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Sisters of Mercy Song Meaning Analyses

Welcome to the Reptile House! This is my fanshrine to the the legendary English Punk and Gothic (a note on this below) rock band The Sisters of Mercy, not to be confused with the Catholic organisation with the same name.

Sisters of Mercy was founded in 1980 by Andrew Eldritch and Gary Marx, and went on to release three studio albums - First and Last and Always, Floodland, Vision Thing - as well as Some Girls Wander by Mistake, a compilation album of various non-album songs. While the Sisters stopped recording and releasing new music in the 1990s to protest their record label, they have a relatively colossal volume of unreleased songs, many of which were written since their strike began and only exist via recordings of their live shows.

While they do not have as large of a volume of work as some other bands, Sisters of Mercy is in my humble opinion possibly the greatest band of all time. Most of their songs are incredibly well-written and feature literary references and double/triple meanings that the listener may not notice until they've heard the song many dozens of times. Although they have changed their line-up far too many times to bother going into detail on here, the quality of their music never wavered, and the timeless, baritone voice of Andrew Eldritch - the only band member to have always been part of the band - has always given them an unforgettable, beautifully morose sound.

As Sisters of Mercy is known for their deep and cryptic lyrics, I have decided to dedicate this site to my personal interpretations of some of their songs. Far more interesting than just giving generic information about the band that can be found anywhere else, I think.

This page's design is very loosely based on the design of the First and Last and Always album's and Reptile House EP's cover artworks. The name of the page comes from the first line of the Sisters song Burn: "burn me a fire in the reptile house". The term also went on to be used for the name of one of their EPs and on some of their merchandise.

Depending on what browser you're viewing this with, you are hearing either the MIDI version of "Burn", an .OGG version of the MIDI version of "No Time to Cry", or quite possibly both. I wanted to merely have the former, but the deplorable state of modern HTML does not allow this in anything other than Internet Explorer, old Opera, and maybe Edge. Lamentably, the Burn MIDI converted awfully to an OGG so I was forced to use another Sisters MIDI to replace it. Perhaps some day, W3C will get its act together and all will be well again. Until then, I recommend using IE for this page.

If you have any interest in the Sisters of Mercy and have not yet done so, I encourage you to make a pilgrimage to their official website. It's a glorious, genuine Web 1.0 site created by Mr. Eldritch himself and has a lot of interesting information about the band's members, official lyrics for some of their songs, and some top notch humour.

You will often see me using slashes (/) when quoting specific lines from songs. This is meant to mark where one song line ends and another begins. It's a tad unorthodox but preferable to breaking paragraphs up every time I have to quote the source material.

A note about the term "Gothic rock": while Sisters of Mercy has been consistently classified as a Gothic rock band, Andrew Eldritch has always vehemently denied this. Based on the content and tone of most of their songs, I personally consider them to be a Gothic band, but I don't think Mr. Eldritch holds as positive of a view of Goth culture as me.

Song Interpretations


I'll start by saying that this song is so incredible that even my autistically large vocabulary cannot quite conjure up sufficiently extravagant words to describe it. It's probably the most depressing song I've ever heard and never fails to make me tear up when I hear it, but is nonetheless tied with Susanne (also by Sisters) as my favourite song of all time. That is all. On to the lyrics analysis.

This is one of the many Sisters of Mercy songs that requires outside context in order to fully understand. The song twice mentions one "Isabelle", and Eldritch seems to be speaking directly to her throughout the song. I can no longer find anything but references to the interview where this was stated, but Eldritch had explained at one point that he received a letter from a female fan named Isabelle asking him to consider doing a song with only piano and vocals. Eldritch also mentioned that this Isabelle had the most "innocent" and beautiful handwriting that he ever saw in his life, which is key context here.

Obviously, 1959 is indeed a song (and the only Sisters song) that consists of only piano and vocals, so between this and the Isabelle name drop, it is undeniably a response to the fan letter.

The other fact needed to understand the song lies in 1959 - the name of the song and the number that is repeatedly mentioned in the song. Andrew Eldritch was born on May 15, 1959, so the most obvious reason this number has personal significance to him is due to it being his year of birth. Indeed, the first line of the song is "living as an angel in the place I was born."

The song appears to be describing a contrast between two states of being. A state of 1959, and a state of, well, Andrew Eldritch: "And it feels like me today / do you feel the same, Isabelle? / or do you feel like 1959?" Eldritch starts the song off by describing 1959 as "heaven", and knowing that it was the year he was born, we can assume it refers to childhood innocence. The blissful haven from the woes and tragedies of life, that the average person experiences in their formative years, before the relentless march of adult miseries and losses wears away their innocence like an endless downpour of acid rain.

