(In this post, BadWolf reviews the forthcoming Hells Headbangers compilation of Midnight’s entire pre-Satanic Royalty back catalogue.)
Midnight came seemingly out of nowhere last year with their debut Satanic Royalty. Clocking in at just over thirty minutes, the album roared out of the gates, dazzled with its compelling mix of old-school black metal, D-beat, and classic cock rock, then ended too quickly. I loved it—as did many others, judging by Midnight’s announced slot at Maryland Deathfest—and if I’d heard it before the holiday season, it would most certainly have wormed into my end-of-year lists. I await tis sequel with bated breath.
But Satanic Royalty was hardly Midnight’s first release. The Cleveland three-peice has been releasing music in splits, demos, singles, and EP’s since 2003, and now all of that early material (minus a Quiet Riot cover) is available in one convenient package: Complete and Total Hell. And while it hardly feels like the rock-solid sequel to Satanic Royalty, it serves as a convenient appetizer—the prequel to the sequel, if you’ll pardon my reference.
Complete and Total Hell flows well as an album, even though it is a compilation. “Funeral Bell” opens with some Bathory-style atmosphere, and then the record pumps out track after track of chunky and distorted riffs. The early tracks sound like they were recorded straight to cassette in a basement over a boombox—which they may have been. The raw recording works in their favor since the songs emerge from simple building blocks. As the record progresses you can actually hear more and more money flow into Midnight’s recording—the guitar solos clear up, the bass rumbles deeper, until the music breaks into jangly boogie rock on “Berlin is Burning,” over an hour later. Yes, an hour; where Satanic Royalty was brief, Complete and Total Hell is overlong.
Midnight truly do one thing and one thing only: Black Rock N’ Roll, as the band themselves call it—and they do it well. Midnight’s mastermind Jamie Walters has an uncanny ability to fit guitar solos reminiscent of early Kiss into his compositions. If you have never listened to Midnight, know that their sound is a clear result of their influences. They sound like Venom and Motörhead, Kiss and Bathory, Discharge and Diamond Head. Imagining them playing on a bill with an unsigned Metallica is easy, but Bay Area thrash was never this dirty or twisted. At the same time, first wave black metal was never this groovy.
Even on Midnight’s earliest songs they pump out some of the punchiest riffs and most memorable one-line choruses in recent memory. Indeed, many of the choicest cuts like “Unholy and Rotten,” “I am Violator,” and “All Hail Hell” come from their first demo. Midnight are so good at their formula, in fact, that the songs which deviate from it grind the record to a halt instead of breaking up the monotony. I always skip over “Long Live Death,” for example.
There is no reason to provide an atmospheric interlude of a slow song. The pure feeling of acceleration is precisely the point. The faster and more unhinged Midnight play, and the more perverse James’ lyrics become, the better. And for those of you, like me, waiting for their next original slab of black n roll, listen to Complete and Total Hell for another dose—and some more great tunes.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Complete and Total Hell will be released on CD and vinyl on September 25, and pre-orders are welcome at this location. But Hells Headbangers have also put the album on Bandcamp for streaming and download; you can get there via this link. Midnight have a new official web site here. Now, stream away: