Live Reviews Music

The Sisters of Mercy still want more

The Sisters Of Mercy celebrated their 40th anniversary with three shows at London’s Roundhouse. But this was no wallow in nostalgia. Nils van der Linden encountered a band that still want more.

When Andrew Eldritch roars “I want more” during the second encore of The Sisters Of Mercy’s third show in as many days, he obviously means it. Throughout his band’s final 40th anniversary London show, he’s performed with the untiring purpose of a man still looking ahead.

Sure, many of tonight’s songs were released in the ’80s, but sound reinvigorated – more dramatic, more epic, more aggressive. The unreleased tracks that have become setlist staples since the late ’90s are delivered with an intensity that matches Eldritch’s resting stance: a slightly crouched lean towards the audience, both hands gripping the microphone. And the superb new songs, debuted over the past two years, are as effortless – and sometimes menacing – as the frontman’s prowl across the Roundhouse stage.

Apart from Eldritch, that stage is dominated by towering rhythm guitarist and backing singer Dylan Smith. All muscle, long blonde hair, and chunky riffs, he’s almost as imposing as the frontman, even when he’s not staring into the crowd from the top of his monitor speakers. Stage left, Ben Christo may appear less imposing, but his lead guitar and voice are essential, adding melody to the band’s industrial march generated by Doktor Avalanche. The Sisters Of Mercy’s long-standing groove machine, providing uncompromising beats, basslines, and occasional synth patches, it’s nursed by Ravey Davey, who lives up to his name by frequently raising his arms like an EDM DJ.

All dressed in black, with sunglasses to match, the four men begin Sunday evening relatively calmly. But the slow, quiet intro to Lucretia My Reflection lasts less than a minute before the familiar bass groove kicks in and truly kicks off tonight’s completely rejigged setlist. With Eldritch shaking up each Roundhouse show for the benefit of repeat visitors, the angular riffing of 2000’s often-bootlegged Crash And Burn is up next, giving both guitarists an early chance to show off their soloing skills.

A punchy Ribbons, from 1990’s Vision Thing, turns out to be the perfect warm-up for the first of tonight’s excellent new tracks, I Will Call You. Distilling all The Sisters eras into five minutes, its heavy chugging guitars are complemented by a sitar-style riff that echoes their earliest work, with a couple of breakdowns to just a beat adding some extra drama.

The relentless Alice, driven by a no-nonsense riff and uncompromising bassline, is the perfect set up for the second decades-spanning new song. The equally urgent But Genevieve documents the end of a relationship against the backdrop of a driving beat and alternately crunchy and shiny guitars. So confident are the band of this offering that, during a breakdown when all that remains is an echoey rhythm, the three men out front are for once motionless.

That inertia is fleeting, and the unsurprisingly majestic Dominion/Mother Russia keeps the momentum going. Christo’s fluid solo is as slick as tonight’s lighting. Coloured beams reflected across the stage by an array of mirrors allow Eldritch to play in light and darkness depending on where he stands. And when that’s not dramatic enough, searchlights from the stage cast the singer in silhouette.

The vigorous Summer picks up the pace, before the two guitarists showcase their individual talents on a moody instrumental that makes way for 1985’s Marian. Initially brooding and restrained behind his microphone stand, Eldritch breaks loose halfway through the impassioned anthem. Even more epic is 2019’s Show Me, which sits comfortably alongside the expansive, atmospheric highlights of the group’s back catalogue – like Flood II that ends the main set on a thunderous high. Preceded by a relaxed I Was Wrong, characterised by Smith’s strummed acoustic guitar and Eldritch draping his arm over Christo’s shoulder, Flood II is a tidal wave generated by an insatiable groove, the lead guitarist’s liquid playing, and Eldritch’s particularly potent vocals.

Never Land (A Fragment) opens the first encore with its atmospheric synth drums and pretty but ominous keyboard melody, before 1985’s First And Last And Always ups the menace. Contrasted by the shimmering guitar lines, the frontman sounds especially threatening, before pushing his voice even further on a savage, accelerated rendition of 1990’s Vision Thing that has the crowd dancing.

More isn’t quite as brutal, but its low-key verses burst into choruses boasting exemplary backing vocals from the guitarists, only overpowered by those Eldritch roars of “I want more”. Temple Of Love is exactly that – more fierce, more monumental, more euphoric – and can only be topped by the intentionally bombastic set-closer This Corrosion. The Sisters Of Mercy leader, who hasn’t said much all night but could never be accused of disengagement, emphatically conducts the Doktor’s string intro before leading a guitar-heavy take on his satire of pop music that then became a UK top ten hit. It’s a fitting conclusion to four decades of a band that continue to defy expectation.

The Sisters Of Mercy
12 September 2021

Photo: Paul Grace

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