1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 122

First and Last and Always, by The Sisters of Mercy
Suggested by Stuart Legg

Apparently, the drummer for The Sisters of Mercy is called Doktor Avalanche. Also, he’s a drum machine.

I dunno why I said “he’s” there. Women are capable of being Doktors. And drum machines too, I suppose. Either way, The Sisters opted to have something non-human provide the percussive entertainment on their three albums and subsequent tours.

I can see why. One less royalty cheque to sign, one less vanload of equipment to shift, one less potential creative difficulty or sexual misconduct charge to dodge. Let’s face it, if anyone’s going to bring a band down through being an arsehole or a pervert, it’s gonna be the drummer. Actually, it’ll be the bassist first and then the drummer.

Also: apparently, The Sisters of Mercy aren’t Goth, according to The Sisters of Mercy themselves. To which I say fie, and nay, and tish and piffle. The Sisters of Mercy are the archetypical Goths, the gold standard Goths, the Optimus Prime Goths. If you cut them, they bleed ravens.

What makes them this? It’s not really the music. The songs on this debut album are downbeat and undulating rock affairs that are soothing and ominous, but they are nothing too shocking, nor are they anything that could pigeonhole the sound. It could be the lyrical subject matter, with stirring stuff such as “See a body and the dream of the dead days / Following lost and blind” from the title track, or “Run around in the radiation / Run around in the acid rain”, from the opener. With such desolation on show in the song Black Planet, it’s no wonder that NWA were so afraid of it.

But what really brings this full Vince Noir is the vocalist’s deep and ponderous tone, dragging the songs into a mausoleum to apply eye liner and hairspray under the flickering light of a black candle. This marks it as Of A Genre as clear as a backpatch marks a metalhead, as a glowstick marks a raver, as a banjo marks a redneck. The depth brings context, and the flow brings home the bacon, a smooth and repetitious droning style that doesn’t care about anything or anyone.

There are no wild highs or crashing lows in this album. It’s of a level, pitched at a world-weary audience by a subset of that very audience itself. It’s a steady tortuous trickle that drags you down into its black-walled bedroom and insinuates an existential ennui. It works, too. By the end of the final track, I felt a little more cynical, a touch more hopeless. I’m not quite ready to join the Ranks of the Silent Outcast, but I’m ironing my black t-shirts just in case.

I give First and Last and Always a solid 6/10, largely because I’m more upbeat than my scowling visage would have you believe. I can’t pull off a full-on Goth Gaze without cracking a smile and, I dunno, giggling about strawberries or something equally saccharine. But this debut was decent enough. The Sisters of Mercy feel suspended in time, but, like my favourite track on the album, I’m not quite ready to Walk Away.

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