black midi – Hellfire

21 July 2022 / by Eunice Addo
The three members of black midi are dressed in hiking gear in the desert
Album reviews
black midi Hellfire
Released: July 15, 2022
Label: Rough Trade
Alternative / Jazz / Rock
Black Country / New Road / Swans / The Mothers of Invention
Sugar/Tzu, Eat Men Eat, The Race Is About To Begin, The Defence

black midi’s highly-anticipated third album Hellfire has already seen a chaotic release. Leaked in June, those who listened claimed it was their best album yet and the most accessible between the three. Turns out, there was no need to wait until July 15. black midi held a listening party livestream on their YouTube page a day early.

In the hour leading up to the stream, bassist Cameron Picton (allegedly) joined the live chat and cheekily pinned this message: “By the way if you listened to the leak send me $1 and it’ll be ok £XxCamPictonxX.” Technical proficiency and eclectic influences aside, black midi’s just like any other group of Gen Z kids online, posting their wildest takes on Twitter and trolling fans, who enthusiastically engage. Someone demanded to know Picton’s Twice bias, which brought some focus to the chat. In K-pop, a bias is one’s favourite group member. Picton proceeds to list his “biases” in other categories, including black midi, cheese, tacos, and squid dishes: bandmate Kaidi, manchego cheese, fish tacos from Tacos Delta in Los Angeles, calamari, and, finally, Jeongyeon of Twice. He says he can’t reveal his bias from Black Country, New Road (their peers from the Speedy Wunderground scene) claiming it’d be “too political”. In the 5 minutes leading up to the stream, Picton got people pumped and exerted his power by telling fans to drop random words in the chat, from “album” to “AAAAAAAAAAAH’s”.

Hellfire’s opening track eases us into the void as Geordie Greep (guitar, vocals) spits his usual cryptic gobbledegook. It’s the beginning of another perilous journey with black midi, backed by a riveting soundtrack. “Sugar/Tzu” drops us in the middle of a boxing match, narrated from the perspective of a short egotistical gunman seeking infamy by way of live assassination. The song starts off slow, but then a flurry of notes suddenly hit and kick off the action. It has the same energy as the last lap of the infamous Mario Kart Rainbow Road track–tense and ready to burst. You’re then lifted up and spun into a gut-popping, brain-busting finale. This track should be played loud to be completely consumed by the furious storm mustered up by the band–especially Morgan Simpson’s incredible drumming, which eases between breezy and fierce throughout the album.

“Eat Men Eat” launches into a raging flamenco number, with distinct palmas supplied by percussionist Demi García Sabat. There’s a sense of impending doom in Picton’s tale, even during the calmer sections. The captain’s demonic disposition, Picton’s anguished vocals, and the song’s overall vibe reminds me of the dread I felt when watching the 2019 thriller The Lighthouse. Listeners get a break from the terror with “Welcome to Hell” which starts off with a sort of early 2000s drum and synth combo. Greep’s guitar sounds like something off The Soft Boys’ A Can of Bees album or, much recently, contemporaries such as Home Counties, Vintage Crop, or Buffet Lunch. Pianist Seth Evans is worth highlighting here, as his contribution gives the song lively jolts, like someone playing piano for circus acts–imaginative yet sharp.

Picton-penned track “Still” stands in direct contrast to “Eat Men Eat” and is, arguably, the most accessible song on the album. It’s warmer and more inviting than other tracks despite the melancholy lyrics. The wispy lap steel and Kaidi Akinnibi’s sentimental saxophone, fittingly, add a bittersweet touch. A tranquil conclusion to the first half of this odyssey.

The second half of the album has the charm of a cabaret show, with quips and double entendres galore to help recount stories of hellbound sinners. Greep takes over vocal duties in a theatrical presentation. His bars are frenetic and, when things slow down, his crooning is tender like that of Scott Walker. “The Race Is About To Begin” is another standout track that kicks off with a Captain Beefheart bounce, then proceeds to glide between frenzied and serene. It’s a formula that black midi has grown into comfortably since 2021’s Cavalcade, with enough creativity to keep listeners captivated. 

“Dangerous Liaisons” recounts the story of a simple farmhand turned murderer, the realization of his crime, and the path that leads him directly to Satan, while “The Defence” focuses on a shameless brothel-running pimp who, in my opinion, drops the best lines (see: second verse). The album’s finale is set during a macabre stage show, carrying on the album’s musings surrounding infamy, sin, and existentialism. black midi sets up a proper stage play send-off and concludes with the intense and terrifying scene of a washed up star’s painful death.

black midi is cruising on a steady road initially paved by Cavalcade, while Schlagenheim is becoming a distant but endearing era that some may still prefer. The group’s technical prowess is sturdier and more confident on Hellfire, with Kaidi Akinnibi and Seth Evans continuing to be an incredible addition to the group’s overall sound. If you were thrilled by Hellfire I highly recommend getting tickets to the upcoming October 18 show at The Phoenix Concert Theatre to experience black midi live in concert. I have a feeling it’ll be a hot ticket and a memorable, mind-blowing performance from an era you won’t want to miss out on.