The Sisters of Mercy
The Forum, London
9th April 2009
For a band who have refused to release records since 1994 and now only operate as a touring act, The Sisters of Mercy must have the most dedicated fanbase on the planet. Goths, like Heavy Metal fans, mate for life with their chosen bands and The Sisters of Mercy fan show no signs of stopping. They’re in it for the long haul, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. The Forum tonight is sold out, Kentish Town is over-run with aging goths in greying tour shirts, exhumed from the back reaches of old closets for this very occasion and anticipation is high, more so for myself, having admired the band since Floodland but never once having had the pleasure.
The Sisters of Mercy these days are a curious trio, Andrew Eldritch flanked by two younger guitarists, both of them hammering out metallic chords while a programmed rhythm section, once a drum machine known as Doktor Avalanche, does the rest. For an otherwise new-comer to the current Sisters of Mercy stage show, this reliance on technology and an almost repetitive, unchanging guitar sound turns what was once an imposing and impenetrable act into a near covers band — just add smoke, Eldritch and water.
It’s not entirely the fault of Eldritch and Co, seeing as they recently pulled dates in Eastern Europe a few days earlier due to illness, but still the sound tonight was atrocious. The volume was barely louder than the crowd and the live mix non-existent. There was no separation between either of the guitars, the vocals or the programmed backing. It was just one big melting pot that at times was hard to work out what Eldritch was singing, let alone determining whether it was something you knew or something new, which is a tough game, as most, if not all, of The Sisters of Mercy back catalogue have been reworked and reshaped and bare little semblance to their original recorded selves.
The crowd, seemingly there to down pints, chat and reminisce about the good times, were on the whole unresponsive for the first four or five songs, and it wasn’t until the set picked up with “Giving Ground” giving way to “Dominion” that the audience came alive. “This Corrosion”, stripped of its original bombastic groove, was reduced to a guitar-heavy stomp, and the new material, which seasoned fans are well familiar with now, hinted at nothing spectacular, and nobody is still the wiser if there will be another record. In fact, the next Sisters of Mercy album could well turn into the goth equivalent of Chinese Democracy — overblown and out of date.
It’s a shame, a real shame that the Sisters have strayed so far away from their original template — the shuddering bass, the stark rattle of the drum machine and Eldritch’s graven voice (now barely a shade of what it used to be) — that it’s truly disappointing. I wanted to believe, but in the end I turned on, tuned in and walked out.