Athenar of Midnight Does Not Give a Fuck
Severity in art comes across in nearly innumerable forms. Severity paired with sarcasm does as well, but is far rarer. When done in extreme music, those two concepts usually mix as well as oil and water. But in the case of Cleveland, Ohio’s, Midnight, the blend of the two comes off as not only palatable, but sincere. The gentleman at the core of Midnight is sole msuician Athenar. As the constructor, conductor and orator Midnight’s sonic assault of blackened and death-tinged rock’n’roll, Athenar has increasingly seen Midnight grow in relevance and popularity despite a lack of live performances and media presence. Much of this is due to Athenar being the sole force behind the curtain; he writes and records all parts of the music himself. But in that seclusion plays to the idea that maybe, just maybe, this – life, art, music, metal – is all bit of a farce.
Underneath Midnight is a sense of the idiocy of existence that is simultaneously liberating and arresting. In the new EP and compilation, Shox of Violence, Athenar pushes Midnight even further in this direction with four new rip-roaring tracks as well as covers and re-releases of previous demos and vinyl-only recordings. I had the privilege to speak to Athenar about Shox of Violence, his approach to music in general, and the concept of being a self-aware artist in an increasingly less self-aware world. Check out the second track from Shox of Violence, “Who Gives a Fuck”.
The new EP Shox of Violence is finally being released digitally and on CD and it’s interesting in that in this edition it’s sort of a hybrid between an EP with new tracks and a compilation of covers and older material found on splits and demos.
Yeah, I guess it’s somewhat confusing, because it’s basically a four song EP with new songs. But with the CD version, which we knew we needed to do, instead of doing a full CD we decided to throw a bunch of shit that hadn’t been on CD yet. Basically a bunch of bullshit songs as I like to say, but there’s stuff people wanted to hear as well as covers.
I think that’s what’s sort of neat about this release as well, since it tends to maintain a lot of that underground act that Midnight has become known for while giving harder to find tracks a more easily accessible home.
Yeah, right. It’s kind of a one stop shop for the stuff that was done more early on.
Take me through a bit of the recording process for the new material. My ear finds it to be slightly more full-sounding.
Oh, really? No, actually, it was recorded on even more primitive equipment and in an even faster fashion than the previous stuff. That may mean my playing has unfortunately gotten better? [laughs] But no, it was even more natural and lower budget than the process for Satanic Royalty and No Mercy for Mayhem. The idea of it is that those tunes were written and recorded really quick. You know Hellhammer demos, Onslaught demos, Discharge… That sort of the direction. While not really being what was specifically intended, that’s the way it came out. “Let’s just bash this out and make a four song ripper.”
And that’s sort of what Midnight has become known for, right? Straight and to the point with a rock’n’roll sound and straight from the heart?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean that’s what I’m into, as far as that rock ‘n roll sound. It’s a wide umbrella of interests and influences but a lot of it finds it’s way into what Midnight does. I’m still into that stuff from the 70s and 80s. No one is really reinventing the wheel and there’s still all this music that I listen to and find important.
You’ve been open in the past about how your permanence of living in Cleveland your whole life and growing up in a pretty blue collar background has influenced and molded you. Would you say that’s reflected Midnight’s music or is it more coincidental?
No, I think that’s definitely what it is. It has this… I don’t really know how to described is easily, but it’s this feeling. It’s blue collar. It’s steady. It’s there in the music and I think that comes out.
At what point did you realize in the time of your early projects that Midnight was going to become your primary project?
Well, you get older and it becomes a lot about who can and can’t commit to things. I’m certainly not gonna tell anyone what to do with their life, but it became one of those things. “Well I’ll just stick to recording crap myself and doing it my way.”
Would you say bass is your primary instrument?
Yeah, for sure. I wanted to play drums, but, that wasn’t gonna happen in a house with my parents. [laughs]
You really need your parents to be dedicated to percussion if that’s gonna happen as a kid.
Yeah, absolutely, and I guess bass was just the next best thing.
That makes sense. Midnight’s music is so rhythm heavy. It’s so focused on bass and drums.
Definitely. A lot of these songs write themselves because a lot of it’s based around traditionally simpler ideas. They’ll come to you when you’re driving or watching a game, and it goes from there. A lot of it’s in my head, could be anything, drum beat, bass line, lyrics, whatever. There’s really no one specific way that I’ve ever done it. It’s often very conceptual and then just happens.
The lyrical content of Midnight has always been very deliberate in its diabolical, violent lean.
