“Flash Tracks”: Forged in the factory town of Leeds, the Sisters of Mercy led their own industrial goth-rock revolution

By on October 12, 2016

One of our more popular episodes on Night Flight Plus is this episode of “Flash Tracks,” which originally aired on October 7, 1988, and featured a quartet of moody rock music videos by Sisters of Mercy, one of the more powerful brands in 1980s-era gothic rock.


“Taking their name from an Irish Catholic holy order founded in the 19th Century,” Pat Prescott says in her introduction of the band, “the current Sisters of Mercy were founded in England in 1980 by Andrew Eldritch. They formed their own label, Merciful Release, and quickly became one of England’s most important independent groups.”

Eldritch and his band’s goth rock sound was a rejection of the genre’s typically watery, exotic-ized musical textures, and an exchange for testosterone instead of flanged guitars and echo box effects drenching the melodic guitars.

The Sisters featured low, eighth-note power chord chugging rock bravado over an incessantly unsyncopated kick-snare drum machine (which Eldritch nicknamed Doktor Avalanche).

Eldritch himself channeled Low-era David Bowie, and he was known to strike a cool pose in mirrored aviator shades while mumbling lyrics that, once analyzed, revealed single minded hysteria and defeatist indifference all at once.


It’s interesting to note that Andrew Eldritch never considered The Sisters of Mercy to be a gothic rock band and rejected this categorization vehemently. He saw the band as a modern continuation of 1960s classic rock music, saying:

“We come from 1969; we are the children of Altamont. We don’t know who the fuck Alien Sex Fiend are and we don’t want to know. Throughout our career we’ve had to fight against the preconception that most of the public has of us as being something that sprang out of post-punk. We regard ourselves as having sprung from pre-1970s rock music, as the inheritors of that tradition and the only people with any chance of propagating it further.”

Like it or not, for a time, the Sisters of Mercy were undoubtedly considered the new godheads of the British 1980s goth rock scene, rampaging across Britain on tour in the Spring of 1983, playing their first big festival in Brussels on August 5th that same year before making their U.S. debut with five East Coast shows.

They returned for two West Coast shows in October of that same year, but even before the release of their first full-length album, the band were going through personnel changes, with guitarist Ben Gunn departing and ex-Dead or Alive guitarist Wayne Hussey joining the band and debuting with the new line-up in April of 1984.


Their single “Walk Away” — we’re featuring the video in this “Flash Tracks” episode — was released in October 1984, but it failed to chart higher than #45 on the charts, and the band’s debut album, First and Last and Always, released on March 11, 1985, left the band in enormous debt (their website now assesses the album as having a few good songs but “iffy” production). It would take another four years for Eldritch to recoup the production costs.

The album failed to enter the Billboard 200 album chart in the U.S., but did quite well, sales-wise, despite not having a huge hit single in the U.K., charting at #14.

For the next few years the touring was so intensive that Eldritch actually ended up in the hospital, suffering from exhaustion and flat on his back under doctor’s orders for three weeks of bed rest.


Pat Prescott: “When two of the Sisters left the order to form the Mission UK, Sisters of Mercy continued with Andrew Eldritch, bassist and Gothic icon Patricia Morrison and their ultrasonic drum machine Doktor Avalanche.”

More personnel changes came the following year after additional touring began to implode the band from within — longtime guitarist Gary Marx played his last show with the band on April 1, 1985, leaving to form his band Ghost Dance — while they were in the midst or working on tracks for their second album.


The band faced what for many acts might have been a fatal schism following their 1985 bust-up which saw Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams leaving and taking with them in the process much of the material that had been written for the next Sisters of Mercy album.

Originally Hussey and Adams had intended to call themselves the Sisterhood, but Eldritch objected and pointed out that both parties had agreed not to invoke the Sisters of Mercy with their new projects; when Hussey persisted, Eldritch registered the Sisterhood name for himself.

Adams and Hussey were forced to come up with something else, and called their new band the Mission, or the Mission UK, as they were known in the U.S., since there was already a band with claims to the name.

Eldritch — who was left with little more than the name to two bands — soldiered on, recruiting Patricia Morrison (ex-Gun Club, bass) to add a female element to their sound for the first time, deciding that the new name would suit the new direction he had in mind.


He also added Lucas Fox (ex-Motörhead, drums), James Ray (vocals), and Alan Vega (ex-Suicide, vocals), and recorded tracks for The Gift, released by the Sisterhood in July of 1986, but decided to hold off on scheduling a second single, “This Corrosion,” after moving to Hamburg, Germany, and reconsidering what to do next.

Eldritch ended up retaining only Morrison and his beloved drum machine Doktor Avalanche, and relaunched the “trio” again as the Sisters of Mercy in September 1987, working on two tracks recorded with famed Meat Loaf producer Jim Steinman.


Despite spending more on just one song than most bands spend on recording tracks for an entire album, one of the tracks — “This Corrosion,” which Eldritch had planned to release originally as a Sisterhood single — gave the group their first ever mainstream charting single, reaching #7 in October 1987.

Although their album Floodland was largely self-produced, it was defined by the two Steinman-produced singles.

The album would land at #9 on the UK charts, and at #101 on the U.S. charts.


Pat Prescott: “Sisters of Mercy used Jim Steinman, the sonic wizard behind Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell to trowel on the layers of celestial choirs and demonic electric guitar in “This Corrosion” from the Floodland album.”

It made sense then after the success of “This Corrosion” that the Sisters should release their second collaboration with Steinman, “Dominion.”


For the fans who loved the bold, sweeping Wagnerian overtones and epic sound of “This Corrosion,” there was much to love about this second single, which had the feel of a cinematic dream sequence with its crashing chords and multi-layered choirs, making the Sisters of Mercy sound like the grandest band on the planet.


Originally the single was intended to be released in December 1987, but Eldritch wisely pushed forward its release, to February 1988, and it seemed like he made the right decision when “Dominion” enjoyed a three week run on the charts after first charting on February 27, 1988, peaking at #13 on March 5, 1988, and giving the band two back-to-back hit singles.

Pat Prescott: “Forged in the factory town of Leeds, England, the Sisters of Mercy continue their own industrial revolution.”


One of the band’s best-loved songs was their next single, “Lucretia My Reflection,” which was possibly influenced by “Lucretia,” a poem dealing with the themes of horror and eroticism by the Georgian decadent writer James Elroy Flecker.

This time, the single reached its peak on the first day it charted, #20, on June 18, 1988, but at the time of this “Flash Tracks” episode, the band had still not toured the album, and for the next two years would have no further releases.


Have a look at this episode of “Flash Tracks,” featuring the Sisters of Mercy, Timbuk 3 and a band called Stump, all streaming on Night Flight Plus!


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.