In 2019, English rock band Black Midi burst onto the scene with their debut album Schlagenheim. They attracted a lot of attention from critics and online music communities for their unique brand of math and noise rock. That’s how I got introduced to them, and I was hooked by their raw and youthful energy. I’ve been listening to them a ton in recent months, and it’s only gotten better on repeat listens.
The album starts off with “953,” an appropriately chaotic introduction to such an unpredictable album. The instrumental really stands out on this track, with an addictive opening riff leading into a high wailing guitar over a wall of erratic drums. “953” does a great job of introducing you to the amazing things to come on the rest of Schlagenheim. I mentioned the absolutely incredible drumming from Morgan Simpson, the odd delivery of “frontman” Geordie Greep, who’s theatrical performances really helps Black Midi’s music to stick out in your mind. Although, the best thing about this track is how it all comes together. The vocals, the drumming, the guitar work, all sound like they were plucked out from other songs and put back together into a new, beautiful mess.
However, Black Midi also showcases some serious songwriting chops on songs like “Near DT, MI” and “Western.” The former is one of the only songs where we get a break from Geordie Greep (not that I need one), and Cameron Picton delivers one of the most passionate, raw, and hard-hitting vocal deliveries I’ve ever heard, where he shrieks in poetic verse from the perspective of someone living in Flint, Michigan, justifiably bitter about the foulness of the water. This song is tight and makes its point with fiery quickness, in stark contrast to the next track “Western,” an 8 minute epic that I describe as “if U2 made math rock.” The song begins with a slow, hypnotic guitar loop supported by atmospheric drums, and all of a sudden it explodes into these beautiful crescendos that I both struggle to describe and don’t really want to. Just listen to it, you will not regret it. After these crescendos, the instrumental transitions into this, as I mentioned, very U2-sounding song where Greep gives one of his best vocal performances as he very abstractly tells a story that the band says resembles a Western film, where the name comes from, but could also be about a celebrity, a drifter, or all three. Black Midi’s lyrics on this entire album are super intriguing.
Especially on the song “bmbmbm,” Black Midi at their most overtly silly. Greep assumes an extremely dramatic, overdone, and sardonic tone as he goes line after line talking about some girl with a purpose, and how magnificent that purpose is. I have no clue what this song is supposed to mean, and really I have no interest in figuring it out, because this song makes me smile at just how ridiculous it is. “bmbmbm” sounds like it belongs to some twisted Broadway musical from Hell.
The album concludes with the climactic “Ducter,” which builds and builds on itself until it finally lets out in a hurricane of drums and animalistic yelps from Greep, all before suddenly ending after a brief synth lead. It’s a fitting way to end this rollercoaster of an album, which dips and loops around at a moments notice, like on “Of Schragenheim,” where in the middle of the song everything suddenly switches as Greep starts making random sound effects. It would be pretentious of me to call this album “genius” simply because it’s weird and unpredictable. However, I think Schlagenheim is genius because of all the different sounds and genres that Black Midi packs into this surprisingly short album, while seemingly having their personality as a group cemented right out of the gate. Their grating but captivating style of music is imbued with so much passion and vitality that it makes me really, really excited for what the future of Black Midi holds.
- Near DT, MI
- Of Schlagenheim
- Years Ago