Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
A constant touring force since we were all released from the restrictions of the pandemic The Sisters Of Mercy roll into the Westcountry’s largest city for the opening night of their UK tour at The Marble Factory.
It’s a well-oiled industrious machine that storms the stage in this one-time retort house constructed by the Bristol Gas Light Company. Nestling on the banks of the Feeder Canal, connecting the city’s Floating Harbour to the River Avon, there’s something connective with the area’s feel and this evening’s gig. Industry and music cosying up most comfortably.
Across the waters trains ply their trade at Temple Meads whilst the anticipation builds palpably with an eclectic crowd of goths, rockers and punks mingling and sharing the moment. First-timers, like ourselves, and the loyal faithful shoulder to shoulder in a welcoming sharing of the moment. From the moment TSOM first emerged from The Reptile House, Leeds back in 1980 an air of mysterious intent has shrouded sole remaining founder Andrew Eldritch; something that persists to this very juncture.
Oft lauded as “the Godfather of Goth” Eldritch, the renowned possessor of a delectably deep, melancholic bass-baritone vocal, frequently rejects this stature. In an interview in May ’97 Eldritch famously bemoaned “I’m constantly confronted by representatives of popular culture who are far more g*** than we, yet I have only to wear black socks to be stigmatised as the demon overlord.” For many, myself included, in the immortal words of Highlander, indeed, “There can only be one.”
Undergoing a most welcome resurgence Macclesfield’s The Virginmarys have accompanied The Sisters right across the length and breadth of Europe for the entirety of October and into November. Having just one day at home, to quickly catch their collective breath and regroup, following the previous show in Münster the hard-hitting duo could have been excused any signs of road-induced weariness. However, this is not how they operate, far from it. Kicking off with the brute force of ‘The Meds’ – one of three singles that formed last year’s ‘The Devil Keeps Coming’ EP – it’s a machine-gun paced onslaught throughout. Under a mop of blue hair guitarist / vocalist Ally Dickaty nods furiously to the aggressive percussive elements forcibly laid down by the titanic drummer Danny Dolan. Fret vertical Dickaty seemingly throttles the notes from his six-string charge.
The Marble Factory, similar in size to Cardiff’s Tramshed (though with the stage positioned on the shorter of the building’s walls not the longer as with the Tramshed), is pretty much rammed already. The battle marches on with the pulveristic darkened punk of ‘Into Dust’.
The tubthumping ‘NYC’, ushered in with a quirky southern groove, is the dynamics of The Stooges at their finest. Low-slung guitaring and hammer of the gods drumming appear to be going down well with the Wednesday gathering. Continuing to extract from their high calibre arsenal with ‘Lies, Lies, Lies’. “You’re a fucking liar!” roars Dickaty with the Jack-in-a-box angst with the calling card of tornadic elements wrapped about.
‘Running For My Life’ strikes headlong, Sabbath gone punk undertones, lightning strikes. Dolan gathers his senses for a moment as the tempo drops mid-track, even the most acerbic of volcanoes must relent. With a quickfire, rallying “Go!” Dickaty with his counterpart Dolan chiming the buzzsawing ‘You’re A Killer’ raises the stakes.
Latest single ‘Where Are You Now?’ caresses gently before its slow-burning fuse wire eventually engage with guttural screams from the very depths of Dickaty’s digestive system. The metal roof trusses, demonstrating triangular strengths, are tested to their limits. The satanic groove of ‘Devil Keeps Coming’, completing the trio of singles from 2022, hits the ground at full pelt. Dickaty’s northern accent breaks through the barrage.
Expressing genuine appreciation Dickaty thanks the crowd “[It’s] ace to be here, by far the largest fucking audience we’ve played to in Bristol for a long time!” The gothic punk of ‘Just A Ride’ explodes in a glorious fusion prior to ‘Look Out For My Brother’ rallies. Dolan looks at his partner in mania, to his right, with an assuredness that comes of a close working relationship. With its Franz Ferdinand-esque underpinnings ‘Bang, Bang, Bang’ stops clocks causing the skies to explode. This is what happens when over-caffeinated gremlins egress from constrictive tunnel confines. Continuing their successes out on mainland Europe The Virginmarys impress and have, no doubt, converted a good percentage herein.
