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Black Midi - Hellfire: "a dense and labyrinthine album"

Timely missive from the nine circles courtesy of London art-rock headspinners.

Black Midi
(Image: © Rough Trade)

Black Midi don’t look like fans of the classic whodunit, but the red herrings dropped in Hellfire – their third album in as many years – would suggest otherwise. Indeed, the head scratching induced by the title track’s flirtation with country music and the nod to tropicália on Dangerous Liaison sound as if they’ve stumbled in from the wrong album, but their explosion into skittering beats, free jazz flourishes and time signatures that veer this way and that soon reassure as to who the authors really are.

Building on their previous two releases, Hellfire is a dense and labyrinthine album that takes a microscope to the nastier side of life thanks to the narration of a variety of characters described by the band as “scumbags”. Sugar/Tzu has the feel of Satan’s own Big Band, as elsewhere 27 Questions evokes an infernal vision of the Kit Kat Club. They say the Devil has the best tunes, and here they’re all played at once. 

An uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing experience, Hellfire nonetheless mirrors and soundtracks the bedlam and chaos in which we find ourselves at the close of this century’s first quarter.

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Julian Marszalek is the former Reviews Editor of The Blues Magazine. He has written about music for Music365, Yahoo! Music, The Quietus, The Guardian, NME and Shindig! among many others. As the Deputy Online News Editor at Xfm he revealed exclusively that Nick Cave’s second novel was on the way. During his two-decade career, he’s interviewed the likes of Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and Ozzy Osbourne, and has been ranted at by John Lydon. He’s also in the select group of music journalists to have actually got on with Lou Reed. Marszalek taught music journalism at Middlesex University and co-ran the genre-fluid Stow Festival in Walthamstow for six years.