The bitingly melancholic lyrics and tone of the song (and many other Sisters song) seem to suggest that Eldritch is speaking from the other side of life's journey: "Like homeless, restless, known to none / like way beyond the line / like it never was / in 1959."

Eldritch says the following lines before asking Isabelle if she feels the same as him or if she feels like "1959": "and the wind blows still / and the wind blows wild again / for a little child could never kill this clean." My interpretation of this is that it is meant to evoke the feelings that Eldritch had when he saw Isabelle's letter. 1959 was a place where the wind was calm and "still," and for just a second Eldritch felt a heartwretching sense of nostalgia for how serene things once were. Reading Isabelle's letter, it felt as if for just a second, the unruly winds of despair that have been battering his soul were tamed, and he remembered how it felt when all was well.

Full lyrics can be found here.

Bury Me Deep

The usual interpretations that I see for this one suggest that the song is not very covertly about sex, and that the "burying" in the song refers to someone burying Eldritch's... well. I do somewhat agree but believe that it's only a goofy secondary meaning. It's never quite so simple with Sisters of Mercy.

While the chorus lines "lie beside and bury me deep" suggest an erotic meaning, the second verse's line "on the bed tomorrow morning / before you sleep / bury me deep" seems to have a double meaning. The words "morning" and "mourning" have the same pronunciation, and "mourning" is actually the word used in the official lyrics book. The way that Eldritch ruefully stretches the word out also hints at a more melancholic meaning. Going with the second word, the song meaning seems to shift towards a dying or deceased Eldritch perhaps imploring someone to bury him in their hearts and not mourn him too hard. The fact that the lines are preceded with "broken and torn" is a good hint at the mental state of the person the song is addressing.

The first verse ends with the line "oh, Marian / I can hear those voices singing." Marian is a name that pops up in two others Sisters songs - the eponymous Marian, and the unreleased Red Skies Disappear. Both songs read as dark and desperate cries for help from someone dying, possibly quite literally, from sheer despair. "Marian, I think I'm drowning / the sea is killing me."

While I am unaware of when the latter song was recorded, Marian was made in the same year (1985) as Bury Me Deep, and this wouldn't be the first time Eldritch referenced one of his songs in another song.

Bury Me Deep's chorus line "lie beside and bury me deep" gains an entirely different meaning when considering that Red Skies Disappear had two separate lines imploring Marian to "take my hand / lay beside me on the burning sand". At this point, it's safe to assume that Marian is likely a close confidant/confidante that Eldritch is emotionally reliant on. Laying beside Eldritch no longer seems to have a literal meaning, unless Eldritch is beseeching Marian to dig him up and lie next to his corpse in the cemetery.

The next possible meaning that I would seek to assume here would be that "lying beside" means being there to comfort him, acting as silent support even if Marian cannot quite understand Eldritch's pain. Perhaps it was brought on by mental illness or Eldritch's prolific drug use. Indeed, Red Skies Disappear does implore Marian to "don't try to understand."

Given the context, I think Bury Me Deep is intended to follow Marian and Red Skies Disappear. Eldritch has expired as a result of his battle with whatever malady, emotional or physical, was plaguing him and he wants Marian, likely standing at his grave, to think of him one last time - lie beside him - and then to bury him deep within her (his?) heart and move on.

Full lyrics can be found here.

Flood II

Another song that, like Bury Me Deep, appears to use sexual overtones to disguise a much darker meaning. Eldritch repeatedly references a woman and her "hallway" throughout the song, and indeed, even implies in an interview that the song is chiefly about sex:

"It's sex - at least in this context."

In the same interview, Eldritch made another comment about the song that hints heavily at what I believe to be the true hidden meaning behind this song:

"It's certainly more focussed. 'I' is 'Are you sure we really want to do this?,' and 'II' is 'Yeah, here we go!' In normal circumstances, the raising of arms is a sign of exultation but, if you're surrounded by water, it's complete submission, 'Down we go'. This is both at once."

The "raising of arms" comment is in reference to the chorus of Flood II:

She says
She says anytime
Raise your arms

Flood II is written from the perspective of a male, and sex is most certainly not usually seen as an act where the man is submitting to the woman. Taking some time to instead examine the song from the perspective of someone literally submitting to a body of water by willingly drowning, a few portions of the song begin to take on a much darker yet clearer meaning:

This, this is the way it was
This, this is the way it is
When the water come rushing, rushing in

I had a fascinating conversation at one point with my (lamentably deceased) best friend Drac0 who, incidentally, was the person who introduced me to Sisters of Mercy, in regard to this song. We talked about the relaxing and healing properties of the ocean, and how the ocean universally draws people to it with such allure because it is essentially the incubator of all life on this planet.

