Of all the musical genres to be revived, who would have predicted that prog rock would be exhumed and reanimated to come roaring back into fashion?
It's a musical style long deemed uncool. Demanding of both musician and audience, prog needs an almost superhuman level of skill and technical ability to perform and a high threshold for music that challenges everything you thought you knew about how songs should work to appreciate. Sometimes, capes are involved.
Which brings us to the UK's band of the moment, Black Midi. With more buzz behind them than a broken distortion pedal, this debut has just been nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize.
It's easy to hear why. Their punkish take on prog injects the sometimes stuffy genre with a youthful urgency and energy while the cartoonishly sinister, throat-tearing vocals from singer/guitarist Geordie Greep exorcises all the hippie-dippie astral s*** left floating around from the 70s.
As a record, Schlagenheim is loud, abrasive and challenging. There are few easy entry points, hooks and catchy melodies often don't arrive until after you've been hit with a wall of shifting time signatures, clashing key changes and noisy indulgence. But, like the best prog, what starts off as bewilderingly intimidating or just a godawful racket, gradually reveals itself and makes sense as you clock up the listens and your brain unravels what's going on. The songs Reggae, Western and Near DT, MI all repeat this trick.
However, the album's highlight is the immediate and stonkingly brilliant track, bmbmbm. Relatively straightforward, it surfs a motorik groove for almost five minutes as its simple riff threatens to drown underneath an ever-increasing and disturbed chaos led by the twitching and menacing Greep repeatedly muttering variations of the line, "She moves with a purpose", as inaudible chattering and muffled screams ring out in the distance and bursts of frantic noise explode out of nowhere.
While Black Midi do fall occasionally fall into prog's trap of too clever indulgence on balance this is a wildly impressive debut; uncompromising, singular and unlike anything else around.
Schlagenheim is not an album for everyone but give it a few listens and you could find that it's for you.
Dust off your cape, the prog revival starts now.