There’s a lofty expectation lumped onto a group when they’re dubbed the “best band in London”; such an accolade was offered up by Shame (arguably one of the UK’s best new bands from the fertile south London scene) before the enigmatic black midi had offered up any music online. This was back in 2018, when the fledgling outfit were trading in anonymity and shunning social media in favour of letting their visceral live shows do the talking. As if to side-step the trappings of what it is to be a band since the internet boom, black midi have done it the old-fashioned way but with an added penchant for being clandestine.
Endorsements from your peers and an air of mystery are all well and good but it’s the music that matters, right? If all this subterfuge is intriguing wait until you wrap your lugholes around the London collective’s debut LP ‘Schlagenheim’; a record that scoffs at boundaries and has little regard for genre. black midi are a band that bonded over early 00’s indie, like Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand but they also have a shared love for pop and R’n’B and a hankering for hip-hop noisemongers Death Grips and Danny Brown. Throw in a hefty dollop of drone and noise rock and a lust for elongated improvised jams and you’ve got an LP that not so much backs-up the “best band in London” tag but sees the claim and raises it; best new band in the UK I’d say.
‘Schlagenheim’ is an adventure through ever-changing noise and evolving, textured soundscapes. No song starts and ends the same; whilst some tracks push the 8-minute mark, even in the space of two minutes a song will flit from explosive post-rock eruptions to tense, brooding silence. ‘Near DT, MI’ does exactly that, a raging pocket of volcanic noise one moment and then atmospheric the next. ‘Years Ago’ circumnavigates an intricate sense of calm, as drums pitter patter and guitars twang and ping; then there’s the disgusting jackbooted punk detonation that shifts dynamics towards twisted and abrasive. The song will eventually take on an almost tech- metal slant as it reaches its breathless climax.
There’s something trite about using the word epic these days but when you have an opus like ‘Western’ in your cannon, no other word will do. Commencing with a tender, almost folky refrain, black midi reveal a fleshy underbelly, only for the Londoners to quickly expose their claws and lash out through a barrage of mangled jazzy rhythms that will eventually morph into a sprawling centre-piece. They’ll soon touch on dancier moments, punk, post-rock, shoegaze and almost everything else in-between. ‘Of Schlagenheim’ follows ‘Western’, opting for a darker, more malevolent stride through noise-rock. It’s here where guitarist/vocalist Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin will deliver one of the album’s more random lyrics “I dream of a woman who has the teeth of a raven/and the hands of a porcupine”. ‘bmbmbm’ is like journeying into the warped mind of a mad professor, as jerky, mathy rhythms rebound, recycle and jolt with an awkward pent up energy. Via a rigid staccato, Kwasniewski-Kelvin recounts a woman who “moves with a purpose/what a magnificent purpose” as jagged noise ebbs and flows its way to a finale of angle-grinder like chaos. Opening track ‘953’ kicks off the album with a ragged volley of riffs and frantic drums, which ends up peaking and troughing through all manner of tempos and dynamics, with Kwasniewski-Kelvin at the song’s epicentre, armed with his unique baritone- cum-medieval preacher vocals as he pleads “please stop all this strange fantasy”. ‘Ducter’s pulsing math-rock chug brings ‘Schlagenheim’ to a close; another expedition through groove-some dance-rock, via tense pockets of calm and feverous bouts of mangled noise. It’s worth noting that although black midi are strong purveyors of all things noisy, ‘Schlagenheim’ doesn’t always rely on maximum volume to hold your attention; ‘Speedway’ is a serene occurrence of restraint, as caustic explosions are usurped by a muted, almost calypso sound, only if those tropical vibes are obscured by clouds and patchy rain.
There’s something so refreshing about ‘Schlagenheim’, it’s an album that almost sounds peerless, as if it hasn’t and can’t be penetrated by the zeitgeist; I don’t think black midi would have it any other way.
Words and Thoughts of Adam Williams