Since first bursting onto the scene in 2017, black midi has only gone from strength to strength. Their debut record, Schlagenheim, was a strong statement, a confident release by a prodigious young group eager to make waves with their frenetic breed of post-punk. Perhaps aware that their music could too often be brushed aside as a modern rehashing of the No Wave aesthetic of the 1980s, the band never settled on their sound, always looking to tread new ground, to defy expectations. Their second record, Cavalcade, took a definitively more melodic direction, with lusher harmonies, a wider orchestral palette, and more ambitious songwriting. Their latest offering builds upon these foundations, culminating in their most daring record yet, Hellfire.
Loosely a concept album, thematically structured around a series of vignettes, Hellfire is unapologetically theatrical in its constitution. The playing credits for each title are indicative of just how orchestrally oriented the band has now become. Since Cavalcade, the band seems to have made Avant-jazz elements a staple of their sound, and on Hellfire this big band timbre is made clever use of, used to great effect in accentuating dissonant chordal stabs or in more tender moments endowing the album with some Film Noir undertones. As one would expect from a black midi record, the musicianship here is of a very high calibre, and especially commendable is drummer Morgan Simpson’s strong rhythmic command, the élan vital of the black midi sound.
The album begins with an overture of sorts, frontman Geordie Greep’s deadpan delivery setting the feverish tone that saturates the record and is followed by one of the band’s strongest numbers, “Sugar/Tzu”, which within the span of 5 minutes covers a dizzying amount of ground. Frequent shifts in dynamics, idioms, and genre is a recurring theme throughout the album, indeed it is something of the modus operandi for black midi. The band have always relished in being chameleon-like, transitioning from brutal instrumental passages to soft acoustic riffing at a moment’s notice. The dynamic spectrum in which black midi resides is far and wide, and the lowest lows are met with the highest highs.
As impressive as these musical feats are, the effect is no doubt jarring and as such the album is not always particularly enjoyable to listen to, but is undeniably captivating and a truly visceral experience. Hellfire will no doubt garner much praise simply for how audacious it is, and deservingly so, but I anticipate their next record might be their best.