Few bands have been so quick to distance themselves from the gothic genre as Andrew Eldritch and the Sisters of Mercy. But, well, I’m not so convinced. Listen to any track from the group’s brooding 1985 debut, First and Last and Always – or any of their EPs before that -and you’ll find what forms the backbone of the gothic rock genre. A distorted, depthy atmosphere, a deep voice, and a deliciously macabre mix of synth and guitar. In that respect, all three of the Sisters’ albums qualify.
They wore black, they sang about religion and war, and immersed themselves in the alternative image. So, to rejoice in such dark, moody music, we’re looking back at the ten best tracks the Sisters of Mercy let loose. Black aviators at the ready.
Poison Door, ‘Walk Away’ single, 1984
First and Last and Always, First and Last and Always, 1985
Dominion / Mother Russia, Floodland, 1987
Vision Thing, I Was Wrong, Vision Thing, 1990
10. Flood II, Floodland, 1987 – No doubt a less-than-subtle nod to the female orgasm (not unlike The Cult’s 1985 single, ‘Rain’), ‘Flood II’ is one of the tragically overlooked moments of the Sisterhood’s history, and a deep cut even on the unanimously-lauded Floodland. How do you follow the goth opera’s masterpiece, ‘This Corrosion’? Easy, you conjure up more apocalyptic imagery and synth.
9. No Time to Cry, First and Last and Always, 1985 – The Sisters of Mercy’s first full-length release is by far their most ‘gothic’, with an almost distorted, raw sound to it, unrefined vocals and solemn melodies. But that’s not to say there was any shortage of stellar, dance-worthy tracks. ‘No Time to Cry’ is one such example of the band’s potential in the early years, when Wayne Hussey was still in the band. Classic Sisters of Mercy, and as macabre as you could ever need.
8. Adrenochrome, ‘Body Electric’ single, 1982 – When adrenalize is oxidized, it becomes adrenochrome. And that’s probably more than you really need to know about the chemical compound, as the track has little to do with it at all. Released as a double A-side along with ‘Body Electric’, it also featured on the group’s Some Girls Wander by Mistake, an album compiling all of the group’s recorded material from 1980-1983. It’s a real deep cut, but one of the group’s most underrated tracks, with fuzzy vocals and an almighty, wailing. riff Just pure, post-punky rock. Hallelujah.
7. Nine While Nine, First and Last and Always, 1985 – Is it about waiting for a lover to return on the train? Is it about drugs? Suicide? It could be about any of those things, knowing the Sisters, but supposedly is one of the group’s many songs that stems from Eldritch’s break-up with DJ Claire Shearsby. It’s one of the grooviest songs on First and Last and Always – a balance to the brooding darkness of its opener, or ‘Marian’ – and remains one of the group’s best early works.
6. 1959, Floodland, 1987 – Sure, Eldritch and his morose band of God-botherers are known for luscious synth, piercing guitar and sprawling, minutes-long soundscapes of Armageddon. But that’s not to say the Sisterhood can’t pen a good ballad when they need to. The precursor to ‘This Corrosion’, ‘1959’ takes its numerical namesake from the year in which its writer was born and consists of little more than his gentle vocals and piano – the strings of which seem rung of every pain-drop they have left to give. It’s one of the most ambitious reaches on Floodland, and that’s saying a lot.
5. More, Vision Thing, 1990 – If the fallen angelic ‘This Corrosion’ is the centrepiece of the band’s second album, then ‘More’ is the unbridled beast within Vision Thing’s labyrinth. With nearly two minutes of built-up tension, Eldritch finally lets loose like an animal on all fours, ‘One thing I know/ I want more!’ and we’re straight into a chugging riff of pure rock ‘n roll thunder. Vision Thing may be a far cry from the gothic abyss of First and Last and Always, but it’s tunes like ‘More’ that make it just as formidable.
4. Temple of Love, single, 1983 – There are two versions of ‘Temple of Love’, the initial single released in 1983, and a less ‘gothic’, 1992 release with vocals from Ofra Haza. But both sound relatively similar, and both rock, clocking in at over eight minutes and providing some of the most charged guitar work the merciful Sisters ever put to wax. Match that with some pure, baritone poetry from Eldritch (‘The temple of love grows old and strong/ But the wind blows stronger cold and long’) and you’ve got a timeless, goth rock masterpiece.
3. When You Don’t See Me, Vision Thing, 1990 – Vision Thing is home to a slew of underrated hits, but chief among them is ‘When You Don’t See Me’, a heartfelt headbanger that proves one of the group’s most mainstream in sound. On an album with a lyrically sparse, eight-minute epic, it’s tracks likes this that are short, sharp shocks to the system.
2. This Corrosion, Floodland, 1987 – Produced by Jim Steinman and featuring a full, 40-piece choir, ‘This Corrosion’ has it all, at nearly eleven minutes long – the full-length version – and concerning the betrayal frontman Eldritch felt when previous members of the band left to form well-known gothic rock act, The Mission. For the whole time, this track never lets up, hitting us with choral chants, lavishly cryptic verses and one of the most haunting choruses of the 1980s. It’s perhaps the Sisters’ best-known offering, and it’s not hard to disagree with the popularity.
1. Lucretia My Reflection, Floodland, 1987 – While Andrew Eldritch has always been the face of this Sisterhood, perhaps just as synonymous with his image is that of bassist Patricia Morrison, for whom Eldritch wrote this song, dubbing her a ‘Lucrezia [Borgia] type person’. And that opening bassline (which he almost certainly recorded as supposedly Morrison’s contributions to Floodland were ‘minimal’) is darkly addictive. The whole track tackles toppling empires, moody landscapes and one single riff which blazes throughout like a forest fire. Undeniably, Floodland is the Sisters’ magnum opus, and ‘Lucretia…’ is their unholy grail.
The Sisters of Mercy are not the architects of the gothic music scene, nor the pioneers of goth rock. The band themselves didn’t want to be attached to the label. But love them or hate them, their albums have become a staple for the alternative world and inspired countless leather-bound long-hairs and chain-rattling rockers to be who they are. I remember coming across ‘This Corrosion’ for the first time and being simply blown away. They may have only put out three full studio releases, but in those there are worlds to explore, from dystopic imagery to forty-piece choirs and countless, killer riffs.