Album Review: Midnight – “Sweet Death and Ecstasy”

The Devil Makes Three

On their third LP, Midnight pump the brakes while turning up the hell

Label: Hells Headbangers

Release Date: December 15, 2017

If you caught Midnight on the last Decibel Magazine Tour, you saw their live lineup showcase why they’re the debaucherous intersection of Hellhammer and Hell Bent for Leather. While frontman Athenar snarled behind the mesh of his executioner’s hood, the Ohio trio slashed through No Mercy for Mayhem’s NWOBHM-tinged black-thrash anthems.

But when he’s not posing with a blood-rusted scythe or pulverizing his guitar onstage, Athenar is Jamie Walters, the band’s lone instrumentalist and songwriter. A self-admitted creature of habit, Walters isn’t one to shake the foundation of what he knows and loves. He worships the same KISS and Venom records that have charmed him since he first spun them as a teenager. Now 14 years into Midnight’s existence, Sweet Death and Ecstasy is about as startling a jump as you can expect from a project whose idea of change is usually one mid-paced bruiser per LP and fewer vomit references.

With “Woman of Flame” on No Mercy for Mayhem and “Black Damnation” on Satanic Royalty, Athenar’s not afraid to slow the speedfreak rock ’n’ roll to a stomp. But when “Crushed by Demons” opens Midnight’s third LP, the deliberate pace may unnerve those anticipating full-throttle black-thrash out of the gate. Since slower-tempo rockers worked for forefathers Venom (“Countess Bathory”) and Motörhead (“The Chase is Better Than the Catch”), it really shouldn’t be a surprise; it’s basically in Midnight’s blood.

“Penetratal Ecstasy” quickly shifts to Midnight’s sweet-spot. If you listened to the four new cuts from Shox of Violence earlier this year, you know what’s in store: rousing gang choruses reminding you of the song title, and riffs that feel like they’re racing themselves. The sleazy punk of “Melting Brain” underlines the Mentors influence the executioner hoods already imply, while “Poison Trash” is an automatic pit-frenzy waiting to be unleashed live.

Although Sweet Death and Ecstasy is not a wild departure from No Mercy for Mayhem, it pursues modest new ambitions with mixed success. While “Crushed by Demons” soars with harmonized bridges and layered leads, the album’s other mid-paced offerings (“Here Comes Sweet Death” and “Before My Time in Hell”) struggle sustaining their run-times. But Walters’ intentions with Midnight mostly embrace the old Hollywood adage: Give me the same thing, but different.

After all, simplicity is the name of Midnight’s game. Walters has said he has zero interest in blemish-free recordings or pursuing perfection. He isn’t an elite guitar virtuoso, but when his solos are center stage they still sizzle. Midnight is an example of an artist/entertainer pounding away at his compulsion to create, finding new ways to keep both himself and his fans invested by carving out his own devoted corner of hell.