Life originated in the sea 3.5 billion of years ago and thrived inside its protection for billions of years, only crawling onto land around 420 million years in the past. Essentially, the ocean is the womb of all life on this planet. Perhaps, we even still have some deeply rooted evolutionary memories of when our ancestors lived in that incubator, leading us to associate it with the feeling of being in the womb as a baby.

Drawing from this discussion, my friend and I pondered that this is what Flood II is actually about. Instead of a celebration of sex, it's a romanticisation of suicide, in this case in the form of drowning, as a sort of return to the womb ("this is the way it was, this is the way it is"). A permanent sanctum from all of the woes and the misery of life. Indeed, Eldritch seems to directly allude to this at one point:

She says no no no no harm will come your way
She says bring it on down, bring on the wave

Drowning is a brutal and severely torturous method of committing suicide, but it happens more than one might believe. The process involves the person involuntarily fighting to inhale oxygen, filling their lungs up with water in the process and making it more and more painful to continue to inhale, for approximately a minute and a half before they finally mercifully lose consciousness due to continued lack of oxygen reaching their brain. To quote the final two lines in the song, minus the chorus:

Seconds to the drop but it feels like hours
And I think I'm going to, going to... (sleep)
The word sleep is present in the song but missing from the official lyrics.

I have never seen anyone aside from my friend and myself put forth this explanation, but it appears to make far more sense than the alternative, surface explanation. Eldritch is no stranger to dark subjects, and Flood II wouldn't be the only time he has written about drowning (Marian) or suicide (Under the Gun), so this analysis is at least somewhat plausible.

Official lyrics can be found here.

(We Are the Same) Susanne

This dreamy, surreal-sounding tune is tied with 1959 for being my favourite song of all time. While some of the lyrics in this song are bordering on being word salad, this appears to be intentional. The theme of this song is an obsessive longing or love for another person -- a sort of feeling that cannot be conveyed in words, although Eldritch has certainly made an exquisitely sublime attempt at doing so.

When the lyrics for Susanne were initially provided on the official Sisters of Mercy website, the comment below was included with them:

Note: the vocal switches between English and German pronunciations of the name Suzanne, which is a deft - and mellifluous - twist in a song about "sameness". Draw your own conclusions.

While this is not shown in the official written lyrics, Eldritch does indeed go back and forth between referring to his muse as "Susanne" and "Susanna"/"Suzanner" throughout the song.

Although I am no longer able to find the source for this, I have heard that Eldritch was once asked who he would most like to see stranded on a desert island, to which he allegedly responded "Susanne Holst's boyfriend." Susanne Holst is a German actress and former doctor and weatherwoman. Eldritch's apparent obsession with Holst is the likely explanation for why he alternates between the English and German forms of "Susanne", and may also explain the references to "summer rain" and to "ether" -- a surgical anaesthetic.

No pain, summer rain
I'm lost for stupid again

And later on...

Susanne let the ether fall

The latter line is worth analysing independently as it appears to have a double meaning. While ether is a surgical anaesthetic, and the line could be construed as a request for Eldritch's crush to take the pain of his longing away by reciprocating his love, "the ether" specifically can refer to the heavens, or to a hypothetical field that was once believed to exist as the medium through which electromagnetic waves travel through.

If the song is assumed to be specifically about Susanne Holst, who is known for her career on television, then the line "let the ether fall" can be taken to be an expression of desire to meet her face-to-face instead of simply observing her through the electromagnetic waves of his television set.

I spent a while pondering the meaning of "We are the same, Susanne", the title of the song and a recurring lyric in it (unwritten but included in every recorded performance) might mean. While I am still not 100% certain, my best theory is that Eldritch meant this as an unusual way of expressing his desire to be together with his muse - to be so close to her that the two of them are essentially one and the same. This seems to fit the hazy and ethereal nature of both the lyrics and the music to the song.

Going by this theory, the following two lines then appear to be another plea to have his obsession reciprocated, apparently asking Susanne to verbally acknowledge that they are a couple (this song's strange version of one lover asking another "what are we?"):

We are the same
Give it a name Susanne

Although it does come off at least a tad creepy that the song appears to be targeted directly at a real person, it does fit the message well. The kind of overpowering and obsessive infatuation with another person (especially one that does not appear to reciproccate the feelings) that Susanne conveys is rarely a positive thing. Eldritch describes his state of mind quite accurately with the word salad-y "I'm lost for stupid again" line.

