Complete & Total Hell

Midnight are the fantasy band that exist in the moment when Black Flag supported Venom in New Jersey, and Henry Rollins was rapt with respect for the headliners’ wild Satanic abandon. When the first guy to tell Steve Harris how much pure London punk spirit exists in early Iron Maiden albums was rewarded with a bonecrushing handshake and a pint. When a Discharge-obsessed work experience kid at the BBC in 1982 poked his head round the door of a Young Ones script meeting and cheekily suggested that Vyvyan Basterd, despite dressing like a none-more-Vicious gumby punk, should have VERY METAL written on his denim jacket.

I say "fantasy band" because all these events are at best a fanciful rewriting of events and attitudes. Midnight, on the other hand, are an entirely real band from Cleveland, Ohio whose suds-spraying blackened thrash may have you believing that there was never a single social schism between punks and metallers. They are one of the best metal bands currently treading the boards anyfuckingwhere, and in the wake of last year’s Satanic Royalty – their debut LP, although they’re now almost a decade down the line – you are instructed to gobble up Complete And Total Hell, 21 songs which span most of their career and which you could do yourself a financial injury hunting down separately. (There’s an older compilation, Complete And Total Fucking Midnight, with a similar tracklisting, but that’s pretty pricey itself now.)

The roots of Midnight are a grimy tangle which take in various marginal, turn-of-the-millennium hardcore/stoner/noiserock ensembles. Certainly, they’re not metal-über-alles zealots, so the fact that most of their important shit has been released by two of the most puritanical underground extreme metal labels in the game (Nuclear War Now! and Hells Headbangers, who handled Satanic Royalty and this compilation) should tell you something. I bet the main Hells Headbangers dude doesn’t even care that Midnight frontman Jamie ‘Athenar’ Walters is a lifelong teetotaler. In the pantheon of clean-bodied people who make music which is totally great to get wrecked to, Walters is up there with Minor Threat, Jeff Mills and Angus Young. I want to spring from this into some deep thoughts about the lyrics of ‘Vomit Queens’, from Midnight’s blazing 2008 EP Farewell To Hell, but I can’t keep up that straight face. "All hell’s let loose, the puke it flows / There’s no turning back now / Taste the vomit from Baphomet / To no-one I shall bow!" Saluting "a woman throwing up on somebody so she’s in the power position," set to a cross between older Disfear and newer Darkthrone and delivered with the collective battery of a peasant village approaching the castle with a massive felled oak. Hall of fame stuff, this.

It would just about be a lie to say that Midnight emerged fully formed on their 2003 demo, which provides this compilation’s first seven songs, but to discuss issues of progress in their lifetime requires some serious narcissism of small differences. ‘Unholy And Rotten’ is their punkiest early cut, thanks mainly to glue-huffing anarcho-styled drumming; what’s consistently apparent is their wish to write anthems, as in ones with choruses you can holler. ‘All Hail Hell’ satisfies this, as does ‘Hot Graves’ (a pretty good band have even named themselves after this one). They’re pretty clearly suckling the teats of Venom, Bathory, Sarcofago and Mötorhead at this point, but some of the solos could have been wrestled from one of the tuffer cock rock bands of the benighted eighties.

By 2005, they sound like a studio ensemble rather than a garage one; the musicians are sharper and better and tempos are pushed. The four-song EP from that year, which ended up on Complete And Total…, sounds more like a speed metal revival than anything – or, thrash from its brief period of existence before the genre had been officially named, and "generic thrash" was essentially impossible. Its sole midpacer, ‘Take You To Hell’, isn’t far off Turbonegro circa Apocalypse Dudes, albeit with a vocalist who growls like he’s been subsisting on toxic blood capsules and Japanese hardcore bootlegs. To be honest, if you come at Midnight from that whole nineties era of onanistic garage punk –the Dwarves, The Hellacopters, Zeke (especially Zeke) – you’ll probably detect them in about half the album. You might be right, you might not: does it even fucking matter? You don’t unlock a secret level if you correctly guess the precise numbskullery Walters, Bob Zeiger and Shaun Filley were channeling on any given Midnight rammer.

Despite the front you’ll find Walters putting up if you search out some of his interviews, despite the flaming crosses these fucks ignite at their shows, and despite the bulletbelted SLAY ALL POSERS rhetoric that gets chucked around in this pocket of true metal, you don’t have to be some kind of lifer with a neck-ache to get hip to Midnight. I mean, the band released an EP (not included here) consisting of four covers of Seattle bizarro-garage band The Spits. There’s no way they’d exist in quite the same fashion they do now if not for a grounding in punk and hardcore: as a landbound Limey, I’m loath to proclaim too much about their Cleveland heritage, but this is the city that spawned nasty savages like Integrity, Ringworm, the Darvocets – and, a generation before that, the Dead Boys and Pagans (who Midnight covered in fairly faithful fashion).

I could conclude this wordy rimjob by hulking up and saying that if you don’t like Midnight, you don’t like metal. This would however require me to pretend that it’s no later than 1983, and ignore that ‘metal’ is now a vast and ragged tarpaulin which houses acts who are, essentially, opposed to each other in every way. If someone chooses to listen to nothing but, say, Nightwish and the bands who emulate them, they’re a ‘metal fan’. Nothing any of us can do about that, I’m afraid. Just understand this: if you want your metal to come with bombast AND mayhem (or even Mayhem); to have a sense of humour that’s neither Lawnmower Deth-esque zaniness or referencing stuff that no-one will get; to tick all relevant ‘extreme’ boxes but champion melody and hook at all times; to have almost no subpar moments over seventy minutes and seven years… Complete And Total Hell will clean you the fuck out.

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