Tolling Bells, Crushing Riffs
Cast a line over virtually any gurgling corner of the vast metaphorical Hadean lake o’ fire that is the Midnight discography, and you’re almost certain to reel in not only a preternaturally catchy heavy fucking metal riff—seriously, the number of souls that prime mover Athenar has sold to rock ‘n’ roll suggests a small stadium’s worth of human sacrifices—but also an infernal invocation, snarling heresy, gleeful desecration… or a very detailed and imaginative portrait of comely-yet-severely-corrupted young women orgiastically reveling in some synergistic combination of the former.
So, it’s not difficult to imagine the jubilation in whatever row of cubicles in Hell houses Midnight’s earliest malignant supporters at the release of Rebirth by Blasphemy, a beguiling conjuration that eschews the nihilism and forlorn brooding that typically accompanies post-’80s lowercase “s” metallic sacrilege in favor of a rousing, light-your-torch-and-head-for-the-church triumphalism. And celebrate they should—these hellions have more than earned their surely imminent promotions: After all, it’s a long goddamn road from nearly a decade of filthy deep underground splits and singles to a stellar run of roughly the same length on Hells Headbangers to a bells-and-whistles Metal Blade release.
When Athenar sang, “We’re gonna make the demons rise” on Midnight’s debut full-length Satanic Royalty back in 2011, one got the impression he was thinking considerably bigger than either his critics or devotees. (In fact, as a quick illustrative aside, in the press release announcing the signing, the frontman noted that he first sent a demo tape to Metal Blade in 1987.) Whether a product of pure self-actualization or savvy spellwork, Rebirth is a major validation of that confidence, persistence and wayfinding.
Wisely, Midnight don’t try to fix what’s appropriately broken here. Rebirth finds the Cleveland outfit not dabbling or wing-spreading, but rather concentrating, coalescing and intensifying their signature speed/crust/trad amalgamation. Is there any other band currently in existence that can call to mind Motörhead, early Anthrax, Twisted Sister, Fastway, Disfear, Judas Priest and Venom over the course of a few tightly woven, cohesive jams?
In some ways, Rebirth is a throwback—the sound and attack some of us were searching for and definitely didn’t get when we picked up our first copy of Shout at the Devil—but the unique synthesis carries an almost futuristic vibe. Which is to say, if you had any love for the Midnight of the last several years, this is essentially a perfection of that sound captured better than ever before. And if you’ve slept on the band or been lukewarm in the past, somewhere between the gut-punch opener “Fucking Speed and Darkness” and the exhilarating parting blows of “The Sounds of Hell” and “You Can Drag Me Through Fire,” you’re likely gonna realize now’s the time to return to the sabbath.
Review taken from the February 2020 issue of Decibel, which is available here.
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