Few bands paint a picture quite as Midnight does. But, in this case, it’s no ordinary picture. It’s Hell. Even more than the ancient works of Venom, Midnight paints a blood-red scene of violence on a black canvas. I not only can feel it but I can smell it. The flickering reds and oranges burn to the touch and the air is stifling and uncomfortable. The fragrance is a mix of unwashed crotch and dogshit burning in a paper bag. When you pass through the large, creaking door to the back of this stinking asylum, your sweat solidifies to your face. From red hot to freezing cold, Hell’s non-smoking area in the rear is black and brown, with the stench of wet earth and decomposition. Yet, no matter where you are in this underground venue, the walls reverberate with the black rasps, fiery guitars, rumbling bass, and pounding drums of the lone devil, Athenar. Although the place was first occupied by little Hells Headbangers, its halls are now decorated in Metal Blades. And, with that, one can only expect a few renovations to the space.
Athenar himself states that Rebirth by Blasphemy is well… a rebirth of sorts. At first glance, I took this to mean the band’s debut on the Metal Blade label. But, seconds into opener “Fucking Speed and Darkness,” there’s more to Rebirth than meets the ears. For one, the production is bananas good. As the Mighty Huck pointed out, “the production is too good for this band.” Indeed it is. But that doesn’t take from the reds and oranges splattered across the canvas. In many ways, Athenar’s newfound need to smooth out Rebirth‘s sound only heightens the strength of these ten tracks. This sleeker sound doesn’t mean Midnight is going Darkthrone. No, no, no. Rebirth is still every bit as urgent and rushed to record as any album before it. And the desire to shove punk, rock, black, and thrash into a mere thirty-five minutes still seems to be the band’s goal. So, don’t close those cemetery gates yet.
The first of many o’ hooking numbers that plague this disc, “Fucking Speed and Darkness” is a punky piece that slows its roll for no man. That said, it’s here to please all men by up-chucking its juvenile, grave-robbing attitude for a thrashier, Darkthrone-inspired chomper midway through. The self-titled follow-up track also carries those Darkthrone-esque qualities. But, this time, it’s along a dark road at a heavy-as-fuck gallop to deliver one of the catchiest choruses on the disc. But, as one would expect from Midnight, every black-tinged Darkthrone reference meets a Motörhead one. Case in point: the back-to-back “Raw Attack” and “The Sounds of Hell.” The former’s combination of Motörhead kicks and its in-your-face chorus—supplemented by plenty o’ backing vox—make it one of the gnarliest, thrashiest pieces Lemmy never wrote. “The Sounds of Hell,” though, houses the coolest riff on the record. It borrows the punkiness of the opener and includes a record-pile of guitar leads from the late ’70s and early ’80s.
But the tracks that take advantage of Athenar’s old-school rock influences the most are “Rising Scum” and “Escape the Grave.” Both could have been on the band’s diverse 2017 release, Sweet Death and Ecstasy, but their uniqueness adds density to Rebirth by Blasphemy. Like the rocking “Cursed Possessions,” “Escape the Grave” is a casket-tipping hell of a good time that sews together Venom and Motörhead with seamless precision. “Rising Scum,” on the other hand, is a slow-moving trudge through slime. As the man himself pointed out, it has those late-’70s vibes of Judas Priest and, compared to the rest of the album, it’s the song that continues the time-warp of rock influences from SDaE. It’s so wonderfully out-of-place, yet settles in nicely with its uncomfortable sensation of being dragged by your hair through the mud and blood on a cold dungeon floor.
From beginning to end, Rebirth is a fantastic follow-up to Sweet Death and Ecstasy. And what an end it has—finishing the disc off with the addictive, melodic rocker, “You Can Drag Me Through Fire.” While Rebirth by Blasphemy is a continuation of its predecessor, it is a rebirth. Along with the slick production, this new record does as much as SDaE does in less the time. You won’t find six-minute numbers like “Crushed by Demons” or “Before My Time in Hell” in these dark halls. But you’ll find every bit as much umph from two-to-three-minute ditties like “Escape the Grave,” “Rebirth by Blasphemy,” and “The Sounds of Hell.” Midnight is on a goddamned roll and, with each new album, I love his shit that much more.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade Records
Websites: midnight-ohio.bandcamp.com | totalmidnight.webs.com | facebook.com/midnightviolators
Releases Worldwide: January 24th, 2020