With Motörhead-inspired riffs underneath debaucherous lyrics that would make Sarah Silverman blush, Midnight and its twisted mastermind Athenar have risen from the underground on leathery black wings.
After a decade-plus of being Cleveland's kings of the underground, Midnight signed with Metal Blade Records in 2019 and released its label debut Rebirth By Blasphemy in early 2020. Midnight is once again primed to take over the metal landscape in 2022 with a new record called Let There Be Witchery, which is the first in a slew of new releases from its tireless creator. We caught up with Athenar for a deep dive into the unfortunate timing of Midnight's label debut, planning more new material, an emergence from the underground, and much more!
How do you assess what I kind of call "one big pandemic year," since it all feels like one big clusterfuck? You were an artist going in a new direction in the beginning of 2020 with a new record, a new label, and plans to tour. Then all of a sudden there was a worldwide pandemic and obviously things shut down.
Yeah. I mean, it's comical. If you look at it from a movie perspective, it's a totally Cleveland situation where you say, "Okay, you can't be pissed about it. You can't say 'alright I saw this coming.'" Especially after [publicist Nikki Law] got everyone pumped up about us and Metal Blade Records signed us. I was ready to take on the world. And then, like you said, it's like someone pulled out the rug from underneath us. So whatever. I can't be pissed about it. All you can do is just keep on truckin'.
I know you've been pretty selective with the tours Midnight went out on in the past, and in 2020 you were gearing up to do much bigger tours. Was it the type of thing where you once it all got taken away because of the pandemic, you went right back to that DIY and underground-type of feeling again?
I always have that DIY feel, so it doesn't matter if we're playing a big European festival or whatever. My attitude is always going to be "how can we make this as cool as possible with the four dollars and fifteen cents we have in our pocket?" If there's a can of something laying on the side of the stage, if there's a couple of sticks, how can we incorporate these sticks into the live gig? I just think that's my attitude towards most things. To do that just comes natural.
From your start in 2003 with the self-titled demo to Rebirth By Blasphemy, even to now with Let There Be Witchery, that DIY aesthetic is definitely still there. Was there a line in the sand in those early conversations with Metal Blade? I know you had been resistant to doing anything on a bigger scale with bigger labels. Were there discussions on compromise?
I think that was always understood. And Metal Blade, they've been around for decades. I still see them, and I think they see themselves, as an independent label. They know where they came from. I think they see it as the same thing. They know the type of band that I am. They know what they're getting into with this stuff and they're not trying to force anything. It wouldn't make sense on either side to force anything. There were no lines drawn because I don't think there was ever a need for it.
It feels like your discography has led to Let There Be Witchery, like you found how to blend that heavy blackened speed metal sound and lyrics that mix the occult with debauchery. You're really dialing that up to 11 this time around and it just feels very next level, like you're having fun with the songwriting and just going balls to the wall.
That's a good point, because actually, I just listened to Rebirth By Blasphemy yesterday for the first time in a long time. It's been done for so long and I just wanted to listen to it before we actually play some of these tunes again at the gigs coming up and see what my review is of it now. And when I listened to it, I guess I think Let There Be Witchery is much more aggressive and in your face, and more of a style that I like.
Engineer Noah Buchanan was on Rebirth and now this new one too. I think he kind of understood more of where I wanted to go and the kind of stuff that I like to hear this time around. And so in that way I think it is the stuff that I like, in that it's more dialed in than usual. It would suck to get less dialed in. If you've been a plumber for 30 years and you're fucking up constantly and you used to be a kick ass plumber at age 18, and then 10 years down the line pipes are breaking you're like "fuck man! I suck at my job." Someone needs to tell you it's time to hang it up. So hopefully if I ever get to that point, I have somebody there to tell me to hang it up.
I was reading an interview where you mentioned that you channel Spinal Tap in terms of songwriting where it's this fine line between simple and idiotic. You're not trying to write Dream Theater or Tool or Meshuggah songs. There's simplicity, but incredible catchiness with the writing. Is there a fine line for you between being relatable and simple for the listener, and capturing that raw heaviness?
