black midi — Hellfire — Album Review

Alternative | Experimental | Progressive | Indie | Rock | Noise Rock

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For me, black midi felt like one of those bands that took me longer to fully dive into than most other bands. While I was aware of their 2019 debut album Schlagenheim, and all of the buzz that clear surrounded said album, it barely stood as one of those albums I almost reviewed at the end of the year.

But a few years, and a nod from Black Country, New Road later, I found myself fully diving into the discordian sound of black midi through their sophomore album Cavalcade, released last year. While my review of that album was certainly not shy of compliments, I found myself appreciating Cavalcade more and more as the year of 2021 went on, to the point where black midi’s sophomore album wound up being placed as my 29th favourite album of the entire year.

If you were interested in finding out all 50 of my favourite albums of 2021, click here to view my list.

And with my swiftly built appreciation for this band, and their unarguable uniqueness, I was delighted to find the signs that a brand new album was coming sooner than I expected, with the releases of more tracks in 2022, to herald black midi’s third album cycle; the album in question being titled Hellfire.

And it’s fair to say, that I don’t think this album cycle could’ve started more strongly, thanks to the single that is “Welcome To Hell”. Combining elements of Primus, Slint, and all of the band’s own best element, this track became an instant masterpiece in my mind. I was just so bewitched by the near-nightmarish sound, engaging lyrics, and an iconically explosive mid-section.

Following “Welcome To Hell”, we had “Eat Men Eat”, another track that carried Slint like elements, and simultaneously sounded like it would’ve fit right in as one of the better tracks on Cavalcade. I did not listen to their third and final teaser “Sugar/Tzu” until the full release of Hellfire, but there’s no denying just how marvellous that track is as well.

One of the main elements that made Cavalcade such a brilliant album, was the ebb and flow of intensity that black midi undeniably champion as a band, as well as their musical chemistry, of course. And the same sentence can very much be said for Hellfire. However, it’s not only this element that serves as the primary appeal for this album, not to say that it exactly was for their previous project either. However, there’s something about this third album that simply feels even more artistically moving than ever before.

I was both surprised and pleased to find that, despite the album’s title, that Hellfire is more than just a batch of hellish, and chaotic tracks. Rather, there are actually a fair few cuts on this thing that sound incredibly beautiful, and serve as very soothing listens. Some examples would be the likes of “Still” or “The Defence”. These two are perhaps the two most accessible tracks on this album. However, they are no less atmospheric.

And now, let me talk about that very word of atmosphere; Hellfire is absolutely rife with it. With so many layers of different instrumentation, and such a diverse range of moods, all of which alternate from one to another drastically yet with fluidity, this album is an utterly exciting and refreshing listen from beginning to end.

An album that raises any form of intrigue to what it is about, and drives a listener like myself to dig deeper with research, is clearly a great album. Hellfire is such an album. With all of the lyrics on this thing being delivered with a near-surrealist undertone (and in quite a few cases, delivered fast enough to give Eminem the shakes), it made me incredibly eager to know more about the thought process behind the album’s narrative.

This album was allegedly made while the members of black midi were isolating in London, and apparently took more creative liberties with Hellfire, being a little more fantastical than the true stories that powered their first two albums, experimenting with first-person narrative, depicting the titular characters of the album as “scumbags”, they also expanded upon their sound, borrowing influences from cabaret, country, and flamenco sounds.

But if I was to go with my gut feeling towards the narrative instead, be it true or not, I feel that Hellfire perfectly depicts a “hell on earth” kind of scenario, joining the dots between the fantasies of hell and real life, and reflecting upon the sins that saturate modern life.

As a reader, you might’ve been able to notice by the slightly longer length of this review, that I absolutely love Hellfire, and firmly believe that is is the best musical work that black midi have put out thus far. Moreover, it stands as one of the most artistic and memorable projects of the entire year so far.

Favourite Tracks: Sugar/Tzu | Welcome To Hell | Still | The Race Is About To Begin | Dangerous Liaisons

Rough Trade Records

Final Score: 95%

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Joe Boothby

Joe Boothby

My articles mainly revolve around music reviews and analysis. A bit like Anthony Fantano, but just a decade behind.