Intense first-person narratives fuel a thrill ride

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Wasting little time following last year’s loft-challenging ‘Cavalcade’, London’s Black Midi is back with a third album just as packed with ideas just 14 months later. Taking half that time to write and record, the 10 tracks on “Hellfire” present the most compelling evidence yet that the experimental three-piece band are well on their way to being recognized as one of the most most inventive of his generation.

Moving away from high-energy jazz, murky post-punk and dreamy, opiate psychedelia, the ever-changing musical foundations of “Hellfire” are as unstable as frontman Geordie Greep’s frenetic monologues. These fragmented first-person accounts show the 22-year-old singer/guitarist of Black Midi inhabiting the headspace of an inebriated and traumatized soldier on shore leave (“Welcome To Hell”), an unhinged murderer stalking his prey (“Dangerous Liaisons”) and Freddie Frost, spitting questions and living in a sarcophagus, in “27 Questions” closer. With his vocal character oscillating between that of a finger-snapping parlor number and that of a deranged, almost hysterical preacher in the vein of David Byrne, Greep has become a captivating central figure.

Greep’s often manic lyrical outbursts are juxtaposed with co-vocalist and bassist Cameron Picton’s cuts – namely the gorgeous “Still” and the tense “Eat Men Eat” – which serve as islands of often mellow serenity. Predicted by the title track’s messy chaos opener, “Sugar/Tzu” is a deft distillation of the band’s strengths. Moving from a soothing, sax-coated placidity to a frenzied, riff-driven dive into death, Greep drags us into a quasi-futuristic boxing tournament that leads to the occasional murder.

The unsettling tone established, lead single “Welcome To Hell” depicts the overwhelmed senses of an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD as he wanders the garish streets of “night city”. Framed by a deluge of goofy, sloppy riffs and a salvo of troubled beats, the action-packed monster is perhaps “Hellfire’s” most engrossing listen.

A band as stylistically flexible as Black Midi would struggle without a sure pair of hands behind the kit, and drummer Morgan Simpson is undoubtedly one of the band’s central weapons. Once the recipient of the Young Drummer of the Year award at age 16 in 2014, Simpson’s effortless rhythmic prowess is the engine that allows the band to easily transition from style to style. The daredevil “The Race Is About To Begin” is a delightful example of this: Simpson loosens up here with a few furious math-rock hits, before tightening up in a majestic fanfare build.

Call it avant-garde if you will (and some will certainly find the album‘s frequent ups and downs too much to bear), but listening to “Hellfire” offers more musical thrills and flip-flops per minute than few other records we’ve heard this year. Seeming more assured of their creative agility than ever before, “Hellfire” is the work of a very special group of alchemists.

Details

  • Release date: July 15th
  • Record company: Gross Trade Records


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