As the year 2017 comes to a close, it leaves in its wake a thirty-year milestone for one of the most formative Goth (or rock and roll, according to Andrew Eldritch) bands of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Three decades ago the Sisters of Mercy, commandeered by its founding patriarch Andrew Eldritch, gave us the modernist masterpiece that is Floodland and one less reason to wear a shirt under our leather. With its release came a defining moment for the goth soundscape, one that is less so the archetypal sadness and bleak pessimism associated with the post-modernist mindset of bands such as Bauhaus and more the dancing-on-your-grave upward rock tempo that has cemented its place alongside its mournfully dramatic counterparts while still managing to embody the darkness of the surrounding world. As quoted by Mr. Eldritch himself, “The Sisters are not above irony. Indeed, we employ it with a singularly savage relish. But ours is an irony born of love and respect, allusive rather than illusive, and its keen (I hope) edge is derived from wanting things, believing that those things can be achieved and that the struggle is worthwhile.”
Indeed, Floodland was sired from reveling in Modernist conflict, a theme that has resounded itself through Andrew Eldritch’s career beginning with the English punk scene in 1980s Leeds and careening into commercial success. With the Sisters debut album, First, Last, and Always being marked by legal ugliness, broken alliances, and mental instability, Floodland emerged from inner turmoil as an album with Eldritch serving as the primary artistic influence. This attitude of hopeful irony birthed from forces that are seemingly at odds can be heard throughout the album, but even moreso on the iconic single “Lucretia My Reflection” which garnered itself a place on top of the rock charts while managing to still keep an air of commercial rebellion. Invoking the hard-line blue-collar strife of industry in the 1980s at the head of the Cold War, “Lucretia My Reflection” plays as a factory worker’s glam anthem, highlighting the struggle of working class labor, yet never giving in to the depression and monotony that defines such work. For what others have classified as a quintessential Goth album from a Goth band, there is little dreariness to be found on Floodland. Rather it paints itself amidst a backdrop filled with the drama and fault of industry and challenges it with the inner hope vested within the people. Floodland is no pity party, and yet its magic lies within its ability to sing the blues, so to speak, while reminding the listener that the power within is not yet dead, nor will it ever be. In the words of Andrew Eldritch, “The Sisters revel in the negative as well as the positive, but they do this because it’s even more important to address the world we live in if we want to make that world better.”
Floodland as an album solidifies itself within the embrace of duality and irony, with Eldritch’s voice reverberating like an echo through a subterranean maze of dead industry while still beckoning the dream that travels beyond the veil of smog. The iconic single “This Corrosion” resounds with the message, “Turn, cold, burn like a healing hand,” embodying the capabilities of a revolution in which death is a given but newness sprouts forth, birthed from the integrity of human will and its cyclical collapse. Furthermore, the theme of life and decay, loneliness, and human unity is illustrated in the ballad “Driven Like the Snow” as Eldritch croons, “When the wheels are spinning around, and the ground is frozen through, and you’re driven like the snow, pure in heart, driven together.” Perhaps the most rebellious aspect of Floodland is its ability to acknowledge, in full descriptive glory, the dehumanizing struggle of life within Western capitalism while questioning the illusion of permanent spiritual death, refusing the temptation to wallow in pity until the light ceases. Floodland is an album that confronts the sensation of loneliness as a temporary product of control and puts forth the notion that individualistic struggle masks the unity found in suffering, eventually leading itself out of samsara’s labyrinth of discomfort and into the arms of empowerment. Surely the album’s emphasis on danceabilty is intentionally calculated as a vehicle for club night hits and a tool for questioning the status quo. Floodland’s central theme is togetherness, reminding its listener of the ability to weaponize popular rock and roll as a movement that extends itself beyond the pure consumptive nature of the music industry into the product of ravenous change, the kind that hungrily interacts with its environment as a utile being rather than a mere situation of powerless tolerance.
With 2018 manifesting on the horizon, the Sisters of Mercy are still, as Andrew Eldritch puts it, a political animal, molding itself with different technology, leaving the present without an album since Vision Thing and the past with a strange sense of familiarity, marked by the timeless message of unity inherent in Floodland and constant additions to the quality of its sound. With the ever volatile nature of today’s political environment, Floodland’s call to unify is more relevant than ever. With that being said, we can only hope that today’s environment of instability coaxes forth that new Sisters album that Eldritch has so cryptically hinted at. Coming directly from the mind of Sisters, “Sorry, flower children, but we’re a lot more concerned with human and civil rights than the purity of your muesli or the quality of your lawn. First things first, no apologies.” Well, Mr. Eldritch, work your magic. We are waiting.