Midnight - Sweet Death and Ecstasy

Midnight Sweet Death and Ecstasy cover
Sweet Death and Ecstasy
Hells Headbangers Records
Sweet Jesus! Its colourfully ribald and chthonic cover art withstanding, Jameson Walters, a.k.a. Athenar’s solo black speed metal venture Midnight raucously plays out like an extension of his early Boulder days; in other words, the manic Ohioan jack-of-all-trades continues to “live it up” with similar romping camp and revved up, at times gratifyingly slack musicianship as the latter’s unforgettably engaging “The Rage of it All” from 1999.
Its third full-length instalment, “Sweet Death and Ecstasy” – released in October under the appropriately named Hells Headbangers Records, compliments a ragtag collection of demos dating back to 2003 while thematically alluding to a time honoured rollicking pentacle consisting of blasphemy, Hell, metal, Satan and sex. While not as outright shredding and musically virtuous as his Boulder brethren (on which he instrumentally stuck with the bass, thus allowing his cohorts and twin Gibson Flying V stalwarts to shine, especially on “Reaped in Half”!), Athenar’s gruff vocals adhere to the same jocose and maniacal bent as in the past, namely an exuberant shout-y prose in line with the flaring musical hooks, snags and tugs found in equal measures on each of the eight tracks, whether it be the opener, “Crushed by Demons”, with its foreboding Pentagram-y groove, and Paradise Lost evoking closer, “Before My Time in Hell”, imbued as it is with a gloomily resigned finality – both of which are the longest cuts at over six minutes – or shorter yet spastically amped, rapid dirges (and ideal Monster Truck accompaniments!) such as “Penetratal Ecstacy”, “Melting Brain” and “Rabid!”.
Athenar’s guitar riffs and solos may not be as sizzling or mind-blowing as those of Mark Gibbs and Terry “The Chan” Hanchin from days of yore yet hit home with the same congenial bluesy flair and rambunctious impact as on “The Rage of it All”; the incessant sway and spinning drill of “Rabid!” sounds like a newborn doppelganger to the latter’s rebellious “Working for Nobody” whilst the resoundingly swaying punch to the cranked up riff following the subdued bridge and ensuing loose n’ lethal lead to “Crushed by Demons” brings to mind the cool-as-Hell Michael Schenker guest starring section of TRoiA’s “Disrespector” (which I’d gladly give a kidney up for in order to re-hear, difficult to unearth as it is). Even so, my favourite track is the third, “Here Comes Sweet Death”, thanks to the killer incrementing trill and power chords giving way to a festive as fuck, slam-bashin’ cowbell and toms drum beat which makes me go out swinging every time. With its cranky, mid-tempo main riff and sleazy bends – as well as diabolically timed natural harmonics mid-way in – It’s got the same devil-may-care poignancy and shirk some, feel-good flair as another timeless, long lost Boulder gem, “Blow up the Fire”. Having been unable to replace any of my Boulder vinyl LPs after mindlessly selling them for peanuts years ago, discovering Midnight is one helluva consolation prize!
As well, the gritty and raw level of production niftily behoves this raunchy affair: everything is well-balanced and gives off a warm, plump resonance, from the thick, juicy drum and bass thumps and thwacks to the gritty rawness of the guitars. The laid back and languidly delivered leads also greatly benefit as they sit just right in the mix. Actually, I’m rather impressed by some of Athenar’s wild, high-wire chops, notably his harried run of Chuck Berry-ish pull-offs on the solo to “Melting Brain”. The equally rampant “Bitch Mongrel” and “Poison Thrash” have also crudely lodged themselves in my psyche; the former, thanks to the vivacious and melodic guitar lick complimenting the chorus while the latter’s aggressive, motorized feel and tempo cuts straight to the chase as a black speed/thrash metal harbinger of mayhem and vicious deeds – I mean, try to count how many times our man rasps “Poison!” all the while abusing the poor snare ‘till Kingdome Come!
I’ll end this by sharing a quirky anecdote in Midnight’s regard. Initially having no idea its lone conductor was none other than Mr. Walters of Boulder infamy himself, I was bowled over on first listen as it unequivocally reminded me of said classic, “The Rage of it All”. Having now made the connection I’m super grateful he never fully hung up his bootstraps but instead kept ardently kicking, er, crushing the can from his base of operations in Cleveland with Midnight. Here’s to mordantly trudging the road to happy destiny i.e. sweet death and ecstasy!