Updated: Jan 30
Favorite Track: "Slow" Least Favorite Track: "Ascending Forth"
The plight of most modern up-and-coming bands is a rocky one, to say the least. There is something about starting and establishing your place in a music career that is immensely daunting, and should not be taken lightly by any young outfit looking to leave their mark on the musical industry and landscape. Many artists attempt to find mainstream success with simplistic pop appeal and a general pandering to the masses, while the somewhat less successful bands find themselves taking a different route; showcasing raw and authentic talent.
In the eyes of many, no modern band has done so better than black midi. Their 2019 debut record Schlagenheim blew many away and immediately became a cult classic in the music nerd community. Their avant-garde sensibilities and eccentric mix of noise-rock, math-rock, progressive, and experimental rock made for a truly special sound that went unmatched by any band at the time. Lead vocalist Geordie Greep’s horrendous shrieks and yells were such a shock to those not accustomed to this weirder side of rock music. The claustrophobic, freakish guitar work and the absolutely stunning drums courtesy of the unabashed virtuoso Morgan Simpson were consistently awe-inspiring, and made for a well-rounded debut that was nothing but a full-throttle adrenaline shot of art-rock madness.
As many budding young bands do though, black midi’s second album threatened the dreaded sophomore slump. As Schlagenheim aged, it became even more loved and simultaneously put more pressure on the band to come out with something great. After a somewhat underwhelming 2020 single in the form of “Sweater”, many excited fans began nervously asking “Can they do it? Is it possible to come even close to such a fantastic debut as Schlagenheim, let alone top it?” Thankfully, black midi responded in the best way possible; the masterwork of progressive/jazz/experimental madness that is Cavalcade.
Cavalcade may be a slow burner or even a downright disappointment for those looking for a simple rehashing of Schlagenheim with minor tweaks. The record is much more subtle by comparison, with beautiful, textured, and serene musical moments like “Marlene Dietrich'' and “Diamond Stuff''. However, the subtleties of the record speak volumes, as the tension they create allows for even greater highs than previously seen on Schlagenheim. What is the absolute barn-burner that is “Chondromalacia Patella '' if not for the serene and entrancing “Marlene Dietrich” that comes before it? Cavalcade does something that Schlagenheim tried to do, but does it with greater results; it allows the listener much needed space. Simply put, Cavalcade rewards the patient.
For those who choose to take the ebbs and flows of Cavalcade in stride instead of resisting the seemingly sudden change, the payoff is worth every bit of effort given. Singles from the record like the aforementioned “Chondromalacia Patella” or the harrowing, mind-bending, King Crimson inspired “John L” serve as nothing but irrefutable proof of black midi’s immense talent. The crescendos on the back halves of “Ascending Forth” and “Diamond Stuff” are second to none, the bombacity and unkempt horror that is “Hogwash and Balderdash” may be the single most insane thing black midi has ever recorded. The rapid acoustic guitar passages that bleed into crushing guitars and pummelling drums act as a true shock to the nervous system, and create some of the most manic musical compositions you will hear this year.
The actual sound of Cavalcade is an untamed beast in and of itself. The record is sometimes timid and reserved, other times larger than life and somewhat overwhelming. It is a no-hold-barred attack on the senses, allowing the listener occasional peace before pummeling them with musical marvels like the syncopated riffs and aggressive drum hits on “Slow” or the horrendous noise outro of “Chondromalacia Patella”. The latter of these two starts quite slow, with a chugging guitar riff and subtle yet frantic drum work, but eventually the track explodes into distorted noise before coming to a terrifying crescendo at the end. The opener “John L” is incredibly layered, with symphonic strings and freakish horns taking the lead over the usual guitar work. “Diamond Stuff” is a long-winded track that thrives in its mysterious beauty. The track begins with a very plucky acoustic passage, and eventually crescendos into a gorgeously cathartic musical passage reminiscent of something present on In the Court of the Crimson King. Every nook and cranny of Cavalcade has something new to offer, and exploring the seemingly short record reveals that black midi opted for a shorter tracklist in order to truly perfect each and every track present here.
While Schlagenheim may have been an incredible album, Cavalcade is black midi’s first masterpiece. It is the one-of-a-kind record that defies any and all expectations, but also manages to be the perfect follow-up to its predecessor. black midi is still the same band, sure, but something about them on Cavalcade feels refined, mature, and calculated. Whether it be the screeching guitar solos and manic drums on “Slow” or the beautiful yet reserved moments on “Diamond Stuff” and “Ascending Forth”, the record is nothing short of a blatant masterwork, and is the mark of a young band discovering what it means to make something truly exceptional. With Cavalcade, black midi not only avoids the sophomore slump, but goes above and beyond to make a record that is more akin to well-rounded artistry and is far better than its incredible predecessor.