Gothic Text files Sisters of Mercy - Sex & Violence

From: Par Svensson <>

RIP Magazine, July 1991

Sisters of Mercy - Sex & Violence

by Mike Gitter

"I tried to tell her about Marx and Engels, God and angels/I don't really know what for/But she looked good in ribbons." - Sisters Of Mercy, "Ribbons" Read that *sliced* to ribbons. Cruel and absurd. Must be Andrew Eldritch.

"I love that line. Great line, isn't it?" The tiny man smiles, dead-tired skin streched parchmentlike around his mouth, eyes that look a million years old nervously darting about the room. Another drag off an endless procession of cigarettes, and he'll probably collapse into his own emaciated flesh.

"It's so rational, but undeniably psychotic," he furthers. "I can see a better-read Norman Bates thinking to himself before he flings open the shower curtain: *I've tried, I've really tried, but she'll just never get the point.* And then everything turns red. Delicious, utterly delicious. Who else could sing that and make it work?"

Dressed in black and steeped in an even darker humor, Andrew Eldritch, the brains, guts and soul behind eminent gothsters Sisters Of Mercy, really might pepper his bedroom talk with the Marxist approach to Bach or a heady discussion of Vienesse fin de diecle literature. A true eccentric.

"I don't think you can separate violence and intelligence from sensuality," he declares. "They're all wrapped up in the same whole. That, to me, is a very 20th-century notion, a very post-modernist attitude. For me, at least, sex has got to have an element of violence in there to be truly great."

There it is: the Sisters Of Mercy in a nutshell.

Eldritch has come back from what he terms another "hugely successful absence," three years after he faded from view with *Floodland*, a dark, brooding, keyboard-driven affair between himself and ousted bassist Patricia Morrison. *Vision Thing* is his triumphant return, accompanied by a newly recruited lineup - guitarist Andreas Bruhn, ex-Generation X and Sigue Sigue Sputnik pineapple-topped bassist Tony James and second bassist Tim Bricheno, formerly with the hopelelessly ethereal All About Eve. The new LP finds Eldritch in a surprisingly metallic state of mind. A tenfold cruddier than the usual bacchanalian Sisters product, the record starts out voracious and crunching on the title track, slinks through "Desolation Boulevard" and piles up in an unnerving groove on "More."

"It stopped people telling me I was dead when I hadn't had a record out in three years," Eldritch hisses. "Why worry about your profile? Why put out something simply for the sake of getting product out? Too many bands do that, largely to their detriment. Look here, if we're going to put out crap, it's because we want to! Because it's the right time to put out crap! And if it's crap, it's the sort of crap we love!" Andrew grins, the perfect cross between Elvis, Kierkegaard and W.C. Fields. An Oxford-educated balance of mirth and menace who just bleeds mystique; an expatriate who revels in the secluded, enigmatic environs of Hamburg, Germany. "That way I can play at being Colonel Kurtz [Marlon Brando's insane Army officer in Francis Ford Coppola's surreal Vietnam epic *Apocalypse Now*]," he insists. "I'm Colonel Kurtz gone up the river, really. I just never made it back. All the natives swearing, 'Mr. Kurtz, he dead.' Well, he's not.

For latecomers, the Sisters' murky past needs some explaining. Formed in Leeds, England, during the early-'80s, they rose to prominence on a wave of amphetamine-charged intensity. The formula was chilling and distinct: a precision-thunder drum machine appropriately dubbed "Doktor Avalanche", twin swaths of sheet-metal guitars driven by low-ended bass, and Eldritch's barbed and sonorous vocals.

They were huge, at least in England. But by the '85 tour to support their *First and Last and Always* LP, Sisters blew up. After a farewell London gig, bassist Craig Adams and guitarist Wayne Hussey splintered off into the Mission. Still unresolved legal actions ensued, and the British rock weeklies echoed with slagging matches for months.

In late-'87 Eldritch made his comeback with *Floodland*, in partnership with ex-Gun Club bassist Patricia Morrison and, weirdly enough, Meat Loaf producer/writer Jim Steinman (who collaborated on the writing of the current tune "More"), yielding the band's first British Top Ten hit, "This Corrosion". Yet, despite the band's success, Eldritch refused to tour, insisting, "This was never designed to go out live. It was incarnated that way because playing live was never an issue." Apparently the excesses of the Sisters' infamous '85 Turn On, Tune In, Burn Out Tour had taken their toll. "It's hard to claw your way back to sanity", Andrew explains with a grim smile.

