Photo of Andrew Eldritch of the Sisters of Mercy by Jen Ruff
w/ A Cloud of Ravens
On Monday, May 29, the Sisters of Mercy gave St. Louis a dark blessing of nocturnal delights. The veteran goth rock band formed in 1980 and gradually became the solo project of singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Eldritch. It’s unclear if the band derived their moniker from the order of nuns or the Leonard Cohen song of the same name. But the gender-bending and ironic reference to Catholicism? A chef’s kiss with black lipstick. It doesn’t get much more goth than that.
The Sisters of Mercy began deep underground, years before goth rockers achieved any commercial success. They released a series of singles and EPs (such as the cult classic “Temple of Love”) before the release of their first full-length, First and Last and Always, in 1985. The band’s early works were cloaked in a hazy mist of distorted guitar with repetitive machine drumming fit for a zombie ritual. Topped off with Eldritch’s vampiric crooning and sardonic lyrics, the sound was equal parts psychedelic and melancholic.
The band burned bright in the dark. They achieved mainstream success and regular MTV play by the time 1987’s Floodland was released. It featured top-notch production from Jim Steinman, famous for his work with Meatloaf and Bonnie Tyler. Floodland was much slicker than the band’s previous releases, but it still had plenty of creative flourishes, such as cryptic references to cold war politics and Roman mythology (“Dominion/Mother Russia,” “Lucretia, My Reflection”) and a ten-minute symphonic epic (“This Corrosion”). The band released one more album, 1990’s Vision Thing, before imploding under the pressure of a bitter label dispute.
Monday’s show opened with a set by darkwave duo A Cloud of Ravens. Their sound will be familiar to anyone who’s listened to Clan of Xymox and other vintage 4AD artists. It was a nice palette cleanser for the much louder Sisters of Mercy set.
The Sisters (more specifically, Andrew Eldritch) haven’t released a proper album since 1990, yet the set contained a surprising number of new songs. It made me wonder if the group might release an album in the near future. The new material was fine, although it sounded quite similar to the classics. Thankfully, the group—which currently features guitarists Ben Christo and Dylan Smith backed by ‘Ravey’ Dave Creffield, live operator of the band’s infamous drum machine, Doktor Avalanche—also played the best tracks from each album and the big hit singles. The guitar sounded great, but there seemed to be some sound issues on stage. The mics gave off occasional bursts of feedback, and Eldritch’s vocals were quite low in the mix. If I hadn’t listened to these songs hundreds of times in my twenties, I probably wouldn’t have known what he was saying.
The band played a lively set and the crowd clearly enjoyed themselves. But as a longtime Sisters fan, I must admit I was a little underwhelmed. Eldritch and co. dutifully played the hits, but they couldn’t quite capture the thrill of the originals. I suppose it’s hard to pull off that trick if you produced one of the best bodies of work from the eighties. | Rob Von Nordheim