Energy, experimentation, ambition, and a little bit of elegance.
When listening to the work of a band as eclectic in influence as black midi, any expectations you may have are to be thrown out the window. For anyone who thought there was a possibility of pinpointing where the band would move next, they’ll sorely be proven wrong as ‘Cavalcade’ manages to subvert your expectations in completely different ways than any other way the band has achieved yet. Those seeking the thrilling, thunderous crescendos that sweep you off your feet and throw you into a galvanized stupor the band has built their brand on should find the bulk of ‘Cavalcade’ to be just as equally mesmerizing; a refinement, slightly more organized and avenue exploring than its predecessor, of the intense and intimidating sounds ‘schlagenheim’ presented, now moving in a more jazz-infused direction.
Though where ‘schlagenheim’ served as a cathartic and frightening, in a sense, ensemble of chaos, only mellowing out for the occasionally poised math-rock passage, ‘Cavalcade’s’ moments between each blitz of jazz mayhem and arrhythmic guitars showcases an unforeseen side of the band. The first thing you are greeted with upon clicking the play button is ‘John L’, one of the band’s most ear-splitting, lyrically cryptic, rhythmically disjointed, and inharmonious tracks yet, even taking moments midsong to pause and allow the listener to breathe after the sheer whiplash of a journey they were subjected to. It’s not necessarily all that surprising of a track for the band to create and is a song that lives up to the album’s title, yet the album takes a turn with ‘Marlene Dietrich’. A sultry, cerebral, almost romantic ballad; a track that is noticeably inspired by bossa nova music and incredibly understated in delivery, especially in comparison to anything the band has attempted prior, subduing you into a lulled trance.
It’s, as you can imagine, quite jarring at first hearing two songs of vastly differing caliber side-by-side, work in unison to create the bigger picture of ‘Cavalcade’, but it’s also a clear indicator of the band’s evolution past ‘schlagenheim’ and shows where we can expect them to go next, or more so why we can’t have any expectations as to what route they’ll take in the future. Greep’s vocals are just as unbound as they were on ‘schlagenheim’, though calling the vocals similar would be doing them a disservice. While Greeps’ trademarked scream and snarl are still present, he also begins to build a more of a distinct personality within his vocals and takes a more theatrical approach to singing. They range from maddened mustache-twirling cartoon villain (‘John L’) to sedated and melodic (‘Marlene Dietrich’) to almost being used as an instrument, interlocked with earworm guitars (‘Dethroned’), Cameron Picton is even substituted for Greep on the track 'Slow', resulting in one of the band's creepiest and most spectral tracks to date.
To briefly touch upon some key moments in the tracklist, ‘Chondromalacia Patella’ is the perfect lesson on building up to a dazzling climax, anxious and always feeling like it’s on the verge of exploding yet not actually erupting until its final minute, keeping you in that state of wonderment as to where the song will take itself next. ‘Diamond Stuff’, on the other hand, is possibly the most graceful and delicate track amongst the tracklisting, taking its time to construct a watery atmosphere centered around one absolutely gorgeous riff, then exploding with the most hushed bang imaginable, transforming an In Rainbows-esque and genuinely beautiful instrumental passage that serves as a great come down from the madness of the previous two tracks.
However, I would like to conclude this review with a short paean to the album’s greatest left-turn- it’s closer, ‘Ascending Forth’. Anyone who knows an inkling about black midi would most likely place bets on this track being a math rock rager for the ages, and yet, the album goes out with possibly the most gloriously unexpected boom possible; an acoustically lead swansong to the album that incorporates every fundamental element we’ve heard in preceding songs, though it never ends up sounding remotely similar to any of them. It opens up with a restrained melody and a gently plucked, medieval-sounding guitar as it breezes through two minutes. Then, the drums are introduced. Throughout the next couple of minutes, it teases at its impending climax, though it never quite reaches it. It seems that the track is about to reach its pinnacle once a blaring rush of saxophones hits your speakers around the five-minute mark, but alas, the bedlam falls back into beauty. It is around the final minute where you are met with a grand and panoramic explosion that makes the whole experience worth it, sounds like the end credits to something truly special and is a closer that will go down in the history books.
A phenomenal closing chapter to the Windmill scene which has so far dominated this year’s charts. TBE indeed.
---------𝘓𝘐𝘎𝘏𝘛 𝘕𝘐𝘕𝘌 𝘖𝘜𝘛𝘛𝘈 𝘛𝘌𝘕----------
FAVORITE TRACKS: John L, Marlene Dietrich, Chondromalacia Patella, Slow, Diamond Stuff, Dethroned, Ascending Forth
WORST TRACK: Hogwash and Balderdash