On their debut album Schlagenheim, black midi sought to create a world of their own, distorted and horrifying, but with pieces of the real world cultivated and glued together like Frankenstein’s monster. On Cavalcade the band draw together tales of fiction and fantasy that are presented with a smothering of bravado and a helping of whimsical irreverence. As the title suggests the album plays as a procession of creatures great and small, plucked from distorted worlds and amalgamated fantasies.
The band stated that coming into this album they “Wanted to make the music as exciting as possible” and they certainly deliver on this feat in bounds. Opener “John L” tells the story of a cult leader whose eventual demise comes as his followers turn on him after failing to fulfil his ruling promises. “A man is his country, your country is you, All bad is forewarned, all good will come true” ‘quotes’ Geordie Greep through distorted and hellish vocal effects. The amount of untamed energy and forward flying motion that this song is encapsulated with sucks you in like a vacuum, seeking to find the most exciting hidden detail every time. With its stop-start motions it propels you down into an unforgiving inferno of guitar feedback and screeching violins that creates one of the most eerie and mind-boggling rides that black midi have ventured on so far. As the closing curtains fall on this play of black comedy, the band moves the album to an even grander, yet unexpected side of their sound.
For black midi, the visual side of their work has always been as wild and exaggeratedly fantastical as the music. It may then seem appropriate to determine that many influences from this album will have come from cinema. Whether it’s being inspired by German actress Marlene Dietrich on the song of the same name. Through soft plucked guitars, searing soundscapes and a majestical stride in Greep’s vocal delivery the band tell a tale of love and longing in which Dietrich prominently “takes a piss on the stage”. Or during the opening of “Dethroned” that pays homage to detective movies of the 50’s with its swaggering saxophone intro.
Like an independent film festival this album showcases all the obscure ingenuity and alternative directions that the band have delved into. They are outlining and redefining what black midi can and could be. If they wanted to move into more ambient territories and expressions, then look no further than “Diamond Stuff”. Spending the first half of its run time slowly building through meticulously plucked harps and slow rising wind instruments. Gradually the cinematic camaraderie builds in to create a soundscape that feels like you’re ascending to the divine promise lands; clouds sweeping you by.
For all the tenderness and crooning on this album, there’s an equal balance of explosive and cathartic moments. “Hogwash and Balderdash” tells the tale of two adventurers or “Chickens from the pen” at sea “Picking out fish bones, On unstable rafts” to find settlement and the source of an incredibly foul stench. For the absurdity of the lyrics there also comes an equivalent amount of absurdity in the backing garrison. Each instrument that enters the arena is battling it out to see which can become the most farcical and untamed, backed by a beat that drives like you’re having an anxiety attack. The culminating screech and rise at the end of the track could even lead to one for those of a nervous disposition.
On the subject of anxiety, the heavy drops and overblown distorted explosions of “bmbmbm” makes a re-appearance on “Chondromalacia Patella”, this time with a larger expansion on the apprehension of the sound. Fluttering through jazzy beats, rolling piano and lines and strained vocals the band encapsulate the true emotion of a panic attack within a song; gasping for breath after every hit. But this doesn’t mean to say that it’s not without its flaws. For all the camaraderie this track carries, it can sometimes become overwhelming the amount of layers and textures they try to squeeze in; spiralling together into a Deep Dream-esque canvas.
On closer “Ascending Forth” the band takes their tongue-in-cheek attitude to its extreme. Over its near 10 minute runtime you feel as if Greep is singing of how “Everyone loves Ascending Forths” with a subtle grin and air of whimsy around him. It’s the grand finale, the big bow out, the curtain falling after the heartbreaking final act. But doesn’t end up offering too much in the way of new ideas that haven’t already been heard on this album. Which at its core, is an album that bounds and leaps thanks to its undying stride to shift and change throughout.
The second album is always an important moment in any bands career. Will it still bring the same level of excitement as their groundbreaking debut? Will they hone in their sound to become more succinct? Will they lose the spark of magic that brought attention to them in the first place? The result for black midi is a resounding success that both captures the intensity and explosive capabilities of their debut. Whilst also simultaneously expanding and stripping back their sound to act as a procession of avenues and directions for them to delve into next.