The Sisters Of Mercy

Elektra Records, 1987


REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl


It's amazing what a major difference a few seemingly minor adjustments can make. After a competent, but unspectacular debut album, seminal goth rockers Sisters Of Mercy returned in 1987 with Floodland, a landmark goth album. Anyone looking to get into the genre, or at least learn more about its early masterpieces, might as well start right here.

Strong melodies permeate the densely layered tracks, and each song holds its own this time around. They got legendary songwriter Jim Steinman to produce and co-write two of these tracks, and the results are typically dazzling, if you're into extremely overblown marriages of pop and classical the way I am.

Yeah, he's the guy responsible for making Meat Loaf a huge star, and while his completely over-the-top trademark bombast is kept in check somewhat comparatively here, it can't just be a coincidence that he happened to produce the two best songs. He added a couple of very memorable pop hooks, combined with dense arrangements, without really changing the sound of the band. Not only are the melodies infectuous, but the music itself is far more diverse now, which was the problem with the debut. It's a touch heavier, and everything from the playing to the vocals sounds much more energetic...where the first album was sombre and quiet, this one is often powerful and dramatic...if First And Last And Always (the 1985 debut) could be seen as a sort of companion to the Cure's minimalist masterpiece Pornography, then this one would be a parallel to the Cure's Disintegration, except this one came out first, so perhaps the influence went the other way.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And dare I say it, but in a few little places, Floodland almost sounds...upbeat! NO! That's not goth!!! But just listen to some of these huge choruses, complete with layered, overdubbed vocals, fluid, imaginative guitar riffs, danceable beats, and operatic choirs, without ever losing that slightly dark edge, thanks mainly to lead singer Andrew Eldritch's stunted, forboding bartione.

How about the anthemic first track, "Dominion/Mother Russia", with great use of female backing vocals and neo-baroque melodicism? And check out the brilliant use of a full operatic choir on the 11-minute epic, "This Corrosion". Or the piano ballad "1959" where Eldritch reaches the point of nonsensical mumbling! What about the excellent, up-tempo "Lucretia My Reflection" which irresistably beckons one to the dance floor to shake that pvc clad ass like a mummy in the catacombs ?? The genius of it all is how the album contains poppy hooks without sounding commericial, and lyrically it's even darker and more sinister than before, so now you can slit your wrists with a smile!

Overall, it's still a hell of a forboding, moody piece though. I don't recommend that you listen to it alone and in the dark. Haunting melodies, ghostly wails, mysterious keyboards, and Eldritch's low, emotionless singing adorn the proceedings and make certain that all remains shrouded in black. There are points in the album when I feel that blood is about to start slowly oozing out of the speakers...either that or pitch black tar. Nah, that would be more like Black Sabbath, so let's stick with blood!

Despite the much improved songwriting, melodies, and production, (again compared to the debut album) there's really no excuse for the songs to be so damn long. Out of ten songs, six of them are well over six minutes in length, with "This Corrosion" clocking in at an insane 11 minutes, for which they obviously felt like they had stumbled upon a chorus melody that's so catchy that you would want to hear it about 87 times. I mean, sure Steinman brought some much needed life into this band, but c'mon! A bit of editing would have made the record that much stronger.

A minor additional fault of Floodland is that while during the first half the intensity builds up really well, it reaches the peak with "This Corrosion", which is the midway point, and the second half is considerably less energetic. The remaining songs aren't bad by any means, but they are all slow, very very darkly sombre excursions of heavily synthesized ambient keyboards. The album suffers from un-even flow in other words, but it's not a huge flaw.

Some could complain about the cold, heartless drumming (via drum machine again), but for the type of atmosphere the Sisters Of Mercy create, it's totally appropriate. Personally, I think it's kinda nifty how each smash of the simulated snare drum sounds like blood splattering on the walls!

All in all, a reasonably diverse album that nevertheless remains a defining moment in 1980's goth rock, and exerted a huge influence on all the brooding art pop that has come our way in the 15 years since its release.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2002 Roland Fratzl and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Elektra Records, and is used for informational purposes only.