Few bands have so successfully conquered the cacophonous realms of math rock and post punk as the enigmatic black midi. Thriving in the depths of the capital’s underground, the elusive four piece have navigated their way from humble beginnings as Windmill Brixton regulars, to taking on a worldwide tour and releasing what is perhaps this year’s most highly anticipated debut album. Amongst their infectious mystery, black midi offer an enticing musicality that transcends scene or common genre, but instead captures modern virtuosity at its finest.
Schlagenheim is a 43 minute offering of expertly crafted dissonance. The nine tracks (their names being revealed only on the day of release) all capture, in their individuality, the extensive reach of the band’s improvisations and the explorative depths of their live performances. But black midi want more. Amidst the drive of the core instrumentation, the album’s sound is designed with additional synth, accordion, piano, banjo and drum machine parts. Captured with the aid of Speedy Wunderground’s Dan Carey, eight of the nine tracks were recorded in just five days. Carey’s approach to recording aims to achieve a “snapshot of the day”, placing limitations on overdubbing and mixing times to avoid overworked sonic clutter. Considering the increased instrumentation on the record, the clear success of the quick recording method is impressive, and reportedly gathered praise from the band.
black midi don’t hesitate to introduce Schlagenheim with the raucous energy they’re known for. ‘Track 1’ fuses chaos with interludes of pure hypnotism; the shamanistic announcements of lead vocalist Geordie Greep claiming occasional moments of lucidity between dark riffs and driven beats. Greep has noted that he never used to sing, nor consider himself someone who’d ever become a singer. But, in fact, the commanding presence of his vocal delivery stands as a definitive feature throughout the entire album. Though some influences are subtly identifiable, Greep has innovated a distinctive frontmanship that has the power to both direct and rein in the band’s instrumental anarchy.
Schlagenheim provides a selection of songs that range from droning, nightmarish soundscapes to melodic, genre manipulating industrial anthems. The skill of guitarist Matt Kwasniewski-
Kelvin is demonstrated not only through his hauntingly mesmerising riff writing, but also his broad and experimental manipulation of tone. 'Track 4', the shortest of the nine tracks, is entirely unforgiving in its brash nature, its main verse occasionally adorned with the mysterious storytelling vocals of bassist Cameron Picton. The ending sees Picton’s sudden enraged screaming guide the song to an intense climax, leaving the listener in a state of total invasion. Though particular tracks certainly have an increased melodicism and harmonic beauty, they in no way fail to maintain the album’s overwhelming energy- something that drummer Morgan Simpson curates so expertly in his playing.
With this debut album, black midi have quickly proved themselves frontrunners of the British music scene. The band have suggested that future records are likely to sound nothing like Schlagenheim, but will instead be written in relation to the fluidity and development of their own music tastes. Whatever direction black midi choose to follow, it can be confidently presumed that they will do so with the same authentic, pioneering artistry captured in Schlagenheim. Watch this space.
Schlagenheim is released on 21 June 2019 via Rough Trade Records.