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Black Midi - Cavalcade (Album Review)

Thursday, 03 June 2021 Written by Sam Sleight

“The most exciting new guitar band in Britain,” was the Guardian’s take on Black Midi shortly after the release of their debut album ‘Schlagenheim’, and they weren’t alone in adopting this view. Hyperbolic? Perhaps. But, let’s face it, music criticism has form in that regard. 

Still, if this declaration didn’t exactly break new ground in its respective medium, to some extent neither did Black Midi. Their blend of startling musicianship, harsh textures and prog-post-rock fusion delivered plenty of thrills, but its building blocks were repurposed, not freshly rendered. On their second LP, ‘Cavalcade’, the band lean into their startlingly eclectic palette of influences, finding new textures and some of the same problems.

‘Schlagenheim’ was linked to 20th century composers as far ranging as Béla Bartók and Alfred Schnittke during attempts to categorise its post-punking, experimental rocking salvo.

But the majority of ‘Cavalcade’ is a mixture of freeform jazz, Sinatran big-band bombast, the scope of Fantômas and, from primary vocalist and guitarist Geordie Greep, the weathered vocals of latter-day Bowie. You can’t say they don’t know their musical history.  

These inspirations are moulded into something that will represent an eye opening new experience for many, but even when stretched to these fascinating limits Black Midi’s roots are on show. On Diamond Stuff, the lush ambience and freeform expression feels like a nod to ‘Schlagenheim’, despite the less improvisational writing process for ‘Cavalcade’. It’s beautiful and sublimely crafted, drawing in shapeshifting threads from Miles Davis. Old becomes newish.

The lead single and opening track, John L, sticks out like a sore thumb, displaying the breadth of Black Midi’s ambitions and the method in their madness. The work of John Zorn, King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Swans, Daughters, Primus and every math-rock luminary you wish to mention is squashed into around five minutes, resulting in something utterly perplexing and exhilarating. It is a stroke of genius even if it doesn’t quite gel with the record as a singular piece. 

Black Midi have a distinctive sound, one that will urge people to investigate the lineage that the band pull from. It’s fair to say that few currently active groups are engaging in this kind of genre-crossing exploration with such verve and nous, and maybe it can be true that they are the most exciting new guitar band in Britain without being truly unique in the dictionary definition of the word.



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