Midnight, or Jamie Walters as it says on all his official identification documents, has been imbibing the runny run-off of 80s speed/thrash/traditional metal since 2003, but it wasn’t until 2011’s Satanic Royalty that the band moved beyond the purview of those with their ear to the murkiest corners of the underground and connections so tight that they were able to get their hands on every limited release the band issued. Since that album, the Midnight name has become synonymous with being a top-notch rendition of the rawest of blackened speed/heavy metal’s rawest era; the days when Venom was introducing the world to Black Metal, Motorhead had lawn killing capabilities and Hellhammer’s demos were some of the grimiest tunes on the market, despite the classic and hair metal undertones (listen carefully, you can hear them!). 2014’s No Mercy For Mayhem admirably continued the speed metal assault and saw Midnight’s profile and popularity being parlayed into touring band territory. Not bad for a band that is still officially a one-man project and, after putting together a live band, considered more than seven to ten days of road work an arduous task.
A lot has changed for Walters/Midnight over the past handful of years and Sweet Death and Ecstasy is a record unavoidably written amid a flurry of activity that has not only included more live appearances (most notably, a spot on 2017’s Decibel Magazine Tour), but also a variety of singles, EPs, video releases and compilations. To say that this project is keeping its creator busy is probably a mild understatement, but also a potential cause for trepidation going forward. We’ve all seen bands either rest on their laurels, offer up lackluster carbon copies of previous works or just become overwhelmed with the amount of extracurricular, non-music activity that draws energy away from what should be the main focus. This was one of the worries that long time fans of this Cleveland-based outfit had concern about. At the same time, writing metal along the genre lines Midnight has been doing since its inception as a side project isn’t rocket science. But would the demands of the road, labels, the juggle of life in the band with life away from the band and all that jibber-jabber impact the quality of the raging speed metal listeners have become accustomed to?
“Crushed by Demons” starts the album on a somewhat discouraging note. Its repetitive mid-paced plod ‘n’ chug doesn’t sandblast your face off the way you’d hope an introductory piece would, but the chorus’ simple melody/harmony is undoubtedly infectious, as is the bluesy solo, scattershot bridge and epic, car chase scene/mountain climbing expedition feel to the song’s denouement. “Penetratal Ecstasy” is not only a head scratcher of a title – one which someone somewhere is going to take some offense to – but builds a ripping tune off of the drum pattern from “Ace of Spades,” a riff from the bowels of the NWOBHM, adds some Venom, counterpoint bass work and a touch of vulgarity to create a song that should feature highly on any future ‘Best Of’ compilation alongside “You Can’t Stop Steel,” “Lust Filth and Sleaze” and “Prowling Leather.”
“Here Comes Sweet Death” reverts back to mid-tempo, but is an anthemic fist pumper with a chorus to die for before the meat of the album takes over with songs like “Melting Brain,” “Rabid!” and “Bitch Mongrel” scraping rough sandpaper across the likes of Raven and Saxon. These tracks border on having the dearth of energy previously discussed as a concern, but are usually pulled out of any potential negative morass by infectious vocal lines in the choruses and screaming solos, especially the latter. “Poison Trash” is the thrashiest of the bunch, a song that hearkens back to the sort of riffs that were probably traded around the backstage empty alcohol bottle pile on the Venom/Metallica Seven Dates of Hell tour. The album concludes similarly to how it began with the slower “Before My Time in Hell” which only works to a certain extent mainly because Midnight isn’t the sort of band with heaps of thick density driving them. Their chosen tone is more mid-range and often times, when the foot is lifted off the gas pedal, things become more spacious than sinister.
All in all, Sweet Death and Ecstasy offers a healthy demonstration of Walters’ penchant for writing rebar rigid heavy metal that salutes the rocking past while simultaneously adding undeniably catchy and memorable songs to heavy metal’s pantheon. And when you're able to write material in the present that perks up the senses of those very much stepped in the past, you know something's being done right.