What the fuck. Chances are that those three words will be the first choice for plenty of people who sat down and got through black midi‘s long-awaited sophomore album Cavalcade. And that’s all we can really say about the record, really. Since their explosive debut on Schlagenheim these BRIT School graduates have become something of a cult phenomenon, spearheaded by curious and intriguing frontman Geordie Greep. If you went into Cavalcade expecting a re-hash of Schlagenheim’s best bit then it’s safe to say that “what the fuck” was fully justified. A similar response must have come from the band when the album leaked, prompting them to drop it a day in advance.

Lead single John L sets the scene for most of the record, racing towards you like a battering ram filled to the brim with chaos. Pummelling bouts of noise clatter against each other like some kind of sonic cyclops, only mellowed by Greep’s haunting vocals. “This is the scene on Main Street, when John Fifty comes to town” he declares, like some kind of post-Pitchfork cowboy messiah. There are various moments across Cavalcade’s 42 minutes (yes, it feels a lot longer) which replicate this opening chaos, such as Chondromalacia Paletta‘s hair metal finale and Slow‘s ever-changing time signatures. Slow – sung by bassist Cameron – is the closest black midi come to recapturing the magic they created on Schlagenheim, with the rest of Cavalcade reserved for songs which really make you wonder what spurred the trio on to venture down this path (guitarist Matt is absent for this record campaign).

The minimalist Diamond Stuff spans six minutes, although you’d be forgiven for thinking it lasted longer. The album’s halfway point takes you on a journey through space and time by means of an incredibly subtle build-up which eventually transforms into something almost heavenly. Dethroned – much like the rest of the album – makes consistent use of the sax, which is a first for black midi. Whilst Schlagenheim’s set up was simple (guitar, bass, drums), Cavalcade takes a stab in the dark at multiple instrumental combinations which more often than not come across well. Album finale Ascending Forth is black midi’s most ambitious piece of music to date, spending most of its ten minutes stripped back. Or so you’d think; the more you listen, the more layers you discover and the more intricacies you stumble across. It’s a world away from anything fans would have expected from the band who gave us Near DT, MI, but boy is it good.

Cavalcade will certainly divide black midi fans. Those who came for the clattering guitars and noise battles will surely enjoy John L and Chondromalacia Paletta’s mad moments, whereas those who are in awe of this band’s sheer abilities will stay for the subtle moments, tearing them apart layer for layer. Cavalcade may not be the greatest album of all time (as the band joked on Facebook this week), but it’s certainly up there with some of this year’s best releases. And once again: what the fuck.

8/10