American punk/metal expositors Midnight just get better and better. I don’t know whether many of Athenar’s long-term accolytes would agree with me on that, however. Sweet Death and Ecstasy is by some way the Ohio native’s most accessible work under the Midnight banner, and in the strange and frightening world of underground metal accessible ain’t always a word people want to hear…

For the rest of us, though, there’s a lot to like on SD&E. The production lets Athenar show off his chops on all the instruments, and whilst the buzzsaw garage guitar sound is largely intact the overall feeling is, dare I say it, a little more ‘mature’ than normal.

Opening track Crushed by Demons weighs in at a crushing six and a bit minutes in length (and if you know anything about this band that’s remarkable in itself), but normal brevity is restored on the excellent Penetratal Ecstasy which mixes up the usual Venom and punk influences with some fine soloing and a convincingly unhinged vocal.

Here Comes Sweet Death is Midnight at it’s most ‘commercial’, and I have to say it sounds bloody good. There’s a cow bell at the start of the song to warn off the unsuspecting grimbies, and after that you get a no hold-barred slab of eighties-influenced mayhem. The chorus is a fists in the air singalong funfest, and the big powerchords that prop up the verses are almost catchy in themselves. Blackened hair metal? Quite possibly.

Rabid! Is superb too, giving just the right charge of Motörhead to the soloing to leaven out the Venom worship in the verse riffage, and it’s the best song of it’s type I’ve heard in aeons. Bitch Mongrel keeps the quality control officers at Blackthrash Ltd happy with it’s serrated guitaring and d-beat drum acrobatics, whilst penultimate banger Poison Trash keeps things in speed freak territory before closing track Before My Time in Hell proves that Athenar has more than one sting to his bow by adding some doom and death feels to the pot.

No new tricks to report, really, although the Midnight formula is definitely being tweaked here. But as usual, Athenar gives you the best that he’s got in his arsenal, and this time around that’s a pretty good arsenal indeed. Hats off!

Sweet Death and Ecstasy is out now.