Tuesday 28 January 2020

Midnight - Rebirth by Blasphemy (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Black/Speed Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 Jan 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website

I didn't know Midnight until I saw them a few years ago supporting Obituary and Kreator. Opening band Horrendous had intrigued me, then Midnight hit the stage and blitzed through their set like the apocalypse was waiting outside and they didn't want to be late. I picked up CDs from both and followed up on them with a run through their studio output, which is rather skimpy for Midnight given that they were promoting their third album fourteen years in. I was eager for more and, three years later, here's a new one.

On stage, I remember the band numbering three and playing speed metal with a raw punk edge. In the studio, they're a solo project and Athenar takes care of absolutely everything himself, right down to the imitation Cronos vocals. This album is more like old school Venom than Venom is nowadays. Do a blind listen to either the title track or Devil's Excrement, then anything off of Venom's last album, and you'll swear blind that this is Cronos and Venom.

It's only the production that tells us that this isn't 1981 because there's nowhere near as much speed as I remember there being on stage. Even opening track Fucking Speed and Darkness, which is agreeably fast, isn't really done at speed metal tempos, until perhaps three minutes in and it's over by four. It does show up on occasion, like in Devil's Excrement, during the breaks in between verses on Warning from the Reaper or at the beginning of Escape the Grave, but it mostly stops by for a cup of tea, rarely moves in.

Fortunately, the songs sound good at a slower pace. If Athenar hadn't sold you on his Cronos impression on the opener, the title track will do that for sure. It's a real highlight, perhaps behind only Devil's Excrement but with none of its stupid lyrics. It's certainly as ruthlessly raw and vicious. I'd put Rising Scum up there behind them, even though it's a lot slower, playing up the heaviness rather than the speed, because the slow beat gets into our skulls and the grunting chants somehow work over that riff.

I'd have preferred more speed but what Midnight do best is raw energy and I think it's safe to say that that comes across here, whatever the tempo. The vocals are very much in the vein that Cronos introduced with Black Metal and they explore much of the same lyrical territory, blasphemous and profane. If you didn't assume a Motörhead influence from Venom, then let me highlight it too. It's there in the drums throughout, but it's there on a wider basis on songs like Cursed Possessions. The lead guitar takes the buzzsaw approach of early speed metal and maintains it, even at a slower pace.

The other name I'd throw out is Raven, because songs like Raw Attack remind me of their proto-speed NWOBHM sound. That one's fast but not crazy fast, a little less satanic in its vocal stylings and with metal solos on top of a solid punk riff. Call that a fourth highlight. The final one is the song to close out the album, You Can Drag Me Through Fire, which aims at a more epic feel and mostly succeeds. Again, its roots are in NWOBHM but with an eye on the extremes of the future.

This sounds like a fantastic album for 1981 and Midnight would have been an abiding favourite for the establishment back then to hate with a passion. It isn't just the rough and ready sound, it's the profanity and lyrical content that includes occasional callouts almost designed for that purpose. Halfway into the final track, Athenar throws out "Burn you bitch!" before his solo, as if he was performing live on Mary Whitehouse's desk and absorbing energy from her look of sheer horror.

Of course, this is 2020 and we've moved on rather a long way in thirty years so I doubt Midnight are going to conjure up that sort of response nowadays. However, I can't think of another band who sound so relentlessly pissed off and willing to piss off in return. They're the band Venom wish they could be again and the band Green Day see in their nightmares to emphasise what punk really means. And they're one dude from Cleveland, OH. That must piss them off even more!

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