BLACK MIDI – ” Hellfire “

Posted: July 16, 2022 in MUSIC

The London trio’s third album is full of hallucinogenic scenes where jazz, prog, electronic, and punk pretzel around each other until it looks like one musical gordian knot.

Black Midi continues to be a genre atom smasher on their third album, “Hellfire“. On each successive record, the group has refused to settle on just rock, jazz, electronic, or punk music. Their 2019 debut “Schlagenheim” was constructed from an unhinged series of improvisational jam sessions, while 2021’s “Cavalcade” then shifted to more closely considered prog-rock night terrors. Black Midi never sticks to one sound, and that’s part of what’s so appealing or confounding about them, depending on who you’re talking to.

On “Hellfire“, the London group embodies the phrases yelped by vocalist/guitarist Geordie Greep at the beginning of the record: “There’s always something… an odd twitch, hearing loss, a ringing noise, new flesh.”

The band’s Geordie Greep explains in a press release: “‘Sugar/Tzu’ imagines that in 2163 it’s possible to see a championship fight between two 600 lb men. Albeit in a so-called ‘Leadweight’ division. The fight is between Sun Sugar and Sun Tzu; the latter being a fan of the Chinese general, hoping to channel his strength; and the former looking to continue the lineage of Sugar Ray Robinson, Leonard etc.

“Present at their battle is a young boy who stands just over three feet tall. At ringside, he briefly exchanges a glance with Sun Sugar, who, in perhaps an attempt to inspire, comes over to the boy and shakes his hand. It is then revealed, as the contender walks back to the action, that the boy is in fact a killer. He takes a small pistol from his little jacket and shoots the man in the back, honour be damned. The boy believes this not to be a cruel act, but a virtuous one, with his interference giving the audience an ultimate, rare entertainment.

“As Sun Sugar hits the deck, the crowd cheer and scream, believing this only to be the result of a particularly vicious shot from Sun Tzu.

“There is a little joke here. It is regular for a boxing audience to bemoan an early stoppage, the official stepping in to save a fighter who could’ve gone on. And while there is the surface agreement of most that ‘it was the right thing to do,’ there seems to be often left unsaid the fact that we actually do want to see a brutal knockout. And in the split second where these one-shot, punch-perfect, coma-inducing blows do occur, there is an undeniable rush. The boy in this story feels he is a hero for giving the crowd what they all really want. This is not to say the song is a critique of boxing or anything of the like—I love the sport—but it is an interesting and rare phenomenon worth exploring.”

The title track prominently features an ominous pipe organ, which is reminiscent of the soundtracks for deadly Roman gladiatorial games. This type of tension ratchets up throughout the album’s 38-minute runtime while influences drop on the listener in waves, with bits of early Genesis, Captain Beefheart, and ’70s jazz-fusion icons Magma tumbling over each other as each track is revealed in full. 

The concept for the album is set during a war with vivid military characters serving as the nervous mouthpieces of each track. The subject matter of each song is on the seedier side—“The Defence” and “Dangerous Liaisons” are from the perspective of a brothel owner and hired killer, respectively. World War I and Dickensian poetry feature prominently as influences for Greep, and his delivery remains truly alien. “Still” is the most melodic the dark album ever gets as it contorts and changes shape.

It’s a modern mutation on a traditional strain of ’70s rock and jazz jamming, but Black Midi remain mostly appealing three albums into their ascendant career. It’ll be intriguing to see what they mutate into for their fourth effort.

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