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black midi - Cavalcade CD (album) cover

CAVALCADE

black midi

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.01 | 130 ratings

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Kempokid
3 stars Well, if my interest in Black Midi wasn't piqued before (it was), then it sure is now after seeing what they did here. Obviously not content with boxing themselves into one particular sound, the band straight up ditches a lot of the core elements of their debut and instead decides to make a completely full-on avant-prog album. What makes this even better is that despite leaving most of the post hardcore and punk influence and having a few other huge differences, the core identity here feels very much in line with their other output. This is especially true in how frantic and anxious it still manages to sound at times, less being chaotic for the sake of it, and more using that to heighten the almost panicked vibe that the crazier moments of this tend to have. This is not to say that I think this is an amazing album either however, as I actually prefer Schlagenheim for reasons I'll shortly get into, it's just that even so, it's really cool what they did here and ends up making the band even more fascinating.

The album immediately shows that this direction can be something truly special with John L, the band's best song so far. Everything about this is frankly insane, with the dense, repetitive string arrangements regularly falling apart as layers upon layers of insanity are added to the mix. This really doesn't sit still for even a moment, whether it's moments of atonal piano being thrown around, the tempo rapidly increasing, or the tense breakdown that leads back into the driving force of the song, and it all serves to throw the listener for a loop time and time again. Marlene Dietrich is unfortunately nothing too special, but represents the versatility brought to the table with the vastly different sound palette here. Hearing such a soft, lush track hits the point of being a bit surreal when you consider basically everything the band did before this, even if the song itself feels rather underdeveloped. These first 2 tracks also demonstrate another huge change this album presents, Greep's vocals performance. The intense, crazy stuff feels considerably more subdued and restrained without losing that goofy character of such a performance, preventing it all from getting annoying and having the classic Black Midi charm. His softer singing is also interesting in how soothing, melodic and expressive it is, really lovely stuff, with both styles overall creating a wonderful contrast and contributing further to the unique flavour of Cavalcade.

For as unique and interesting as I find the changes made here, I can't really say that I'm too sold on some of this even after a handful of listens, especially the quieter moments. Both Diamond Stuff and Ascending Forth totally miss the mark for me, and this is largely due to the fact that they start going in interesting directions too little too late. While both of these have some gorgeous, passionate sections in them, to get there you'll need to listen to a lot of repetition until things suddenly pick up. This is a similar issue that I had at times with Schlagenheim, but the key difference is that in the case of Cavalcade, these bits don't really carry any sort of drive on their own, making it just feel as if it's meandering and just waiting around for something else to swoop in and pick things up. The repetition unfortunately also finds itself on one of the other fast paced, chaotic songs, Hogwash and Balderdash as well. While the first 30 seconds or so throw a lot at the wall and go all over the place in some fun ways, before long these components keep getting repeated in such a way that its sense of spontaneous energy gets killed and makes it feel quite predictable.

I personally also take issue with the production and mixing of the album, because there's a sense of inconsistency to it, but with the common thread of elements sounding totally buried in the mix to the point where things can often be indistinguishable. While this sometimes leads to making the album feels chaotic and dense, such as with John L, but it often makes things sound far less intense than they by all rights should. This is especially problematic with Dethroned, which has a lot of stuff going on, but all the vocal-oriented parts in it are so horribly muted by the fact that you can barely hear the vocals underneath the 80 layers of other stuff going on, despite the fact that the song still manages to be quite entertaining despite this. The production also prevents a lot of the nuances and intricacies in these compositions from coming through, a problem that plagues even most of the best material here, such as Slow. While I still find this song to be excellent, a lot of the more technical moments never feel as if they have enough emphasis placed on them due to the way they're often barely audible unless you're paying close attention, the focus often being drawn to everything else going on and making it feel a bit directionless. With a couple of tweaks along with making a couple more of these crazier moments stand out that bit more, this would be an album with 2 perfect masterpieces on it instead of just the 1. Either way it's a fantastic song, but it's also a testament to the fact that even most of the best tracks here have some issues that feel difficult to overlook. Another problem is how quite a few of these songs just end in a fairly unceremonious or sudden way, which makes a lot of this disappointing just due to the way that they can almost sound incomplete.

Despite these complaints, one big thing I'll give the album a lot of credit for is the way that almost every song has some moments that are ridiculously good, which ends up giving the majority of them some appeal even if they're often marred by my aforementioned problems. This also sums up my feelings about Cavalcade as a whole, definitely has some appeal despite having numerous qualities of it that I feel are extremely flawed. Black Midi with their current output essentially represent vast potential to me, I haven't fallen in love with either of their albums, and yet, I still consider them to be an extremely promising band that I'll continue to intently follow. If anything, despite liking it less, Cavalcade solidifies a lot of these thoughts on the band for me, as it hasn't just brought another masterpiece song to the table, it also demonstrates remarkable versatility and the ability to retain the band's identity even with such a left turn being brought to the table. Cannot wait to see where the band goes from here, I have confidence that it will be great.

Best tracks: John L, Chondromalacia Patella, Slow

Weakest tracks: Marlene Deitrich, Diamond Stuff, Hogwash and Balderdash

Kempokid | 3/5 |

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