TWO MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT – Midnight Messiah
It was, it seemed, the perfect time for a resurrection. Easter brought the news of a new album (titled ‘Led Into Temptation’) from Midnight Messiah, the band formed by guitarist Phil Denton and vocalist Paul Taylor after the demise of their previous outfit Elixir. It seems, however, that news of Midnight Messiah’s passing had been somewhat premature.
“Phil and I had always intended to make a second album,” Paul asserts from the off. “‘The Sinner Must Die’ was already a firm live favourite, and ‘The Merry Widow’, a track I wrote about thirty-five years ago in the Midas days [Paul’s pre-Elixir band], was deemed worthy enough for a revamp and was also already up and running. With material as good as that, it would have been criminal not to have released it. Besides, Midnight Messiah never really split up. Phil hung his guitar up and Alex the bass player wanted to go back to fronting his own band which left Darren [Lee], Dave [Strange] and myself. We were just at point of recruiting a keyboard and guitar player when Darren had to relocate to Derbyshire, so everything went on hold and, being somewhat in limbo, we all looked round for things to do. Dave was approached by Tytan to join them on lead guitar, Darren hooked up with Weapon UK, as they were based more in the Midlands, and when Desolation Angels found themselves without a vocalist, I gave them a call.”
“The confusion probably arose because I’d stated that I didn’t want to tour any longer,” adds Phil; “I was diagnosed with a rare immune disease five years ago which really affected my health badly and I didn’t feel up to the gigging any longer. So announcing that I wouldn’t be playing live again created the impression that Midnight Messiah was over. However, I’ve been playing guitar and writing songs all my adult life and cannot stop doing that, and as Paul and I had been writing songs continuously since ‘The Root of All Evil’ [their first album] it seemed a shame not to record them.”#
So, aside from the two songs mentioned earlier, the rest of the album was written in what Phil calls “a period of two years from finishing the first album. We began recording, starting with Darren’s drum tracks, in September 2016, so the album took about six months to record and mix. I recorded this album myself on a laptop, aside from the drums which we did at The Lodge Studios because they have a fantastic-sounding, two-storey drum room. I then took the WAV files away and recorded the remaining instruments over a period of four or five months. In November, Paul and I went to a cottage in the middle of Oxfordshire for a week and recorded his vocals, and then the following month I paid a visit to Dave to record his solos. From Christmas to March I mixed, re-mixed, then re-mixed again everything until Paul and I were happy.”
“As a result, I think it’s much more thought out and better produced than the first album,” Paul chips in. “That was more a case of ‘we’ve got nine days to do everything’ which, whilst it added energy, sometimes things got left out or were not pushed to their greatest potential. Phil worked tirelessly on the production of the new album, and when you hear tracks like ‘While Heaven Bleeds’ you can see how well he did.”
‘While Heaven Bleeds’ is indeed one of the album’s highlights (“it’s our ‘Stargazer’, if you will,” says Paul later). “That’s our grand album finale,” says Phil. “If we release a vinyl version, that will be the final track. [On the CD, two bonus tracks follow it.] ‘While Heaven Bleeds’ has the majestic and epic feel that I’d hoped we could capture, and I’m pleased with how it came out. The current sorry state of the world rather inspired that one. The lines ‘what made you think it was the prophet’s higher plan, to tear the world apart and kill your fellow man?’ sum up what we were feeling. The song expresses our despair that someone would want to kill or harm their fellow brothers and sisters in the name of religion.”
As for some of the other songs on the album, “‘The Merry Widow’, as Paul said, is a song that he’d written some time ago; I just poked my nose in and possibly tweaked the arrangement a bit. It has a great classic rock feel like a Seventies’ Thin Lizzy or Led Zeppelin song. I added some percussion under the intro which I thought brought the song to life a little more. Darren plays some great drum grooves on that track. I also did a little trick with Dave’s lead solo; as he ends with a great John Sykes’ type squeal I cut and copied that and bounced it left and right a few times in the mix as it faded out. And as Paul’s vocal is sung low on the intro verse, I copied that to a second track and added some tape distortion to thicken it up. I did say to Paul though that, given her situation, the widow doesn’t sound very merry to me!
“‘The Sinner Must Die’ has a tolling bell effect at the beginning to add a sense of doom for the main character in the song. We’d kicked this one around a bit in rehearsal, and it was Dave who suggested that we add the extra bit at the end. And ‘The Darklands’ is a song that came out better than I’d expected. It has a lot of energy to it, and I like it despite its weird key changes – it’s good for guitar playing because it has lots of chunky riffs!”
I really love ‘The Sinner Must Die’,” agrees Paul. “It’s such a great track for a vocalist and just drives with power from start to finish. And I’m very fond of ‘Right Place, Wrong Time’ too – it was only down to my stubborn insubordination that it got on there. Yes, it does sound very Phil Lynott and Lizzyish, but that’s great because it’s supposed to. As for ‘The Merry Widow’, I agree that it’s not at all cheery; just put that down to my youth,” he laughs. “As I’ve said, ‘The Merry Widow’ is around thirty-five years old! The song, that is,” he suggests helpfully, “not the widow!”
‘Led Into Temptation’ is very much a traditional British metal album, but does have a contemporary twenty-first century feel to it. I wondered if that was what the band had set out to achieve. “Totally; yes,” says Paul. “As a band we always try to take the best of the traditional values – i.e. actual songs, melodies, etc, the things that are important. And Dave does what John Sykes did for Thin Lizzy, in that he keeps the feel of the old school but adds that great modern twist. Phil and I spotted his talent straight away. He is a brilliant guitarist and works extremely hard to be where he is. Combine that with the powerhouse that is Darren behind the drums and it can’t help but kick us old timers up the backside,” he laughs.
“I’d have loved to have had Dave all over the album, just like the on ‘The Root Of All Evil’,” adds Phil, “but as he was tied up with Tytan commitments he only appears on a few songs that were crying out for a great lead.”
As mentioned earlier, the album closes with a couple of bonus tracks, one of which is a remix of ‘King Of The Night’ from the first Midnight Messiah album. “I always felt that the recording and mixing of ‘King of the Night’ was a bit rushed on the first album,” Phil suggests. “As Paul said, we had the studio booked for nine days, so we were against the clock. After playing the song live, it had become apparent that it was becoming one of our most popular songs so, as I now had the luxury of taking as much time as we wanted on it, I felt that it deserved a re-make. I used the original great drum tracks, as it had plenty of power and energy, and there was nothing wrong with Paul’s passionate vocal and Dave’s awesome lead breaks; I just felt that the rhythm guitars needed to be more upfront and the main riff emphasised a bit more in both the left and right channels of the mix. We’d originally recorded Dave on the left playing the main riff, and myself playing the chords on the right side. As soon as I got home and heard it, I felt we had made a mistake, and should have had the main riff in both channels with the chords down the middle. And I also added a new bass line, playing a couple of different things to the original, particularly under the main lead guitar solo.”
As we wrap things up, Phil laughs at the notion that the album title ‘Led Into Temptation’ is a nod towards being lured out of retirement. “No, it just fits with what we are doing with Midnight Messiah,” he explains. “Paul came up with it when we were writing the lyrics for the title track. He then noted that it would be a good follow-up album title to ‘The Root of All Evil’.” Another laugh. “It’s not as deep and meaningful as you suggest!”
© John Tucker April 2017