What a lot of people tend to forget about 1980s goth is just how bombastic it became during the latter part of the decade. The music was atmospheric and melancholic, but it was a lot more than a pale, underfed vocalist sullenly singing into a microphone. It was theatrical, the singers preened, the albums sounded huge with their gated snare drums, the music videos were lavish, the bands looked downright pretty. Hell, the Mission even covered Aerosmith. And the Sisters of Mercy went even further, collaborating with power ballad master Jim Steinman, for crying out loud. The latter’s end result, the epic “This Corrosion”, was a glorious slice of late-‘80s goth excess that proved that gloomy little subgenre wasn’t far removed from “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” after all. It wasn’t just the music alone, it was all part of a larger package, the songs projecting an image that could be every bit as flamboyant, nihilistic, and narcissistic as heavy metal’s more garish elements.
The metal side of goth went on to embrace the old aesthetic with relish, bands like My Dying Bride to Lacuna Coil popularizing the sound, but the same can’t be said for today’s young bands more firmly rooted in the more streamlined post-punk side of the genre, almost as if they’re reluctant to take the dark sound into the kind of over-the-top territory that the genre begs for. Which is why the debut album by Brooklyn’s Blacklist is so damned refreshing. As if completely unafraid of the inevitable jeers from the condescending, ironic indie scenester crowd, they get it. Boasting production as huge as its many hooks, Midnight of the Century might seem aimed at morose teens hidden away in their bedrooms, but its sights are set much higher, the arrangements brazenly going for a Killers style of stadium rock. You needn’t look further than the first single, “Flight of the Demoiselles”, either, a pulsating anthem that brilliantly channels the post-U2 wave of mid-‘80s British bands (Simple Minds, the Alarm). While a bleak undercurrent lurks throughout the track, vocalist/guitarist Josh Strawn evokes the chilly, almost detached tones of Peter Murphy and Andrew Eldritch in his singing.
“Shock in the Hotel Falcon” might sound insistent, but it subtly builds up to a stirring climax over the course of nearly five minutes. The acoustic-tinged dream pop of “Odessa” immediately brings to mind the great, underrated American band For Against, while “Frontiers” audaciously dips its hands in mainstream pop. And even for all their pretensions, Blacklist show they’re capable of more understated moments, nicely exemplified by the graceful “The Believer”, which closes the album. Will they end up playing the kind of stadiums and arenas their music is suited for? Probably not, sadly, but though their approach might be patently uncool these days, there’s nothing wrong with an indie band swinging for the fences. And indeed, these guys have knocked one out of the park on their first try.