Sisters of Mercy, First And Last And Always

Matthew Fritch

By Matthew Fritch

on 06.15.11 in Reviews

First And Last And Always

Sisters Of Mercy

In the beginning, there was goth as a musical descriptor — applied to spooky new-wave and industrial outfits such as Bauhaus and Killing Joke — but the 1985 debut album by the Sisters of Mercy gave us gothic rock. The series of singles and EPs that arrived under the Sisters name in the predawn (of the dead) were more the product of a post-punk art project than a band, often consisting of Suicide-like drone beats and singular, hypnotic guitar riffs. Those murky, simply-structured early releases hardly seemed to require the involvement of three people — singer Andrew Eldritch, guitarist Gary Marx and bassist Craig Adams, plus a drum machine nicknamed Doktor Avalanche — but, with the addition of guitarist Wayne Hussey (formerly of Dead Or Alive), the Leeds, England, outfit became a rock unit in a nearly classic fashion.

An intriguing glimpse at goth going above ground for the first time

Hussey brought the soft chime of 12-string guitars and snaking leads to the Sisters' otherwise austere sound; think of him as secretly stashing away his Led Zeppelin and Kinks albums so as not to incur the wrath of his black-clad bandmates. At the center of it all, however, are Eldritch's vocals — a 40-fathoms-deep baritone — that conveys gravitas bordering on dramatic collapse. More often than not, Eldritch deftly negotiates his own seriousness, whether it's the noirish lament "Nine While Nine" or opener "Black Planet," which is often taken for a goth call-to-arms but better serves as an environmentalist anthem ("Run around in the radiation/ Run around in the acid rain"). The conflict, excess and Doorsian drama behind the Sisters' debut — Eldritch was reportedly in the midst of a nervous breakdown during its recording, and Hussey would soon leave to form his own outfit, the Mission — creeps through in "Amphetamine Logic," a plea for one more fix that gets uncomfortably harrowing and desperate. First And Last And Always isn't the alpha and omega of the Sisters of Mercy catalog — the famously controlling Eldritch appointed himself to that position — but it's an intriguing glimpse at goth going above ground for the first time.