Black Midi: Hellfire review – exhilarating ambition

(Rough Trade)
The Londoners freely cram genres and ideas into their concept album about death

The third instalment in Black Midi’s war against being put on as background music is their most ambitious yet. A concept album broadly about death and the afterlife that also takes in wrestling and contract killings, it’s dizzying in its ambition, pinballing between genres within a single breath. The standout The Race Is About to Begin lifts the opening riff from the Minutemen’s Viet Nam before taking off in a high-speed free-jazz/prog/metal direction. Bravura musicianship treads a fine line between precision and chaos, while Geordie Greep switches between Tony Bennett croon and turbocharged Jello Biafra polemic, and most points in between. It ends with an incongruously elegant three-minute coda.

By contrast, the predominant mood of Still is gentle, mariachi-flecked Americana. Dangerous Liaisons and The Defence, meanwhile, come across as Vegas show tunes, albeit Vegas show tunes sung from, respectively, the perspectives of a would-be killer duped by Satan and a pimp, the darkness of the humour recalling the late Cathal Coughlan. Best listened to as a whole, Hellfire is as challenging and unsettling as it is exhilarating. About as sui generis as it’s possible to get in 2022.

Watch the video for Eat Men Eat by Black Midi.


Phil Mongredien

The GuardianTramp

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