[sic] Magazine

THE SISTERS OF MERCY – London Forum – 09 April 2009

Declaring that you’ve seen The Sisters Of Mercy is an untruth – you don’t see The Sisters, you experience them. They create a space of smoke and silhouettes, of gonzo amphetamine lighting, strobe lights and create a space where you can lose – or more likely find – yourself. Soundtracked to this is a darkly humorous parody of a rock band, where sturm-und-drang guitars cut through the senses like cheesewire, and Andrew Eldritch’s vocals – the sole original member of the group – are a baritone parody, a cross between Bowie and Leonard Cohen with a line in hyper-literate layering.

I love The Sisters: a space where you can remove yourself, forget the world as it is, and get lost in the roar of a machine, the rhythm of the moment, and build a new world. They exist only in front of your eyes, whispering in your ear, disappearing as if they were never there the moment they fade from the stage, and when they are on stage, The Sisters are hyperactive shadows in an apocalypse of lights, smoke, and fog. Nobody else does it like this, and nobody ever will. They have good days, and bad days: on their bad days, it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion for 80 minutes – on good days God shows you the tricks of his box of creation. With guitars.

Sister Act

Sisters of Mercy, what are they? First and foremost, they are intellectual love gods and a finely tuned rock machine. Their unique sound – buzzsaw guitars and a mechanised rhythm section that ensures a tight but loose, locked but fluid groove. The songs roar and hum. (But the sound system isn’t loud enough and the vocals submerged under guitars).

The Sisters Of Mercy exist, that’s true. Albeit, as an abstract concept, an entity which hovers into view most years for a few nights across the world before disappearing again in the blink of an eye. And The Sisters have existed at this level for a decade and a half now; no longer a recording entity, with an evolving lineup, alienated from a music industry that sees them as troublesome (when, in all honesty, The Sisters are just a lot more contractually aware than most musicians), and instead determined to continue as a stubborn artistic identity. They always followed their own path, reinventing their feel with each release – moving from the drug-fuelled adrenaline rush of the early singles to the more intricate middle years, before becoming a darkly bombastic apocalyptic soundtrack. Final album, released a staggering 19 years ago, was the proto-metal edged Vision Thing that was cruelly under-rated at the time and saw the band painting themselves into a sort of corner.

I miss their albums. There are probably a lot of them on hard drives somewhere in Leeds and Germany. Some bands release too many albums; some release too few.

Alice in chains?

Where….? Where do you go after the end of the world? Well.. you just kept going. The Sisters rotated members, and forged a new sound that was both old and new: a mechanised groove machine that uses the limitations of the static rhythms to create a rigid template, within which The Sisters still work. Since it’s been two decades since the last album, they have a surfeit of new stuff – as good as the old canon, but tempered by unfamiliarity: after all, no matter how good a song is, if you only hear it twice a decade, it is difficult to work out the true depth of meaning and power of the song.

In the meantime, they open with an underwhelming “Crash and Burn”, which, being a newie, manages to expel the enthusiasm of 2,000 people with a question. And this one of the issues of the show: pacing in a concert is important, knowing when and how to manage the expectations of the show and the audience. Certain songs always seem to raise the audience response, and why The Sisters don’t exploit this with a selection of well known big hitters early on – such as Dominion, Lucretia, Alice, Anaconda, Ribbons and Train/Detonation Boulevard for an opening salvo – instead the band open to a tepid response that slowly builds steam. The new material played – the aforementioned Crash And Burn, the atmospheric We Are The Same Suzanne (which is frankly, eight bars too long tonight), and the brand spanking new Arms, match the same high quality of the known works, but suffer only from a lack of familiarity. Despite entering a state of radio silence, the Sisters are still producing new material. One person says to me he doesn’t like the new stuff – but then again, if you only heard “Dominion” once and live every three years, you may not like it too much either.

Sister act too

However, for anyone expecting a history lesson, they’ll be severely disappointed: whilst many of the bands canon of big hits is all present and correct, there are notable omissions: any singles from Vision Thing or First And Last And Always, nor the stonking live frenzy of Body Electric. The new guitarists are Ben Christo (who seems to take the role as lead widdler) and Chris Catalyst – neither have played on a Sisters record (and they’re not likely to, either). Both acquit themselves admirably, reflecting a middle ground between Panzer guitar riffarama and the more streamlined, understated work of Floodland. And given that I’ve seen The Sisters many times over the past two decades, and many different lineups, it is my considered opinion that Chris Catalyst is the best guitarist they have ever had – he plays with a fluency and passion as if he wrote the songs himself.


Passionately battling a rough sound mix, and hittting a fierce groove during the encores as Lucretia uncoils and elevates, the band acquit themselves. As Top Nite Out skids across the ears of London, and the quarter century old Temple Of Love – an over-rated song and live staple since the dawn of time – bring the evening to a thundering close. The Sisters of Mercy may not be a recording entity, but they still live and breathe. This is not their best show as they battle illness, a poor sound mix, and occasionally disappearing vocals, but they gamely and passionately battle through the murk for the message to be heard.

Floor show

Ultimately, it’s the willing suspension of belief that makes The Sisters such an attractive proposition: yes, rock and roll may be a juvenile and stupid thing, but it is a glorious stupidity that is beautiful in its absurdity.

Sisters Of Mercy official website

For more from Mark please visit The Mark Reed website