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black midi - Cavalcade CD (album) cover


black midi



4.01 | 130 ratings

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5 stars This album has honestly sent a shockwave through my listening rotation. When it surprise released on streaming two days early, I listened to it three times in a row with no sort of break in between the repeats. In fact, I only stopped because I had to go to work. I couldn't tell you a single new release in my time as a music fan that has mesmerized and grabbed me right from the get go like Cavalcade did. And with each successive listen, I've only grown to love it more and more. To really drive the point home, it's made me reconsider the albums I've given 5 stars to in the past few years. Because honestly, this is the first time since Wobbler's 'From Silence to Somewhere' in 2017 I've been 100% confident giving out an elusive 5 star rating. I had one last year, but the incredibly high bar this has set has handedly bumped that down to 4 stars. This album just has everything, it's somewhat of an off the wall melting pot of everything that has made prog cool in the last 50 years. However, this is by no means a retro prog album. This is an album that could only have come out in the 2020s, and furthermore, this is distinctly a black midi album. You have these chaotic, abrasive and schizophrenic sections of music where everyone is perfectly in tune with one another. But on the other hand, you'll have these gorgeously textured and melodic softer passages that offer a nice contrast within the music and somewhat of a moment of clarity to the constant wall of mayhem black midi often fires at you. I think RIO/Avant Prog is the best fit for this style of music, but you're also going to find elements of Math Rock, Post Rock, Noise Rock and even Jazz Rock in the mix. I also have to give a special nod to the vocals. The singer uses so many vocal deliveries and uses his considerably deep voice to its fullest potential. Whether he's speaking, whispering, singing, or even shouting, it's indistinguishably him. For the first time as a fan of the genre, I feel like I'm actually present for the release of a milestone album, one of the greats even. I cannot recommend this album enough for those of you who want a greater emphasis on the "progressive" part of the progressive rock label. Especially those of you with a knack for bands like King Crimson, Henry Cow and Magma. This album has such a masterful flow between songs as well. All the songs in one way or another fade or transition into the next. Yet, all the songs standalone as great works even without the context of what came before or after it. Now, let's get into the music.

John L takes off running from the get-go with a frantic violin riff somewhat reminiscent of Gentle Giant, perhaps with a little more noise than our gentle brethren would typically produce. The disorienting spoken word vocals come in telling the story of John Fifty, L is the roman numeral for fifty, as it turns out. This track makes a very interesting use of stop-and-go mechanics and silence. The music will come to a screeching stop at multiple points and suddenly turn back on like a light as if nothing ever happened. The whole track grows more and more unsettling as it goes on with multiple dissonant guitar leads coming. My favorite shift of which has to be at 2:18 where it introduces this cool off-kilter groove, it's not entirely clear where exactly it's taking you but they just roll with it and somehow, a sweet drum groove kicks in and the story continues. The track actually fakes you out in the end, making you think its come to its finish just for it to kick back into dissonant black midi hell. Marlene Dietrich actually caught me off guard after the opening track as well as some of the other singles that were released before the album. It's a very heartfelt and pretty track with a much more dramatic and comparatively melodic vocal delivery. The strings add a nice texture and delicate atmosphere to what's already a considerably laid back song. The next track, Chondromalacia Patella, is in contention for my favorite on the album and it strongly emphasizes everything I love about this album in a single song. It opens with a high energy and eccentric groove with this sleek saxophone part over it. After some screaming, it abruptly kicks into another equally driving groove with some really well developed drumming, which is a bit of a constant throughout this album. I love some of the soft piano flourishes in here, something I only picked up on upon repeated listens. The vocals start out very light here, at 1:40 it's like the song hits a smooth landing as it transitions into this outrageously gorgeous passage of music that comes back again around 2:25. Some of these softer moments make up my favorite sections of the album, this one in particular is such a refreshing moment to take a breath or stretch your legs before the intensity kicks back in, now coming through even stronger and noisier than before. The final 90 seconds of this track is just perfection, ending with a simply powerful playout properly leading into the track 'Slow,' which I think goes quite hand in hand with Chondromalacia Patella.

On both Slow and the following track Diamond Stuff, the bands mastery of build-ups and subtleties are on full display. Not only in the vocals which grow from a mere whisper to a mighty shout, but also in the actual dynamics of the instruments which show off a brilliant range. Sometimes the band will come through very quietly as a collective like they do at 2:20 giving off somewhat of a lukewarm introspective vibe. However, they never fail to contrast that with an equally harsh and fierce passage like they do with the unnerving main hook at 3:24. I love the saxophone solo that comes through at the end of this track as well. This track is interesting in the fact that it keeps up a similar tempo and cadence throughout. However, through its use of dynamics and rhythmic variation, it never comes off as one note or disinteresting. Diamond Stuff is one of the lengthier tracks as well as one of the more Post-Rock sounding songs on the album. It has an eerie starless like build-up for the first few minutes with these bass notes that are getting detuned as they're played as the band throws in all sorts of small but engaging details around this base they've laid out. This is a real slow burner of a track that ultimately reaches one of the highest peaks on this record. Around the halfway mark, these jazzy drums begin to introduce themselves not long before some stunning and uplifting strings do the same. The production really shines here, as many of the sounds that come through can only be described by myself as transcending. This is another one of those softer moments on the album that almost get me pretty emotional with it's sheer beauty.

The next two tracks once again go hand-in-hand with each other and display some of the heaviest moments on the album. Dethroned leads it off with one of my favorite drum grooves across the whole record acting as the backbone for this song. I love the use of distortion as well as the rhythmic use of palm muting in the first chunk of this song. At 2:45 things settle down as the band introduces this really unique and energetic guitar riff that properly builds us right back into a real headbanging and heavy passage of music. It's just so sick start to finish. It brings us right into Hogwash and Balderdash with its alarming percussive intro. Despite being the shortest track on the album, it stands tall once again as one of the heaviest and perhaps most immediate songs on the record bringing back some of that John L energy in the vocals. I love the dark and quirky acoustic guitar breaks they interject into the song. This song ends with one of the loudest and most crushing finales of any of the songs here, and that makes its transition into Ascending Forth all the more satisfying. Ascending Forth is the other track in contention for my favorite on the record. It's the longest track at just shy of 10-minutes, and I'd argue it's the most different and stylistically removed from the other songs. Much of the track is acoustic and clean guitar led, and I almost get some Genesis vibes in the first parts of the song. The chord progressions and actual playing is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The vocalist brings back that intimate, expressive and somewhat dramatic delivery once more on this track using it to an even greater extent if you ask me. The band really breathes so much life into this track, the individual playing is so organic and in-tune with each other instrument. The band takes you through many peaks and valleys, it's really the vocals that are leading the charge many times. There's just so much replay value especially on this track as for the entirety of the runtime there's small little details, whether it be strings, a random clean guitar part, harmonics, piano, there's just so much to cling on to and pay your attention to at any given moment. The climax of this track is massive and it sends chills throughout my whole body. You really just have to listen to it, Ascending Forth takes you on a journey and the payoff in the final couple minutes is pure emotional bliss.

There's not even any glimpse of a shadow of a doubt that this is anything less than 5 stars. I'd give this 6 stars if I could. I've been over the moon with how many really good releases 2021 has had already. However, this has come in and pretty easily stomped on everything else I've listened to this year. This is a masterpiece, one of the best new albums I've heard in years. There's no semblance of dull moment to be found here, this band is the future of the genre.


dougmcauliffe | 5/5 |


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