The first time I ever heard of Midnight, someone described the band to me as “America’s Abigail.” And, it turns out, that’s about the best way to describe this one-man band from Cleveland, Ohio. From the fast-paced Venom-meets-Motörhead guitar licks to the ripping solos and the nails-on-chalkboard vocals, Athenar is America’s Yasuyuki Suzuki. Midnight‘s 2011 debut, Satanic Royalty, is a simple black/thrash record that hits all the right nails on the right heads, but Athenar developed his style and voice further on 2014’s No Mercy for Mayhem. Though he continues to use the shredding—and, sometimes melodic—guitar work of Abigail, the groove of Motörhead, and the speed metal of Venom, Athenar’s in-your-face vocal style, and evolving songwriting, are his own. But, the pressure is on and the hype is up. Will 2017’s Sweet Death and Ecstasy prove to be that follow-up No Mercy for Mayhem needs?
Well, one thing’s for sure, this is still Midnight from sundown to sunup. Sweet Death and Ecstasy is still an uncontrollable black/thrash attack, crawling with worms, ravens, and… jesusfuckingchrist… make those women stop!! What’s different from Sweet Death and Ecstasy and its predecessors is the number of clever guitar leads, melodic passages, and impressive guitar solos. What the title track and “Woman of Flame” achieved on No Mercy for Mayhem is further developed here. Athenar is on the top of his game, delivering the band’s most diverse and adventurous full-length yet.
And, by adventurous, I mean Midnight‘s opener and closer (“Crushed by Demons” and “Before My Time in Hell,” respectively) are six-and-a-half minutes long. Also, unlike Midnight‘s other full-lengths, Sweet Death spends little time building Satanic imagery in its opening seconds. Instead, it takes off before the devil has a chance to strap on his steel-toed boots. After the initial sonic pop, the song settles into a chugging, steamroller pace for damn-near four minutes. When it does break from its trajectory, it does so for its slick harmonized guitar leads and ripping solos. As it approaches the finish line, “Crushed by Demons” ditches the chug for a high-speed Venom lick that crushes all that remains.
After the opener, the album settles into a groove typical of a Midnight record. There’re songs like the Venom-meets-Darkthrone-meets-Motörhead bludgeoners “Penetratal Ecstasy” and “Bitch Mongrel;” the sulfur-tainted bruisers like “Melting Brain” and “Poison Trash;” and the groovy, melodic numbers like “Rabid!” and “Here Comes Sweet Death.” All have addictive songwriting, catchy choruses, and wild guitar play, but “Poison Trash” and “Here Comes Sweet Death” stand out the most. The former for its explosive, black/thrash sound and impressive, thrashy leads. The latter for its mid-paced gallop, its melody-tinged chorus, and its nifty solo and harmonic guitar work. Between the two, “Here Comes Sweet Death” is my favorite. Not only is its chorus sticky like tar, and the guitar work is up there with the likes of “Bitch Mongrel,” but it’s NWOBHM-inspired gallop fucking rules.
But, the song that tops them all is “Before My Time in Hell.” If there was ever a song that screamed Blood Fire Death-era Bathory (outside of I), this is it. It’s got the kind of trot that only Sleipnir is capable of and that squealing guitar solo at 4:50 is about as Quorthon is it fucking gets. But, Bathory-nostalgia aside, this is one of the best songs Midnight has ever written.
In the end, this is another strong release from the band. It’s the proper evolution from No Mercy for Mayhem, expanding the formula with killer solos and leads (like Abigail but better) and incorporating more influences into their style (specifically the Bathory influences in the closer). The time is Midnight and Sweet Death and Ecstasy are in the air. The sexy scene is set and all you Midnighters out there should feel relief.