Everything's always a fine line. I like that Spinal Tap reference because it's probably true with a lot of things. That's the beauty of the stuff that I do, because I don't think it's middle of the road. It's not a paint by numbers production.
I always look at that fine line where the songs have to to be simple and relatable. You look at Queen, and songs like "We Will Rock You." They can do the most progressive and high-brow-rock type things, and then they got "We Will Rock You." And it doesn't sound crazy even though it is. It's as cave-man as it gets. But It comes down to them being genuine about it and making that human connection.
I mean, I'm always looking forward to it. It started when we toured with Obituary. I remember the summer of '89 getting that first album and playing it every day. And now going, "goddamn, don't they know we're not a real band?" I still think of myself as a 13 year old flunky kid. It's like "wow, we're actually doing a tour with these guys and they're really good live, and they're fucking cool as hell." I'm ready man. It took me a while to accept that and to want to leave my house, and to do more than three gigs in a row and stuff like that. But I've come to embrace it and to like it. I'm ready for it.
There have been a ton of folks during the pandemic, when shows were out of the question, that felt like there was the need to get back and get creative. And obviously you're a guy whose output has been pretty fucking staggering, but did you find that that pandemic allowed you to hone in and get to work?
Oh definitely. I mean, Let There Be Witchery is coming out. I recorded it in January of 2020, because at that point we were still expecting to go on and take on the world. You go "ok, I'm going to record this now because 2020 is going to be real fucking busy and I'm not going to have a chance ever to record." From then on I've recorded one other album, which is done and in the can, ready to go. There's a covers album of artists from the Cleveland, OH area that's done and in the can. And there's a plan to do 18 songs worth of stuff and I've recorded half of those already. So yeah, there's plenty coming out here soon – probably soon. Within the next decade [laughs].
Next year will be 20 years of the Midnight project. Have you found yourself looking back recently from those early demo days, to getting signed to Metal Blade and being on these major tours? It's been 20 years and some of the biggest moments are happening right now.
It's funny. I guess it's typical of the current way the world works, or maybe even the way my world works. I learned my lesson 10 years, 15 years too late. 20 years of continuing with this band and it's like "20 years, shit." Led Zeppelin lasted 10 to 15 years and they were done. The Beatles not even 10 years. And I am putting myself up in that tier with The Beatles and Zeppelin [laughs].
That people even want to listen to this thing 20 years after originally having the idea for it, and now being on Metal Blade – and they're obviously one of my favorite labels personally – I couldn't believe any label would have wanted to put this stuff out 20 years ago. So to have them want to put it out? Yes, it's a bit surreal.
3/7 – San Francisco, Calif. @ The Regency Ballroom
3/8 – Los Angeles, Calif. @ The Wiltern
3/9 – Phoenix, Ariz. @ The Nile Theater
3/11 – Salt Lake City, Utah @ The Depot
3/12 – Denver, Colo. @ The Summit Music Hall
3/14 – Dallas, Texas @ Amplified Live
3/15 – Austin, Texas @ Mohawk
3/16 – Houston, Texas @ White Oak Music Hall
3/18 – Atlanta, Ga. @ Masquerade
3/19 – Tampa, Fla. @ Orpheum
3/20 – Charlotte, N.C. @ The Underground
3/22 – Montreal, Quebec @ Club Soda
3/23 – Toronto, Ontario @ The Phoenix
3/25 – Worcester, Mass. @ The Palladium
3/26 – New York, N.Y. @ Irving Plaza
3/27 – New York, N.Y. @ Irving Plaza
3/29 – Baltimore, Md. @ Baltimore Soundstage
3/30 – Pittsburgh, Pa. @ The Roxian
3/31 – Detroit, Mich. @ The Majestic
4/1 – Chicago, Ill. @The Vic
4/2 – Minneapolis, Minn. 2 Skyway Theatre
4/3 – Joliet, Ill. @ The Forge