While black midi has only been around for five years, that’s all the time they’ve needed to become one of the most compelling noise rock bands of the moment. The London-based band has already released three superlative albums, none of which are alike. It’s strange to think that their 2019 debut, Schlagenheim, already feels like an old memory when the tour accompanying the album ended only two years ago. The band sounds like they have a decade of career in their legs. Their musical style is far too versatile, varied and rich to be labeled, and their signature remains so singular that one could simply call them “the black midi,” and in such a short time they’ve already become masters of making something organized out of chaos.
The band creates and solves their own puzzle by weaving intriguing and imaginative narratives. Their third album, Hellfire, was made mostly in parallel to the previous one, Cavalcade, not as a sequel, but rather as a kind of indirect alter-ego. If the previous album had a rather global look on the world, Hellfire focuses on the characters through a more introspective and personal point of view. In other words, this latest album tackles the ills of the world and the despair that creates.
Throughout the album, black midi draws up thrilling and disturbing portraits of horrifying, diabolical characters who wander a ruined world. The whole theme fits perfectly with the strange art of the trio and is used to navigate troubled waters. “Hellfire” acts almost like an introduction of a play, allowing the listener to get acquainted with the atmosphere and the scenery, from the infernal to the abyssal. Paradoxically, the warm voice of Geordie Greep comes to life to warm up the stage, as if the listener also had a role to play. As a result, the atmosphere is charged with tension from the start and then followed by a surge of unleashed instruments.
One of particularities of this album is in its construction. The band had accustomed listeners to long and stretched compositions, while “Hellfire” is largely composed of unusually compact songs, peppered with interludes as if the trio was telling a story. “Sugar/Tzu” features a boxing match, which takes shape around sensational rhythmic variations. One finds there all the splendor of the confrontation, of the show of adrenalin, thanks to the avalanche of sound. Hellfire actually shines by its spontaneity, which makes it more emotional and vicious than the previous releases. With no time to breathe, the trio launches into “Eat Men Eat,” a violent human statement that takes shape over an explosive flamenco. Cameron Picton’s initially softer voice contrasts with Greep’s charisma. “Eat Men Eat” feels like a never-ending chase, the tension is absolutely unbelievable.
“Welcome to Hell” sums up black midi’s gift for storytelling. We feel all the anger, the experience and the resilience of the main character when he chants “If not for you it would’ve been cholera, malaria, or some eastern disease/ Forget about it, son, a slap is all you need/ We did it all, we saw it all, and worse much worse, son/ The massacres of ages, too many to recall.” A crescendo of mainly brass recalls the unleashing of King Crimson on “21st Century Schizoid Man.” The image that black midi paints of hell is simply breathtaking; we can visualize the torments of the fiery abyss in this song.
Although this brutal and devastating sound always works for black midi, the trio also knows how to embrace a more majestic style. Like the flamenco tune on “Eat Men Eat,” the Londoners imagine “Still” as an airy country/folk pop song. The delicacy that the band shows on this song is impressive—it’s heaven after hell. However, madness still remains the band’s favorite playground, and they venture back in that direction on “The Race Is About to Begin,” which changes from despair to hatred in a theatrical spirit worthy of a Greek tragedy.
“Dangerous Liaisons” is tinged with bluesy savor and vivid emotion, while “The Defence” sounds like the triumph of a legendary crooner. Yet, “27 Questions” doesn’t shy away from its conclusion, the story of the fictional Freddie Frost who is ready to die on stage in one last show. This character simply embodies the last step before hell, the point of no return. The band artfully crafts characters the listener can connect with despite their flaws and mistakes.
Hellfire shows how black midi keeps progressing in their writing, while broadening their sonic palette. The richness of interpretation of this album takes shape around this propulsion of instrumentations. One must admire the mastery of the cabaret inflections in their music, which remains one of the most difficult styles to modernize. As storytellers, black midi creates striking characters and vivid scenes, while as musicians they somehow make order from chaos, and Hellfire is another example of how the band defies definition.
|1||Hellfire / 80|
|2||Sugar/Tzu / 100|
|3||Eat Men Eat / 100|
|4||Welcome To Hell / 100|
|5||Still / 80|
|7||The Race Is About To Begin / 100|
|8||Dangerous Liaisons / 80|
|9||The Defence / 90|
|10||27 Questions / 90|