It’s always what I’m feeling at the time. Lyrics can be tricky. I want to continue writing in my style but I never want to get too tongue twisty. “There’s a fine line between stupid and clever” as Spinal Tap would say. You can rhyme “hell” and “bell” and whatever, but if you start purposely going in that direction you start to go down a much more difficult and less memorable route. I sometimes forget that stuff when I’m on stage so I don’t like to make it difficult. The topics can certainly be things that come straight to my mind, for sure… you know, sometimes it’s “I’m swimming in a lake” and other times it’s “I’m drowning in a pit of hell.” [laughs] But that’s from the top of the head, and I like writing that way much more. It’s not brain surgery.
It immediately makes me think that Jeff Walker from Carcass must be one of the smartest people on the planet, what with all the medical terms and polysyllabic rhetoric in their music.
(laughs) Yeah, and it’s always funny revisiting stuff like Pestilence, which I started enjoying when I was a lot younger. It’s like “holy shit!” Reading through medical dictionaries and finding lyrical inspiration, what the hell?
It’s funny that you bring up Pestilence ’cause I was just going to ask you about some more old school death metal influences, and they were at the top of the list.
Yeah, those first two Pestilence records were great, and the demos were awesome.
You mentioned Spinal Tap earlier in a manner that was actually pretty serious. I mean this as a complete compliment, so take it for what it’s worth, but I’ve always found Midnight to be sort of a tip of the hat to Spinal Tap. It’s almost deliberately over the top in its aggression and its 80s sound, no?
Yeah! Yeah, absolutely. I haven’t really left the 80s. It seems like everything now is either extremely extreme or middle-of-the-road. It’s either a pretty generic sound or jumping from one style to the other. Can we just stick to one sound?
And that certainly speaks to the approach that Midnight employs.
Definitely. That’s what Midnight is; it’s straightforward and to the point.
How much of the modern political and social climate contributes itself to Midnight’s angry sound?
I mean, the world’s always been fucked. It’s just more visible now because everything is recorded and everything’s so instant and visible. But the world has always been fucked, and that’s always been a part of how I write lyrics and approach lyrical themes.
I think that speaks a little to your isolationist approach. Midnight comes off as self-reflective in that sense; anger for reasons that aren’t necessarily borne of outside influence.
Yeah! That’s pretty cool that it comes off that way, because there’s definitely a reclusive element. It’s not direct, necessarily, but I’m an only child, and the writing and recording is done by me. Growing up in that manner, with the “Only Child Syndrome” there’s definitely a lot of that idea of being left alone, you know, pre-internet and everything. Isolationism, like you said.
Going back to the EP and the compilation, you’ve filled it out with these demos and covers. It’s definitely all over the map; covering Venom, Girl School, Crucifixion, Quiet Riot, etc. Were those songs chosen deliberately?
Not really. It was more that I was just in the mood to play those songs. Other than that one Venom song [referring to “In League With Satan”], which was done specifically because it was Venom, it was all just songs I wanted to play and that I thought would work well, to put my own twist on it.
The come-away for me in a lot of this is that your whole process is almost purely organic.
Yeah, it really is. It’s just what I want to play or what sounds good to me.
You’re playing second slot on this year’s Decibel tour, which will be your longest tour ever.. What was it that made you want to get in on that?
Specifically, it was that things have always kind of been the same for me. I’m in my fucking 40s now, ya know, and lots of changes have happened with me, and it has put a lot of things in a different perspective. It’s made me go from turning things down all the time to being more open and looking at it with more of a “why not?” perspective. It was also the fact that Kreator is the headliner, and I jammed to those first Kreator albums as a kid, along with that first Obituary record. But more than anything, it was a personal need to do something. If my dad can go to Vietnam for 13 to 14 months, then I can go on tour for a month [laughs].
So, I have to ask, you have been doing the hoods on stage for some time now. It seems to me like that’s sort of the “New Black” in the extreme metal scene. That coupled with the bullet belts, and going on stage shirtless, there’s some pretty obvious parody to it.
[laughs] Yeah, I mean, it kind of goes back to the Spinal Tap thing. It’s metal.. A band like Man-O-War, or a band like KISS, you can’t say “Well I’m going to work now in a fucking loin cloth”. No way. You can’t seriously do that, ya know. It’s like “This is idiotic, and it rules.” Well, unless you go to work with a breifcase and nice glasses, that’s hilarious too. It’s all just a big fucking joke.
So what I’m gathering is that loincloths are in Midnight’s future?
Eventually, yeah. We’re doing a lot of squat thrusts and core workouts.
So banana hammocks on stage for Midnight?
Yeah, for sure. [laughs].