Hellfire in Austin

UK Band ‘black midi’ Releases Third Album, Comes To U.S. On Tour

Bassist+Cameron+Picton+%28left%29+%26+singer+and+guitarist+Geordie+Greep+%28right%29+perform+their+song+%E2%80%9C953%E2%80%9D+at+Mohawk+in+downtown+Austin.+The+band+played+a+packed+setlist+of+some+of+their+most+popular+songs%2C+like+%E2%80%9CJohn+L%2C%E2%80%9D+%E2%80%9CSpeedway%E2%80%9D+and+%E2%80%9CSlow%E2%80%9D+alongside+lesser-known+tunes+such+as+%E2%80%9CDespair%E2%80%9D+and+%E2%80%9CAskance.%E2%80%9D

Photo by Anthony Luparello

Bassist Cameron Picton (left) & singer and guitarist Geordie Greep (right) perform their song “953” at Mohawk in downtown Austin. The band played a packed setlist of some of their most popular songs, like “John L,” “Speedway” and “Slow” alongside lesser-known tunes such as “Despair” and “Askance.”

Caleb Taylor, Reporter

CONTENT WARNING: THIS ALBUM’S LYRICS CONTAIN HARSH LANGUAGE AND ADULT THEMES.

Frantic, exploding drums; deafening basslines; intricate guitar picking; all from seemingly nowhere. Abruptly, it cuts off – and a bone-chilling, evil laugh erupts into the streets of Austin. As we stepped out of the car, the city block sounded like something out of a Godzilla movie, reverberating for miles. Pedestrians looked around, confused and slightly afraid, but Jack Polishook, Anthony Luparello and I excitedly realized it was just a warm-up for the act we’d driven down to see: black midi.

The band consists of Geordie Greep on vocals and guitar, Cameron Picton on bass and Morgan Simpson on drums, with Seth Evans and Kaidi Akinnibi supplementing keyboards and saxophone in the studio respectively. Their debut noise-rock project “Schlagenheim” was released in 2019, followed by 2021’s more avant-garde “Cavalcade”, with a handful of singles and covers released between. In July of this year, the band put out their third full-length album “Hellfire”.

The album’s title track gets right into the action, with a military march-esque snare drum beat and dissonant piano chords introducing Greep’s opening lines: “There’s always something: An odd twitch, hearing loss, a ringing noise, new flesh, a new bump, a weightlessness, a headache, a sore limb, an itchy gash, a mirage, a tumor, a scare.” His rapid-fire delivery of the unfortunate medical situation on this track is a far cry from his vocal performances in the past and wastes no time in letting you know he isn’t messing around on this project.

The song smoothly transitions into the second track, “Sugar/Tzu,” opening with a sharp bell and transporting the listener to a boxing match set in the year 2163. The song’s chorus is unique in that the first section is entirely instrumental, with hurried, back-and-forth arpeggios played by the entire band representing the two boxers trading blows. Greep cuts in here and there, informing the audience about the fighters’ “weighing in at six hundred pounds” and how the small boy from whose perspective the song is sung ends up shooting Sugar in the back, giving Tzu the victory. It’s a fun narrative about a boxing match, but at the same time a commentary on the state of modern entertainment: when the boy shoots Tzu, the crowd simply cheers on, paying no mind to the dying celebrity.

“No sirens, all silent – no killer either – no creaks in the floor – log cabin, what cabin? A shack’s all I have – yes, my cubbyhole’s stuffed with skeletons, but my neighbors are stuffed with anthrax – where does that leave us? I came thirty years back from Salafessien, via South Schlagenheim to Sunterum and Sunterime, the late Sun Sugar’s hometown, buried not far from here – my only friend – neighbor, what neighbor?”

– Geordie Greep, “The Race Is About To Begin”

This theme continues throughout the album – at its core, “Hellfire” tells eight stories about the sins of man. “Eat Men Eat” details an army corps’ gluttony and their captain’s subsequent wrath; “Dangerous Liaisons” finds a man seduced by the Devil to commit a murder; the closing “27 Questions” paints the picture of a perverse theatre performance given by a man at the end of his life, with the album coming to a shocking finish as the massive audience cheers and laughs as he’s dragged down into the titular hellfire. My favorite example, however, lies in “Welcome to Hell,” A caricature of a young navy man named Tristan Bongo as he navigates the traumas of war. I’d recommend you go listen to this one on your own and piece together the story.

Alongside these harrowing stories, though, black midi delivers incredible instrumentals. All the musicians are incredibly talented, and between the lush drone outro of “Still,” the gorgeous ballad of “The Defence” and Greep’s panicked rapping on “The Race Is About To Begin” (where Tristan Bongo makes a reappearance), the album has something for every mood. The most complex and loud moments are paired beautifully with the more tranquil songs, a balance many bands struggle to find but black midi perfects on “Hellfire.” Frankly, I could write a paragraph about every moment on this album, but I’d rather you just hear it yourself. Since it came out four months ago, I’ve listened to it in full upwards of 50 times, and I loved it so much I decided I had to see the band perform it live – so I did at Mohawk in downtown Austin, on September 17.

“Listen – the sweet peals of moonlight-induced lovemaking on the streets tonight! Listen – the soft purr of motorbikes ready to strike up the night alight… Don’t talk of true love, unscrew your frown, enjoy the entertainments of nighttime town!”

– Geordie Greep, “Welcome to Hell”

The opener for the concert was a group called Black Country, New Road, another UK-native ensemble consisting of six musicians. They released their sophomore album “Ants From Up There” earlier this year, which was another massive hit, but we were surprised to hear the band didn’t play any songs from that album – it was all completely new material. I later learned that their singer Isaac Wood left the band around the time the album was released due to mental health issues, and they vowed not to perform any old charts out of respect for him. I was slightly disappointed not to hear any songs I recognized , but it was really cool to hear what they’d been working on and made me excited for their next album release.

black midi, as expected, did not disappoint. The band opened their performance with the lightning-fast “John L,” the lead single from “Cavalcade,” and wove that track throughout the entire concert, coming back to it multiple times after different songs. In addition to the classic lineup of songs like “Slow,” “953” and “Chondromalacia Patella” (my personal all-time favorite BM track), they threw a ton of curveballs at the audience, such as a funk-inspired arrangement of “Welcome to Hell” and a cover of Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff.” Musically, it was an incredible experience. It was also my first time in a mosh pit, which scared the crap out of me at first, but ended up being really fun. Overall, an amazing show by one of my favorite bands.

I would venture to give “Hellfire,” as well as black midi as a whole, a 10/10.