Heavy Metal is the soundtrack for those of us whose lives may seem anachronistic to the current cyberpunk digital world of media. Metal fans, true Metal fans that is, resist change by refusing to get rid of tapes, purchasing vinyl, and always grabbing a shirt at shows. Trends come and go like Seven Mary Three, Limp Bizkit, or Marilyn Manson, but Heavy Metal is like a fine Scotch whiskey gaining robust potency in oak barrels. Most other genres of music, at least popular music, tend to have ridiculously high turnover rates while grey hair in Metal is respected. Midnight, the one-man project of Athenar, blends Black Metal and Traditional Heavy Metal into a sound that manages to capture speed, ravishing grimness, and spiteful rebellion. It is a sound that exists seemingly outside of time. One could imagine hearing a lot of the material thirty years ago, but there is the welcome addition of the modern studio, the laboratory of sorts where the monster is given life.
Midnight, over the course of seventeen years, has now released four full-length albums. While that may not seem like a wealth of material, when one considers the fact there are seven splits among various other singles and E.P.s, the question of enough output is put to rest. Over the years, Athenar has refined his brand, gaining a requisite amount of respect throughout the scene. Midnight shirts are everywhere too as myriad Metal fans proudly advertise for the cause.
Aptly titled “Fucking Speed and Darkness” leads things off and it is immediately evident that this album will be a tour de force. Midnight has coalesced into a blazing, blasphemous behemoth, a check for all fake folks in the scene. Posers are requisitely denied entry. Furious, reckless, and yet with a bit more polish, the first track proudly displays the results of dogged dedication to refining the art. Plus, a new deal with Metal Blade Records can’t hurt either. The title track follows and is an infusion of Venom’s “Countess Bathory” with a solid hook. With just a few simple notes, the song just opens up with the added melody. There is a marked level of musical maturity within this collection of tunes despite the decadent indulgence of the lyrical content and band imagery.
As the record plays through, the magic lies in the production (in addition to the riffs, of course). Compared to past efforts, it is a stout affair with added girth given to the guitar. Success lies in the management of tenacity, knowing when to embrace the rawer edge and when to clean things up. Simply put, what causes this album to exceed past efforts and even those of contemporaries is its ability to retain the alchemical mystique of the old school scene while still moving the music forward with consistently solid songwriting. The bass chugs along with a perfectly grimy tube tone while the guitar packs a classic Marshall-on-eleven punch. He purposely uses sounds that are Heavy Metal staples and then dirties them up with his unholy anthems. The bass fills throughout the album are outstanding.
“Devil’s Excrement,” the fourth track, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, is a rager replete with a double-time Punk beat that supplies a constant, always-on sense of urgency. Simple, yet with biting abandon. The seventh track, “Cursed Possessions,” contains a main riff that has a slight Maiden feel while the chorus is simply huge on a scale recalling the Satanic seminal eponymous debut of W.A.S.P. At just over four minutes, the tenth track, “You Can Drag Me through Fire,” is the second-longest and certainly the gem of the album. With an intro based around an eerie progression over which harmonies are laid, the main riff is the stuff of legends and honestly is tinged with a High ‘N Dry-era Def Leppard feel. Of course, with lyrics describing the allure of a demonic goddess, the subject matter is (un)righteously Heavy Metal cannon material.
This is an album destined to be played during the most delightfully debauched bacchanalian celebrations. Leather, fire, bullet belts, and flaming pentagrams are essential when celebrating as such. Cronos and Lemmy would have it no other way, and the same can certainly be said for Athenar.