In full flight The Sisters Of Mercy is a wondrous glory to behold, this is a moment in life well over three decades in coming for me. ‘Floodland’, a masterpiece in my book – let’s make no bones about this, was there for me as a go-to album at a tough stage of my life. Teenage years tend to be and this evening a crystalline mirror is held up afront and I’m re-acquainted with my seventeen-year-old self.
A writhing sea of dry-ice swirls upon the hour of nine, white spots pierce the miasmic murk somehow illuminating the crowd. Shadows run into the corners as a desolate bass-driven overture portent ruminates from the PA. An industrial atmosphere pervades, skittering footsteps, claws clattering upon the concrete floors. Anticipation heightens further, hearts pound harder. Shrill machinery is employed gainfully somewhere in the obsidian penetralia. A black clad legion awaits in patient expectation as neo-classical demons flit hither and tither.
The coruscating lights of the backline and assembled tech pinprick the blackened stage; suddenly the lights burst forth and the heraldic ticking of time itself escorts the band forwards. Grasping his mic tightly, in trademark stance, with both hands Eldritch sets the tone. Ordered up on Channel 9 opening gambit ‘Doctor Jeep’ pummels the senses and tingles the backbone. Suddenly it’s 1990 once more; the outside world ebbs away to be forgotten for the next 75 minutes.
It’s well known that following a dispute with then record label East / West The Sisters haven’t released any new physical material. They do, however, offer their unreleased tracks live; ably demonstrated by taking the mechanics off the recognised scales with the deep grooves of ‘Don’t Drive On Ice’. Fresh food for thought but instantly and undeniably recognisable. Eldritch, statuesque, observes his guitar twins Ben Christo and, replacing Dylan Smith (following his Roundhouse exit), Kai from Esprit D’Air create a veritable avalanche. Out stage left ‘nursing’ the indomitable Doktor Avalanche Chris Catalyst makes a return to the Sisters’ touring ranks.
The sun rises above the horizon with ‘Ribbons’ craned off 1990’s ‘Vision Thing’ before the utterly unmistakable strains of ‘Alice’ plunder through the striking effluvium. Such were the foundations laid down in the radio session for the legendary John Peel in August 1982. New tracks continue to pepper the set with regularity and nestle amongst the fold effortlessly. ‘Summer’, obsidian in nature, sends rivulets of doom outwards whilst ‘I Will Call You’ detonates within a velveteen ether’; a sure and slow-burning fuse.
The sands stretch far away in the industrial classic merging of ‘Dominion / Mother Russia’ – the first reflections of ‘Floodland’ tonight – Eldritch laments of “A white house in a red square”. A harkening back to the chilling years of the Cold War. The Marble Factory pulsates clearly. Casting an ever-present silhouette Eldritch rings about the cloisters with the Germanic-electro overtures of ‘Marian’ rising above the maelstrom; across the water, across the wave. Briny emotives emanate.
Extraction of the rich vein noir is maintained to high grade levels with ‘Eyes of Caligula’ which follows an outing for The Sisterhood’s synth driven ‘Giving Ground’; seemingly echoing to the footsteps of the fallen. The undeniable kinetics of ‘More’ are supercharged, Eldritch’s hushed tones pitching “D’you get scared to feel so much?”
Fever pitch secured The Sisters pursuit remains starwards; with Kai donning an acoustic guitar to be applauded by Christo during their lead break in ‘I Was Wrong’. In the earthy depths the roots bind the soul as Christo’s solo howls lupine-like to lunar energies. Despatching the cranium splitting riffs ‘Here’ The Sisters stalk predatorily. ‘On The Beach’ haunts enthrallingly; all are willingly captive prior to the V8 muscle of the nitrous-injected ‘When I’m On Fire’ wraps up the main body of the set. An hour has elapsed in the cliched blink of an eye.
Structural integrity is severely tested as we listen intently to the roar of the big machine within ‘Lucretia My Reflection’, the lead track of a triple encore burst. Empire down, fire at will the bass line thuds crushing all before. Songs of the city enthral; we’ve got the city now. The crowd are completely on-point with the lyrics. ‘Temple of Love’, a defining track, lifts the roof with Eldritch emoting “And the devil in a black dress watches over.”
One last darkened pause and the culmination of magnificence is achieved by the set-closing exalted majesty of the ever-imperious ‘This Corrosion’. The Marble Factory erupts, rightly so. It’s been an evening to remember for many reasons; I’ve been immersed in a momentous passage surrounded by those similarly enraptured. A shared experience, that won’t be forgotten. Simply put one of my gigs of the year.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM