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Cleveland Ohio’s Midnight is a one-man black/speed metal project belonging to Jamie Walters, who goes by the moniker Athenar. He’s got quite the résumé, having participated in a wide range of metal bands since the 80s, although 2011’s “Satanic Royalty” is the first work of his that I’ve listened to. And yes, it kicks serious ass. Indeed, for metalheads like myself, who enjoy old-school thrash yet retain an affinity for early speed/thrash pioneers like Venom and Motorhead, “Satanic Royalty” is sure to provide a half-hour of exciting, unrelenting, beer-guzzling debauchery.
It’s definitely worth mentioning that Midnight isn’t playing more of that boring “retro” thrash that simply copies and pastes Bay Area stylistic elements to be presented in a thoroughly colourless format. Rather, Midnight IS old-school as hell, but draws primarily from the hardest-edged acts of early 80s speed metal and NWOBHM; Venom, first and foremost, Motorhead, Exciter, Tank, and arguably Raven. With an added touch of first-wave black metal (mainly from Cronos and Co., but also Bathory’s self-titled debut), and some punk, for good measure, the overall product we get with “Satanic Royalty” is some pretty vintage-sounding material that wouldn’t be hard at all to imagine having been released somewhere from ’82-83. Basically, to call this black/speed is pretty spot-on, I think – the early black metal qualities are totally there, while the general character of the music is more in line with the raw, primitive aggression of “Heavy Metal Maniac” than something more developed, like “Hell Awaits”.
So, there might not be anything significantly innovative about “Satanic Royalty”, but this is severely irrelevant. The fact that Athenar has conjured up a very consistent collection of songs that offer a refreshing break from all the boring, standard revival-thrash is what really matters, especially when he’s so expertly harnessing a style that very few bands today have had the blood or guts to pay homage to. As soon as one throws this record on, they should get what I’m talking about. The title track is an absolutely triumphant piece of metal glory, with an added touch of melody that makes this song stand out a bit on the record. I swear, every time I hear Athenar cry out “Satanic Royyyalty!”, the hairs stand on my neck. The onslaught of riffs is mightily continued on the next tracks, “You Can’t Stop Steel”, which brings things into classic Venom territory, and “Rip this Hell”, an unbelievably angry speed metal number that’s easily one of my favourites here. The next tracks, “Necromania” and “Black Damnation”, slow things down to a driving, mid-paced tempo, although they don’t ruin the flow of the album. It almost feels like Athenar slammed on the brakes to give us a much-needed breather after the black-thrashing assault of the previous few tracks, and I really enjoy the dark atmosphere of “Necromania”, with its thick chords and militant, stomping pace. Meanwhile, “Black Damnation” allows Athenar to demonstrate a bit of a more dynamic side, showcasing a nice, balanced alternation between heavier and more restrained, slightly melodic parts.
“Lust, Filth, and Sleaze” follows, bursting with speed and reaffirming Midnight’s appreciation for some good Venom and Motorhead. Additionally, Athenar sounds a hell of a lot like a slightly more distressed Cronos to me – which, of course, is awesome and completely welcome on an album like this. “Violence on Violence” is similarly badass and brimming with hate, a total speed-fest, although the following track, “Savage Dominance”, slows things down to a more rocking swagger. It’s not a bad song, I never skip it or anything, but unlike “Necromania” or “Black Damnation”, I don’t find its mid-paced riffing as catchy. Not a massive complaint, but I would’ve preferred another black/speed monster in its place, especially since at this point the album is nearing its end. However, Athenar makes sure to finish this record off hard and strong, with “Holocaustic Deafening”, a solid fist-in-the-face of punky metal (feels almost like a tribute to Toxic Holocaust at times), and closing track “Shock ‘til Blood”, which is killer and tightly composed, with a great solo section.
Overall, “Satanic Royalty” is the kind of take on old-school 80s metal that is firmly uncharacteristic of what the majority of new thrash groups have done. Sure, if you enjoy all the legends of true 80s thrash, you’ll likely enjoy this, but one should expect a lot more camaraderie with Lemmy and the Venom boys on this than with anyone else. This isn’t more of that lifeless, lame revival-thrash that makes you scratch your head in wonder over why you’re not listening to “Agent Orange” instead, but filthy, punky black/speed that harks back to the early days of cutoff denims and spikes almost as well as “Black Metal” does. Indeed, it’s rare to find a record nowadays that is so genuinely reminiscent of a time gone by, but when it comes to Midnight, the real message is that the ghosts of the 80s are still alive and well, living on in…
After nine long years, Cleveland based sleaze machine Midnight finally rise from the mire and unleash their debut album of unkempt and filth laden speed metal upon the rabble, and what an album it is. In short, what is essentially the grime enveloped bastard child of eighties Satan loving shock merchants Venom. The Venom influence is so obscene that “Satanic Royalty” could almost be mistaken for a lost recording from the UK legends, and I’d be fairly certain that they’d also be the first to admit that this is nothing but shameless adoration at the altar of Cronos and co. But when it’s as good as this, why the fuck should anyone care?
The album’s title track explodes out of the blocks with the energy of a caffeine soaked cokehead, riffing straight from NWOBHM legends Tank and Athenar’s obnoxious snarling. Hell, Athenar could well be Cronos himself minus the receding hairline. The central hook to the song is absolutely enormous, dragging you into Midnight’s vortex of bitches, booze and blasphemy before spitting you out a disorientated mess. First impressions were “They can’t keep up such a high level of quality and ferocity throughout can they?” Amazingly they do, every single track on “Satanic Royalty” is nothing but high octane speed metal strewn with blistering heavy metal soloing and neck breaking riffing tied together with maniacal vocals.
The lyrics are another thing altogether, they’ve got everything from the divine “Marching out from the catacombs of hell, Kingdom’s falling, Bred to destroy the children of Christ” to the peaceful “Skullz will crack brains explode” and they even manage to make room for a love song in the ever so subtle “Lust Filth and Sleaze”; “You give me lust you give me sleaze, I'm gonna bust when you're down on your knees”. And who says romance is dead eh? If you’re looking for the ultimate leather studded and alcohol soaked soundtrack for 2011, then you can’t look much further than this.
It never deviates from what would be expected of a Venom worship band but remains surprisingly diverse and so engaging that even after repeated listens it never gets old. This is the hurdle where most others attempting the same fall, and Midnight overcomes this with spectacular ease. “Satanic Royalty” is nothing but pure unadulterated mayhem manifested from a gutter somewhere in Ohio with no aim other than to defile and disgust. Bursting with the raw energy of the genre progenitor’s Discharge and Venom’s NWOBHM-esque demonic racket with the vulgarity of Blackie Lawless, Midnight offer thirty minutes of altogether unholy and thoroughly indecent speed metal which is certain to get the adrenaline flowing and horns throwing. Venom even released a new album this year as well, but why bother when Midnight are currently doing Venom better than Venom themselves?
Ohio's Midnight is certainly a treat for us US fans, who have likely long been starved for a proper hybrid of traditional speed and heavy metal with a grimy black metal overtone to call our own. Of course I'm jealous of the Japanese heavyweights Abigail, Metalucifer and Barbatos (at least one of which these guys are friends with and have appeared on splits with), but the time is right, and it only took the underground legend Athemar (aka Jamie Boulder) of the painfully unappreciated Destructor to make it happen. After about eight years of touring, a handful of EPs and split appearances, the cult has arrived where it belongs (Hell's Headbanger Records) and delivered its first full-length, Satanic Royalty. And, would you know, it rocks.
The most obvious comparisons in style would be to those Japanese acts I listed above, or to trace back much further to the explosive NWOBHM sounds of Motörhead, Venom, Tank and other barroom brawlers. Certainly the riffs follow those basic, dirty tenets that hard rock and 'eavy metal have been glued to for going on four decades now. Simple patterns attempt to hook the listener, and the leads and vocals to finish him or her off. Speaking of which, 'Athenar' definitely has a style redolent of Deceased's King Fowley, a steady and constipated bark which fits well over the pummeling choices in chords fit for bloody knuckled street fighting. Where Midnight tends to differ from some of its peers abroad, however, is in the production values, which are quite solid here and loud as opposed to raunchy filth. No, those aesthetics are manifest straight through the lyrics, voice, and rhythmic bluster alone.
Within the first three tracks of the album, Satanic Royalty has already shown us a good deal of variation which the band holds up through the remainder of the tracks. You've got the title track with its broad swath of rock/punk chords and epic melodic breaks, or the slicing speed metal of "You Can't Stop Steel", one of my favorites on the record; or then the more traditional power blues metal of "Rip This Hell". Deeper into the roster, they go even wider with the doom-like, occult overtures of "Black Damnation" and the bass-fueled punkish burst of "Holocaustic Deafening". Personally, I found that the more directly speed metal pieces like "Lust Filth and Sleaze" or "Violence on Violence" were the defining moments for me, but that's not to say that where they deviate there is any sizable dip in quality.
Satanic Royalty flows rather well from fore to aft, with the only possible obstacles being the predictability with which a lot of the guitar patterns are structured, seeing that they've drawn on decades of tradition and chosen not to deviate from the norm. But it's not like you'd be checking out a band like this for its originality, merely it's excess and lethal spin on a classic sound. To that extent, Midnight have a success on their hands, an album that will prove both fun for breaking bottles over each others' domes or picking up the ladies (or gentlemen) of the night. Well, in an ideal world perhaps...but something like Satanic Royalty certainly gives me hope that those days of 80s 'edge' might well be ahead of us as well as behind. Exciter meets Deceased: does that sound appealing? If not, I hate you.