brash debut LP and a neat statement of intent which launched a thousand sweaty gigs across a thousand floury student unions^^ and lets face it dusty cowboys are always pretty cool.
As an aside, whilst I’ve got a copy of the original UK version of Dawnrazor the later US version is definitely better as it includes a few cracking extra tracks, ‘Preacher Man’ and ‘Power’ amongst them. In fact since the video to ‘Preacher Man’ gave us the LP cover, I’ll put it here – ham acting and all.
*actually called ‘Man With a Harmonica’ on the Once Upon A Time In The West soundtrack.
**they score 1537 bonus points for writing about one of my fave teen horror movies on that one.
^no, really it is – think Pink Floyd’s moody younger brothers mucking around with Ouija boards and you’re halfway there.
^^they used to cover themselves in flour before going on stage, it was a late 80’s thing.