Third album from London trio adds another gem to the crown of a band who are fast becoming one of the very best of their era.
black midi (henceforth Black Midi), are one of the most musically proficient bands on the face of the Earth. They have built up an enviable reputation of being as creative as they are virtuosic, and this combination has led to them being compared to a range of iconoclasts from Frank Zappa to Can, and King Crimson to Primus and Tom Waits. You’re never entirely sure how seriously they take themselves (the ‘album bio’ says not at all, but people lie), and their ever-expanding bizarro universe is now three albums deep with the release of this new one, Hellfire.
Unusually for modern pop records, this beast needs to be experienced in one sitting, preferably with a range of mood-enhancers at your disposal. Perhaps that’s red wine and soft lighting or incense and chilled mineral water – regardless of what your selections are, strap yourselves in for an ‘album experience’ in the same vein as a Rain Dogs or a Tago Mago. In fact, Rain Dogs is quite close to what this album does, thematically. It batters you with a series of loosely-linked, first person narratives that explore the darkest sides of the human condition.
The band – Geordie Greep (guitar, vocals), Cameron Picton (bass, vocals), and Morgan Simpson (drums) – give themselves numerous opportunities to explore their most adventurous desires throughout this thing. Greep’s lyrics are particularly potent on Welcome To Hell, which is fitting, considering the music of the track alternates between Les Claypool mayhem and Stravinsky-inspired grandeur.
Sugar/Tzu alternates between soft crooner pop and brain-bleeding prog metal, but a more terrifying blend comes in the shape of Dangerous Liasons. Despite it being one of the more accessible songs in the Black Midi canon, with the noise terror kept to only a few seconds at a time, the whole air of the song is sinister and unnerving.
When the band bless us with a mild respite from the chaos – as on mid-album highlight Still – you’re never entirely sure whether they’re genuinely attempting to sooth you or whether they’re simply lowering your guard for whatever chaos comes next. As it turns out, it’s usually the latter. The Race Is About to Begin, which follows, is absolutely mind-meltingly intense. The vocals alone are terrifying in their relentlessness during the first half, before it descends into sinister Frank Sinatra schmaltz. Despite all their pronounced and recognisable influences, it becomes clear over the course of this thing that there is no other band in the world quite like this.
Not quite their strongest set (I’d still go for Schlagenheim), but easily head and shoulders above what many bands are making in the world right now, Hellfire is a superb and strangely seductive album that adds another gem to the crown of a band who are fast becoming one of the very best of their era. Mystifying, terrifying, essential listening.