Although they hail from Stevenage (a town 30 miles north of London), to judge by their appearance and music, these moody post-goths could have stepped right out of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, dust flying and spurs clicking. The band’s sound is equal parts Sisters of Mercy and Ennio Morricone; dark, deep, smoky vocals coiled around a layered rush of swirling, twanging guitars.
Burning the Fields is a four-track EP; Returning to Gehenna mixes then-current singles and B-sides, most of them later appended to the UK CD of the quintet’s first full-length album. Dawnrazor is an enjoyable creation, with some great songs (“Slowkill,” the title track), but the Sisters’ influence is so strong that it tends to overshadow the Nephs’ unique qualities. (The US version of the LP excises “Reanimator,” adding some non-LP British singles, including “Blue Water.”)
The Nephilim is a magnum lunge forward to a less derivative, more atmospheric sound. Reminiscent in spots of early Pink Floyd and Joy Division, the harsher-voiced songs are much longer and imbued with a cinematic, soundtrack-like feel, hitting full stride on the solemn epic “Last Exit for the Lost” and the blasting “Chord of Souls.”
A 12-inch harbinger of the next album (the CD of which contains it), 1989’s ambitious “Psychonaut” is a nine-minute psychedelic wash of icy organ and pulsing beats. Smoother than The Nephilim, with no traces of the early western flavor, Elizium tantalizes the senses with a headful of dreamlike sounds, coming to a peak in “Wail of Sumer,” the best song they’ve recorded to date. Carl McCoy’s singing has mellowed — he sounds like a burnt, brooding Jim Kerr — and the choirlike effects instill a sense of palpable awe.