black midi’s reputation goes before them. A stunning, seismic live force, their intensely improvisatory approach and supreme technical musicianship allows them to meld together post-punk, speed metal, avant jazz, and more, into the molten shards of metallic sound.
Indeed, it’s a curious feeling settling down to absorb debut album ‘Schlagenheim’. Live, this is a perpetual torrent of sounds, difficult to discern and almost impossible to fully analyse; on record these are actual songs, bizarre but recognisable compositions with their own dazzling internal logic.
Partly genius and partly preposterous, ‘Schlagenheim’ was developed from intense five hour jams, marathon sessions that could sometimes only produce a solitary riff. Producer Dan Carey oversaw the final recording at his Speedy Wunderground compound, a no-frills approach that saw minimal overdubs, just the sound of four young musicians pounding their way to inner earth.
Opener ‘953’ sets the tone. Dynamic and complex, deadly serious and completely hilarious, it fuses Morgan Simpson’s lightning-quick drum accelerations against a climactic guitar line that is almost faux flamenco in its gleeful, teasing irony.
‘Speedway’ is already a live favourite, with its sloping central guitar riff recalling Ought or even Talking Heads’ earlier angular escapades. There’s always an air of violence, though, with the climactic noise guitar eruption having more in common with Wolves In The Throne Room than the insipid post-punk revival bands that have clogged up the capital for far too long now.
Indeed, this layering of ideas is key to the way ‘Schlagenheim’ operates. ‘near DT, MI’ offers all out hardcore thrash, but it’s alien take on D-beat constantly veers in and out of time with unerring accuracy, providing something both visceral and kinda seasick.
‘Reggae’ contains only shattered splinters of its title genre, the odd dub effect mingling with shrieking vocals and taut guitars that exist in a different universe from low-end abstraction.
Often shockingly short, ‘Schlagenheim’ refuses to sit still, throttling each idea before it overstays its welcome. ‘Years Ago’ halts before the three minute mark, its radio perfect length disguising its sharply left-field landscape of burbling synths, finally ripped apart by caustic guitar, shrieking vocals, and demonic drum frills.
Drums sit at the centre of black midi’s sound. A deeply rhythmic experience, the band’s warp engine is Morgan Simpson, who seems to sluice together everything from jazz-funk rhythms to metal black beats. ‘bmbmbm’ seems to have both, this bracing, almost industrial sound, all jagged edges and broken down machinery.
This isn’t to place too much of the limelight on one member, though, since ‘Schlagenheim’ is a deeply communal effort, each musician having their own voice, pursuing fresh ideas in the face of outright parody. It leads to moments of gleeful, shrieking humour – Geordie Greep’s cry of “never break me!” on ‘Ducter’ or the dismissive “Honey!” on ‘Speedcar’.
‘Schlagenheim’ is an implausible achievement, a tangled web of influences, sounds, and echoes, leading to an aural universe that asserts itself on its own terms. Sure, there are antecedents here – groups like Tortoise or Battles, perhaps, or even the unbridled creative velocity of the Minutemen, in parts – but really, truly black midi occupy a space of their own.
An arresting, astonishing experience, ‘Schlagenheim’ is a vital, stunning, puzzling album, one that demands to be heard.
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