black midi Hellfire Rough Trade Records
If you ever worried that, as black midi honed their craft and their popularity surged, they’d smooth out the edges of their idiosyncrasies, then worry not. If anything, they’ve leaned even further into their weirdness: Hellfire, their third album in three years, is the sound of them going full goblin mode.
“Almost everyone depicted is a kind of scumbag,” says lead singer Geordie Greep in the press release explaining his told-in-the-first-person-stories of decay and degradation. Exhibit A: The Race is About to Begin, which begins with Greep singing, “idiots are infinite, thinking men numbered”. Over its seven minutes and 16 seconds, the track takes in a dizzying amount of musical styles – from frazzled prog to chamber pop to clattering noise rock – before self-destructing halfway through, Greep whispering “the crass becomes divine”.
Some songs sound almost like show tunes in their over-the-top, dramatised tales of love and hell. Each track is as tender as it is ominously chaotic, showcasing new sides to Greep and the rest of the band as they explore more marked dichotomies in their sound. The best example of this is the country-tinged Still, a beautiful, barefaced love song, shorn of all abstraction: “And if I ever needed love/ It’s now/ Just take me!” Later, of course, it nearly caves in on itself as distorted guitars surge antagonistically, only to fade into a gentle wisp by the end.
Hellfire is absurd, self-indulgent, restless, ambitious and brutal. But it never feels forced. This is just who black midi are – a compelling group of musicians who seemingly never discard a musical idea. And still, somehow, this more-is-more approach has taken them from strength to strength. Hellfire is another puckishly extravagant success.