Black Midi – Schlagenheim review

Secret Meeting score: 84

by Joseph Purcell

London based experimenters, Black Midi, have stormed the alternative music scene over the past eighteen months, gaining notoriety for a succession of intimate and raw live performances, culminating in a record deal with the iconic Rough Trade. They now step forward with the release of their remarkable debut record: Schlagenheim.

Schlagenhiem is a forty three minute, frenetic voyage of raw brutality, angular guitars and ferocious drums. It would be remiss to pigeon hole Black Midi simply as a guitar band though. On closer inspection, Schlagenheim showcases enigmatic complex intricacies.

A vital aspect of Schlagenheim is the production, which harnesses the band’s ethos of capturing the energy and spontaneity of their live performances. The band have found a kindred spirit in Speedy Wunderground’s Dan Carey, who has expertly garnered their energy and helped craft something wonderful. Carey has blended snapshots of synths, accordions, pianos, banjos and more, all complimented by the unique hypnotism of lead vocalist, Geordie Greep – who is part preacher, part mystic.

Opening with 953, Schlagenheim charges in, attacking from the very outset. Repeated listens bring out new subtleties, and this is the true beauty of Black Midi. Album centrepiece, Western, anchors the record – an eight-minute voyage, packed with breakneck shifts in tempo, genre-fusing turns and howling, lurid vocal contortion. Kelvin’s guitars dominate the eerily stalking Reggae, before Picton’s bass bleeds a seedy underground backdrop to the intermittent gusts on Near DT, MI. Conversely, Ducter is a more melancholic affair, teetering with the shoots of poignant beauty, instilling a mesmeric juxtaposition to an album that must be consumed in full to fully appreciate its movement between overwhelming energy and spacious pockets of reflection.

Schlagenheim’s melting pot of influences are at its creative epicentre. Black Midi have suggested that further outputs will be a wholly different affair as musical tastes and influences alter and mature. Schlagenheim is not totally original – previous single, bmbmbm, jerks and rages in the manner of At the Drive In, with other influences such as Can, Devo and Joy Division all in the mix. In fact, the cacophonous howl of Years Ago seems to channel the barbaric chants of Frank Black on the raucous Pixies gem, Tame.

The challenge for Black Midi is their progression beyond Schlagenheim. How will they recreate, innovate and progress from this point? Spontaneity and capturing the moment means that many aspects of the record have no set pattern and therefore make it such a unique listening experience. Its variance in sound and tempo mean that it will – to some – be a potentially uncomfortable listen. What the band have created though is a supremely ambitious record that is a quite remarkable ode to their vision.

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