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Chinese Rock

And the Twilight of Midnight

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It's nearly dinnertime in Cleveland, and in 10 minutes "Athenar"—whom I envision on the other end of the line surrounded by mistresses and wearing his trademark executioner's hood—will hang up and become Jamie Walters for the evening. The artist behind Midnight—an elusive one-man torchbearer of first-wave black metal—works as a host at a Chinese restaurant, "saying hello and telling [diners] where the fuck to sit down," he laughs.

Yes, purists, even this Venom-worshipping savior of the death-to-poseurs underground is a wage slave. He says he's an average 35-year-old Ohio lifer beneath that face-concealing hood, which he felt compelled to first don when he began Midnight in 2003. "Everybody's gotta have an image," he says. "Unfortunately, I'm not blessed with cool long hair and neat facial piercings and awesome facial hair."

But to listen to Midnight's latest record, Farewell to Hell, is to hear Walters lording above us mortals as a six-armed rock god, mocking modern metal with crusty rampaging riffs, blitzing Chuck Berry leads, over-the-lawn-mower Bathory howls, and a threat to take our women back to Cleveland. It might be the best thing to ever float to the top of Lake Erie, and as the artist explains, there is no point in trying to outdo it: Midnight, the studio band, is dead.

"Do you honestly go: 'Hey, I like Agnostic Front. I'm going to put on whatever dog-shit album they put out in 1998?'" he says. "You put on Victim in Pain. 'Oh, man, I love Discharge.' What are you going to listen to? You're going to listen to the singles and Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing. So... why make more than two records?"

Midnight is still, tentatively, a live band. And much like Portland's Toxic Holocaust—a similar outfit for which Athenar has played bass—the one-man band has grown into a full-fledged three-piece. "Who just wants to look at some dude in a hood sitting by himself on a stage?" says Walters. "You at least have to make it look somewhat like a party."

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