This The Black Ships article was written by Shawni Dunne, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Hazel Webster.
Listening to the opening bars of ‘Dead Empires’, the title track of The Black Ships’ second album, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a long-forgotten product of Factory Records. The opening chords are strikingly reminiscent of early Joy Division, so much so that it is almost a shock to hear the gentle tones of vocalist John Gills rather than the distinctive voice of Ian Curtis.
In reality, the alternative rockers are situated far away from the backstreets of Manchester and originate from NYC. Despite being thousands of miles across the Pacific, the influence of the 1980s British music scene is clear to hear. John Gills perfectly encapsulates the moody nonchalance and existential searching of early Indie in his soft and haunting words. There is almost a hint of Morrissey in his voice, which is not unfitting of the gloomy exploration of the soul and bleak tones of ‘When The Rain Falls’.
‘Nuovo’ sees the album bounce from despair to an upbeat opening of synths and drum beats that further confuses the genre. On their own Facebook page the band describes themselves as Post-Punk, Alternative, New Wave and Dark Wave and there seems no better or simpler way of describing them. The album is certainly an exploration of music past and present, with influences from pre-millennium indie and pop seeping through the tracks. To say that the album is a pastiche of the Manchester music scene would be unfair; The Black Ships have talent and flair and their music is, if anything, a tribute to musical history.
The final track on the album, ‘Kapitulation’ is by far their best and biggest experiment. Staring at the harrowing gas-masked figures on the cover art and listening to the Marxist undertones of the unambiguously named track, it is hard to shake the vision of history repeating itself and the ever-looming prospect of world corruption.
Despite this potentially powerful message, the album unfortunately falls a little short of successfully conveying it and rather succumbs to the curse of repetition. Towards the end of the album the songs seem to blend into one and Gills’ vocals are drowned out by the rising bass and guitar. However, it can be said that The Black Ships have produced a thoughtful and daring album that defies and challenges modern perceptions of alternative music and will be a solid platform for things to come.