black midi Burn Bright in 'Hellfire'
Published Jul 12, 2022Two travellers are stranded in the desert, searching for water and lost friends. When they stumble upon a mine led by a charismatic Captain, they reluctantly eat from the feast he's laid out. When the effects of the poisoned food take hold of the platoon — and the blood wine operation is uncovered — it's up to the lone, unaffected traveller to kill the Captain and get him and his infected friend out of there.
This scene from "Eat Men Eat," Hellfire's second single, sounds like it's straight out of a horror flick. Instead, it's yet another example of black midi's highly visual universe-building. Their third record is their most focused yet, a musical River Styx flowing between ideas that shouldn't make sense together, but do, to create a vivid hellscape. If last year's Cavalcade was the London post-punks' dabble into fusion, Hellfire establishes black midi as jazz rockers — even adding the occasional big band flair — while bringing in tremendous influences of flamenco, country and even show tunes amidst their usual prog leanings.
While many "post-Brexit" bands have fallen into the pattern of stoic vocals and angular guitars, black midi are one of the few acts showing off the subgenre's most vibrant capabilities. As usual, Geordie Greep's vocal deliveries refuse to be anything but boisterous, thriving in the first-person storytelling that permeates the album. He resembles a demanding, quick-tongued auctioneer on "The Race Is About to Begin," yet he receives his flowers as the curtains fall on "27 Questions." "Is a sin committed every moment of every day?" Greep asks his audience, alluding to the moral ambiguity that plagues Hellfire's many characters.
Through their intricate fables and musical jumbling, it's easy to tell that black midi are having loads of fun. Many of these tracks were premiered on the tours supporting Cavalcade, and diehard fans have had the treat of watching these ideas evolve along with their post-ironic stage banter. This is reflected nicely by the recordings, as Hellfire's crisp production magnifies every jeered note and impulse crash. All of this is equally chaotic as it is thoughtfully placed, holding onto the band's original charm of playing with every little sonic element. Without their attention to detail, it would be difficult to juggle such a meticulous effort.
Beyond their distinct pivot over the last two years, the band still hold onto the formulas that clearly work for them. For instance, it wouldn't be a black midi album without bassist Cameron Picton's two vocal tracks adding texture, with "Still" acting as one of its only soothing moments. In contrast, the record's final notes feel like a cliffhanger, offering none of their usual ta-das.
It takes immense skill to know what to keep while being one step ahead of the modern musical landscape, and Hellfire accomplishes both. That said, it's still impossible to see where the band will go next. A steep upward incline is horrifically on-brand for black midi, and it doesn't seem like they're afraid of heights. (Rough Trade)