Last year Eldritch and Morrison parted company, lending credence to the frontman's reputation for being impossibly hard to work with. A court summons courtesy of Ms. Morrison is still pending. "The nature of the job really changed, and it looked like that incarnation of the band wasn't up to making the change", Andrew says sharply. "Just basic, basic changes - like playing"

"It's strange", he continues, lighting up yet another Marlboro. "All the partings of the way I've had with people have always been very amicable, yet rancidness and nastiness always seem to follow afterwards. I don't think what I do is particularly absurd, but I would grant you it's fairly oblique. It does have its confines, and I'm not interested in singing someone else's songs or living with a guitar part that's totally crap, even if someone else thinks it's brilliant. A lot of people read that as enigmatic, and it's very easy to translate that into disagreeable bastard. I'm not. I'm hard, but I am horribly fair".

Eldritch offers up a timely anecdote from the *Floodland* days, when the Sisters traveled to Jordan, in the then-less-turbulent Middle East, to lens their truly epic "Dominion" video. Filmed for nearly a million dollars, it's one of the grandest videos ever, replete with scores of horses, camels and Arabian extras. *Lawrence of Arabia* in four minutes, y'might say.

"That was great", Andrew beams. "The dynamic duo gone on holiday. Did you enjoy our little home movie? I did. The world was a bit calmer in those days. If I went back there now, I'd be sure to watch my back. If you take Arabs on their own terms and treat them with respect, they're a very gentle and polite people. They have different boundaries, beyond which it's unwise to go. Their sense of honor is everything. They're easily offended by things we don't expect them to be offended by. And they react very forcefully in most situations, which, in our perception, makes them kind of unreputable; but the truth is, they're not. If you're an Arab, you can probably predict what your fellow Arab is going to do. Did you know I got offered money for Patricia? Yeah. We eventually tried to work it out in camels but, believe it or not, they ended up offering me more for her in money than in camels, which sort of places an interesting premium on the English dollar.

"Then again, I think they saw that I was a person that couldn't really *use* that many more camels."

A soundless TV in the corner of the room flickers with the more recent "postcards" from the Middle East - namely, the bombing of Baghdad; a streamlined, high-tech portrait of devastation courtesy of CNN. Eldritch is transfixed, enraptured.

"This war looks great", he smacks, An Iraqi military installation suddenly a mass of black smoke. "America is going to win not because it can kill more people or because it has more men - that's not important. It's the simple fact that all the high-tech shit looks so great. I want some of it. Where can I get a laser-guided missile? I know just what I'm buying with my next royalty check.

"I think the great lesson of the 20th century is that you have to separate the ethics from the aestetics. The Nazis did have the best uniforms, there's no denying it. The great lesson there is that you don't have to agree with what the Nazis did, but, yes, be honest about it, they did have the best uniforms. A lot of people can't come to terms with something as banal as that. They can't admit it, because somehow they feel like they're approving of what the Nazis did. That's very, very stupid, because to come to terms with the 20th century, to live in it and make the best of it - the way it is, not just sitting around holding hands, lighting candles and waiting for the next world or a better one - you have to be able to get off on those uniforms.

Though they took their name from a 19th- century Irish convent, the Sisters Of Mercy are very much a 20th-century proposition.

"I love the bomb", Eldritch snarls. "It's brilliant. The point is that I can't stop it from going off. It's the biggest thing that's going to happen in my lifetime. I will not be caught standing there, going, 'Oh dear!' That's a given. The way to make the best of this world, even in that last split second, is to say 'F?!k yeah! Great, isn't it?' Look here, ever since the first World War, this world is obviously f?!ked. It's a bad world. There's no way you're going to ethically get on with the way the world works except to get on with it aestethically, right? Only an insane imbecile could possibly get on with what the 20th century considers ethical. I might as well try to get on with the aesthetics, the little cosmic jokes we consider artifacts of a hopeless culture."

Heavy words. RIP readers, take note, the Sisters are every bit as heavy, every bit as visceral and brutalizing as any thrasher inhabiting these pages. Heaviness carried in a whisper. Words that cut like a rusty, jagged knife. A sound as cunning as it is forceful. "Just the way it all comes together", Eldritch declares. "I just get up there, pull my shades on and close my eyes. It's a bit frightening sometimes."