A month after its release, Black Midi’s third studio album Hellfire continues to ring; its calculated chaos ripples into listeners' ears as the band gets ready to go on tour this fall. Black Midi is a London based experimental and progressive rock band, consisting of members Geordie Greep (vocals, guitar), Cameron Picton (vocals, bass guitar), and Morgan Simpson (drums), that is unafraid to break the mold of the genre that defines them. Through experimental instrumentation and mystifying lyrics that contain an anti-establishment flair at their core, Black Midi has fortified themselves as a monolith within the rock community since the release of their first studio album, Schlagenhiem, three years ago. Their newest musical adventure, Hellfire, is no exception to this lofty status, but rather a reinforcement of it. Meticulously thought through, both musically and thematically, Hellfire is an album about death from a unique perspective. The band members, all in their early twenties, are not speaking about death from the standpoint of old age, or of life taking its normal course. Rather, they are describing a nearly inescapable death imposed upon the new generation from the systems put in place by past generations that are built on oppression, capitalism, and war. Hellfire offers a solution to these bigoted systems that continue to place restrictions on people's bodies, gender, and sexual orientation, all while exploiting them for their labor in the process—either burn them down to start again, or, if that is impossible, at least dance while they burn you.
Building off the narrative of workers in a mine shaft from the song “Diamond Stuff” off Black Midi’s second album Cavalcade, “Eat Men Eat” specifically tells the story of two gay men trying to survive and foster a loving relationship, as they work under the reign of a blatantly homophobic mining captain. Throughout the song, the captain represents the oppressive homophobic system that Hellfire is taking a stance against. He antagonizes the two men by screaming at them and giving them poison food. By the end of the song, the two men overcome the captain and uphold the undeniable truth that the oppressed are stronger than the oppressor. They prove that laws must be eschewed and systems burnt down in order for a more inclusive and less “hell-ish” society to be created.
At a time where judicial inequality is a universal problem, laws like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill are being passed and proposed in states like Florida and Pennsylvania, LGBTQIA+ rights are on the line in potential future SCOTUS decisions in the United States, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community are universally scrutinized everyday for simply expressing their identity, songs like “Eat Men Eat” are crucial in fueling the fight against homophobic systems and highlighting the importance of standing up against unjust laws and lawmakers especially when one of Black Midi’s band members, Cameron Picton, is gay himself.
Reinforcing this fight against these systems, the song, “Welcome to Hell,'' satirizes and admonishes our society's obsession with war. The song takes the form of a pseudo-military advertisement by lyrically walking through the life of fictional “Private Tristan Bongo'' as he serves his time in the military. However, instead of glorifying war as a traditional military advertisement would do, the song exemplifies the horrors of it. Lyrics like “to die for your country does not win a war/to kill for your country is what wins a war,” paint the picture of war as it is, a massacre that does nothing but uphold and spread oppression. The song ends with the fictional “Private Tristan Bongo” being discharged and left to fend for himself after being forced to carry out massacres, exemplifying the perverse nature of military exploitation.
Anti-war movements have been around for decades, if not centuries, within the United States, and yet, our military budget is still nearing $800 billion, and the effects of the Korean, Vietnam, Iraq, Gulf, and Afghan War are still being felt to this day. This funding and perpetuation of war as a centerpoint of how the United States interacts with the world is in part due to the glorification of war within our everyday society. Therefore songs like “Welcome to Hell” are extremely important in presenting a much more accurate version of how war plays out, exemplifying the oppressive nature of war and the catastrophes that ensue from its hands and allowing for anti-war groups to gather behind a song that exposes war for what it truly is.
The album Hellfire as a whole shows Black Midi’s fixation with fighting against oppressive systems in a meaningful and subversive way. This fight against oppression is coupled with the band's other focus, which Geordie Greep said was to satiate the desire for “live music and exciting music and exhilarating music” within the progressive rock space and to make sure the people listening to their music and going to their shows are having fun while they do it. This notion of fun is a subversive idea in itself. In a society founded on bigoted systems that exploit people based on their identities, the people at the top do not want those at the bottom to have a good time. Rather, they rely on repression to continue their exploitative schemes. Black Midi recognizes this and fights against it through the beautiful language of music.
Dizzying vocals, awe-inspiring drum lines, and magical guitar riffs, make listening to Black Midi seem otherworldly but familiar at the same time, like an emotion we all feel but cannot express. Taking inspiration from countless other bands, artists, and types of music, from Talking Heads and David Bowie all the way to traditional Cabaret and Flamenco music, Black Midi creates a sound that is like none other. Hellfire builds off and progresses this unique sound through songs like “The Race is About to Begin,” which contains vocals from Greep that come at you as fast as an auctioneer’s speech, or through the dichotomy of “27 Questions,” which sounds like you are listening to a demonic musical, and “Still,” which provides a peaceful listening experience through Cameron Picton’s voice. There is never a dull moment in Hellfire. All kept together by the immaculate drumming and rhythmic genius of Morgan Simpson, Hellfire keeps you engaged and in awe as it packs multiple genres, themes, and instruments into its concise, yet inspiring, 39 minute play time.
Defying genres and all social-norms, Black Midi creates an energy and fervor only found in music inspired by a world plagued by late-stage capitalism: a world that does not want to see you happy. Music, at its core, is an expression of emotion, and Black Midi brings out emotion that connects people like none other through breaking down the barriers of individuals and allowing for emotional connection through a shared musical experience. The band serves and connects the type of people who want to see change come to a broken system or at least experience some semblance of happiness while it continues to break. Because if we are all going to burn in Hellfire, we might as well have fun while we do it.