Official lyrics can be found here.

Under the Gun

This sorrowful song is particularly personal to me as it was the favourite Sisters of Mercy song of my deceased best friend, Drac0, who happened to be the person who introduced me to this band.

The song is a duet with Roxanne Seeman, and ostensibly appears to be describing a moribund relationship that ultimately ends with one party expiring from either suicide or drug use. There is a lot of very clever wordplay however that is worth discussing, some of which took me dozens of listens to notice, as is often the case with this astoundingly cryptic band.

Let's begin by examining the first lines in the song, which alone have much that needs to be unpacked:

You don't have to say you're sorry
To look on further down the line
Into the sun
Too close at heaven
Love is fine
But you can't hold it like a...

The second and last song lines seem to be referring to drugs or another toxic source of pleasure that the song's male protagonist is using to escape. "The line" appears to be a rather obvious drug reference (i.e., "a line of meth"). From the first two and last two lines we can glean that the male seems to be unable or unwilling to deal with his relationship problems, and is using some sort of hard drugs as an escape, rationalising his actions with the lack of emotional effort needed to partake in them.

As we'll see soon, the Sun is repeatedly referenced in this song as a metaphor for true happiness/fulfillment and/or love, a very fitting one given the theme of this song. As the middle two lines in the stanza seem to allude to, the Sun provides the warmth and energy needed for life to exist on this planet, yet it can also snuff it all out (and eventually will!) with its normally life-granting heat. Just the same, the same love that drives and fulfills a person can utterly destroy them if things go awry. Indeed, it would seem this song's male protagonist has gotten too close to his own metaphorical Sun and is now scorched beyond mending.

The theme of using the seemingly safe escape of drugs as an alternative to love is a theme that later recurs in the song's long final verse. Quoth the Eldritch:

Forget the many steps to heaven
It never happened and it ain't so hard
Happiness is a loaded weapon and a
Short cut is better by far

The overarching meaning of this stanza is fairly clear; why put your heart and soul into forging a loving relationship with someone and expose yourself to heartbreak and rejection if you can seemingly achieve that same happiness with the jab of a needle?

I want to draw some attention to the exquisitely subtle pun in the fourth and last line. While "shortcut" is ostensibly used to mean that drugs are a much quicker way of achieving satisfaction than developing a loving relationship with another person, the word is purposefully misspelled as "short cut" in the official lyrics on the Sisters of Mercy's website. This gives the line a secondary meaning of self-harm (which is what illict drug use is by definition), as well as suicide if we take it as a reference to the ancient Chinese method of execution known as "death by a thousand cuts."

"Happiness is a loaded weapon" is another line in this stanza that appears to contain more than one meaning. Happiness derived from a relationship can be compared to a loaded weapon due to the immense heartbreak that can occur if anything causes the relationship to end, but there is also the fact that the male protagonist's method of seeking pleasure and escape is quite literally a loaded weapon seeing as it comes in the form of either harmful drug abuse or outright suicide.

Corrosive heart and frozen heat
We're worlds apart where we could meet

This appears to be a poetic way of describing the moribund state of affairs in the relationship where one party has given up entirely. Once again warmth is used as a metaphor for love and fulfillment.

Reaching the end of this song, the plot culminates in total self-destruction.

I put my finger on and fired
Heat-seeking, out of the sun
You can set the controls for the heart or the knees
And the meek'll inherit what they damn well please
Get ahead, go figure, go ahead and pull the trigger
Everything under the gun

If it is not yet obvious, the last line, and the name of this song, are a reference to the well-known phrase "everything under the Sun." As mentioned earlier, the Sun is repeatedly referenced in this song as a metaphor for true happiness, while "the gun" is meant to represent self-destruction and suicide. The morbid meaning of the last two lines is fairly obvious from this. To put everything under the gun is to end one's existence, thereby erasing everything that there is from the perspective of the person doing the act.

The first two lines in this stanza appear to once again be referencing the futility and self-destruction inherent in attempting to seek happiness by chasing harmful vices. A theoretical heat-seeking missile that is literally fired out of the Sun will obviously immediately reverse its course and go rocketing back towards where it was fired from, killing the individual who launched it and damaging that which could have actually brought him genuine, clean satisfaction (the Sun.)

Full lyrics can be found here.

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