The sole album of long-lost industrial goth/post-punk from Sisters Of Mercy offshoot the Sisterhood has finally been brought back in to print, including CD for the first time ever; the damn thing has been out of print for something like twenty-five years and Cadiz had begun toutingg it's forthcoming reissue pre-2000, so needless to say some of us have been waiting on this for a while. The 1986 release on Merciful Release (the label run by Sisters frontman Andrew Eldritch) has been a lost grail amongst hardcore Sisters fanatics and post-punk devotees like myself, I almost don't believe that I'm actually holding this disc. Wild. The background of this project is even more lurid and dour than the music itself, to be honest. Its borderline absurd, the project of a highly dysfuncrtional band and imploded friendship, an act of deliberate revenge. The details have shifted a little over the years, but the basic situatuion was thus:
The lead male vocals are an almost dead ringer for Andrew Eldritch's mordant baritone. Most of the time I can't believe that I'm not hearing the man himself.
Onto the tunes. Like the stuff that would follow on Floodland, the songs are long, and evoke exotic locales and visionary events. But there is this continuous current of violence and destruction that runs just below the surface of all five of these strange songs. Newly remastered for this CD reissue, the industrial-tinged mecha-goth just slams off of this disc, the opener "Jihad" some kind of perfect post-apocalytipc dancefloor fuel, synthesixed Middle Eastern melodic scales looped into gleaming electronic mantras, backed by that absolutely massive synth-bass and Doktor Avalanche's inhuman throb mixed with sampled claps and Morrison dourly shouting out what might be numbers-station codes. It's as punishing and catchy as anything I would have been picking up from Wax Trax during that era, with a hint of the burgeoning "EBM" aesthetic swirling around everything that's going on. Bangin' 80's alternative dance intensity.
It's utterly unlike the souind of First Last And Always, a purely technologicval monster hammering you with sequencers, samplers, drum machines, and retro-futurisitc synthesizers. It's easy for mr to see why some other Sisters Of Mercy fans circa-1986 would have been turned off by this, the rock foundation of the Sisters' early work being completely stripped out. The slower doom-glow of "Colours" is great as well, with some awesomely listless monaing vocals finally appearing over the dark, sinister groove; Sisters fans will recognize this as the song that would later be re-recorded / transformed into the b-side of The Sisters of Mercy powerhouse single "This Corrosion", also appearing as a bonus track that closes out the repress of the Floodland CD. Here, "Colours" is something else, even more mysterious and spare and menacing, a dystopian techno-dirge with minimal vocals eerily similar to Eldritch (despite his contractual obligation not to actually perform on this album). It's downright unsettling. The OG synth-goth of "Giving Ground" stomps all over the latter-day synthwave that attempts to capture this exact sort of original vibe - more earworm gothy melody and mournful pacing drive this downbeat dirge, which drops into some spectacular riff-shifts and evolves into a kind of Bowie-influenced electro-doom that I cannot shake out of my head no matter ho hard I try. Searing distorted keys, weird spoken vocals, and crushing bass-gonk make "Finland Red, Egypt White" a strange and compelling ass-shaker. At first it felt like one of the "lesser" cuts on the album with not a whole lot going on melody-wise, but then I realized that the spoken-word stuff is a recitation of the specs for the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle, along with notes on ammunition and alternate rifle versions like the M-43. Listening to it over again in context, it's really pretty dystopic, packing a harder punch conceptually now than ever. And the Doktor is slammin' on this one. Finally, "Rain From Heaven" drops into a punchy ritualistic rhythmic backbeat, with almost Carpenter-like synth lines stretching over the urban-primitive drumming and foreboding atmopshere. So hypnotizing, eyes turn black, staring skyward beyond dense seas of smog, towatds the troposphere, voices rising in chorus, patiently waiting for the bombs to come and deliver that final baptism.
Way underappreciated album. Most of this is so catchy, I can imagine all of these songs making their way into later Sisters Of Mercy records. If you worship at the altar of Floodland as much as I do (which is to the exteme, if I am honest), this album is essential. There's a darker, more technological, eschatologic mood to this music, which sits alongside Ministry's Twitch and early Nitzer Ebb on my stack of sinsiter-sounding alt dance of the latter half of the 80s. So great. For years, this album has been one of the most requested reissues on my list, so stoked to finalltt have this on my shelf.