Review: Let There Be Witchery – Midnight
24-Hour Screenings At The Metal Blade Grindhouse
When Athenar, archdemoniac of horror metal shlockfest Midnight, made the jump from Hell’s Headbangers to Metal Blade Records (good call there, as it turns out), he brought his A-game and put out Rebirth By Blasphemy, a title pointing to a renewal and ascension in form. Sloughing off the crust of the crypt and rubbing all 4 requisite brain cells together yielded a reckless, careening ride of grimy rock’n’roll, true to form, but spilling over with musical potency to create serious hooks and almost ornate riffwork. As ornate as the grindhouse mondo posters that inform Midnight’s album covers and overall aura, at least. In 2020, after 15 years of toiling in the underbelly, Midnight was all new-again, better than you remembered it.
Let There Be Witchery, the newest expulsion of gutsy guitar and phlegm-speckled screeching, seems much more predictable, stamped and pressed through workable but drab forms. My favorite track on Witchery is “More Torment”, an unassuming little mosey through the black’n’roll factory. It’s like watching one of those How It’s Made videos, starting off with a basic little 1-2 blues crunch, affixing the helpful doohickeys like a big hip-swinging string bend, and a step-by-step chord climb for a chorus. By the time it’s over, there you go, a fresh new Midnight scorcher ready to spark up. As a songwriting style, it’s methodical and effective, but missing some personality. There’s no condescension meant here; the man himself is pretty upfront that his output is dictated by scribbling out instinctual punk jams and whipping up batches of quick songs like poison hotcakes. It’s why we love him. The title sums up the entire approach. We already have the torment, just keep cranking out more of it, workmanlike and steady.
Athenar still has his charms, a few snappy tricks that can liven up his seat-of-your-pants writing. He can expand with ghostly accompaniment thanks to some well-placed octave harmonies, like the chorus twist that he conjures in “Sinful Secrecy”. “Nocturnal Molestation” is as tasteless as a chainsmoker’s tongue, just how I like it, and has probably the best solo of the bunch, a throttled gibbering of guitar that contorts all the muscles in your face. And there’s no track I would choose as a lead single over “Szex Witchery”, cresting up full-mast with windmill-ready barre chord bounces. I fucking like this record! Even a by-the-numbers Midnight record has more bite and charisma than any self-serious tripe passing itself off as trve blvck mvtvl.
Still, even if it ain’t doing anything wrong, it feels just a bit less right. It ain’t got the same nasty fun leads spewing from all over like Satanic Royalty, the sharp songwriting of Rebirth By Blasphemy, or even quite the same wild skidding energy as other Midnight outings afore. Witchery feels oddly unadorned amongst its Gorgon sisters in the catalog. Definitely a meaty dish, but the flavor can’t quite indicate what beast it came from. This might have been where this band was always going to end up. You can’t ape so much of cheesy splatter cinema’s tropes and visuals without eventually coming to ape their business model as well. A more generous metaphor might be a big pile of Halloween candy, a treasured haul as you dig in, and then just another dose of sugar as the night gets late and sluggish.
The success and rising power of Midnight came from a weird paradox of recognizability. The entire point is to be the most brass-tacks, cliche-slopped lovechild of Venom and Motorhead, but somehow to mug and ham it up hard enough to stand apart from every other band that also wants to be that. To make an identity out of one’s apparent lack of it, the foremost of impersonators. Athenar’s ear is just so finely trained that he could stitch the the choicest riffs together to buck and bounce so naturally that it almost seemed lazy, a beautiful sleight of hand that shows his musicianship is far more careful than it seems under the hood. Let There Be Witchery, though, seems like a step back from that newfound intensity. Call it Athenar’s South Of Heaven, not a miss by any stretch, but definitely feels like a breather after the last round.