Rough Trade Records
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
English math-rockers Black Midi have released their highly anticipated debut record, Schlagenheim, a relentless musical exploration blending hardcore technicality with an avant-garde sensibility.
Part of what makes this album so great is the dynamic range from track to track and even within songs. For example, the opening track “935” features dynamic highs with visceral, noisy up-tempo guitar riffs contrasted a minute later by expressionless arpeggiated guitars with wandering vocals sung over them.
The eight-minute epic “Western” follows in a similar fashion, starting out with a tame country groove, then rising to a hurried climax, and back down to that country groove and fade out. This aspect in particular frees up Black Midi’s songs from the usual bland math rock technicality of their musical peers, Chon, Polyphia, or any of the other “shredders,” allowing them to develop menacing, somber, or fatuous tones at different points throughout the whole record.
The performances from vocalist Geordie Greep go a long way in establishing these tones as well. On the track “bmbmbm,” he simply repeats the lyrics “what a magnificent purpose” with some variations while a driving single note line and guitar-filtered screams play throughout. This monotony comes to a head as the delivery becomes more and more depraved, until near the end of the track when the instrumentals and vocals are nearly unintelligible.
“Speedway” is the antithesis of this, with pitched vocals over a much tamer instrumental, giving a more relaxed and spacious tone. In both cases, Greep’s vocal is a major asset to Black Midi’s style, adding surrealism to the group’s off-kilter grooves.
Ultimately, Black Midi’s Schalgenheim is a bizarre and addictive experience, sure to impress even the most skeptical of listeners with its 43 minutes of memorable and unorthodox tunes.