Hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, Midnight Force have made tremendous strides in their two years of existence. In late 2016, the fledgling quartet released a well-received EP entitled Restless Blade. Now, barely a year later, Midnight Force return with their full-length debut, Dunsinane, which some will recognize as the infamous site of Macbeth’s defeat and demise in Shakespearean lore. You know, “Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.” The eight-song album reproduces just one track (the excellent “Crystal Talon”) from the EP, as well as both cuts from the “Scarlet Citadel” digital single released last summer. With striking black-and-white detailed (and apparently hand-drawn) cover artwork, a different distinctive symbol depicted in the CD booklet to accompany each song, and a decidedly old-school DIY flair, Midnight Force definitely have captured a certain specific visual aesthetic.
Musically, Midnight Force have often been lumped in with today’s NWOBHM revival, and it isn’t difficult to understand why. Dunsinane owes much to the legendary British musical movement of the early 1980s, from the defiantly old-fashioned riffs of Ansgar Burke to the wailing, straining, heartfelt but acquired-taste vocals of John Gunn to the musty, rickety production values and the naïve, exuberant, urgent songwriting. Songs like the adrenaline-pumping Maiden-style “Killer” and “Down with King” are short, to-the-point NWOBHM style bangers sure to please fans of bands like Amulet or the Dissonance Productions hordes. But this is no cookie-cutter, faceless band. What sets Midnight Force apart from the scads of younger acts trying their hand at this style today is the unmistakable epic metal touch in their compositions. The band cite Manilla Road as one of their primary influences, and that epic feeling shines through on some of the more extended workouts like “Witchfinder” or the aforementioned “Crystal Talon.” Eight-minute closer “Dunsinane” expands further on Midnight Force’s sonic palette, sounding semi-folky and progressive and off-kilter and epic as all hell, not a million miles away from Hallas or Night’s Raft of the World or something, while featuring a terrific flute performance from guest Jenny Tingle. Although I enjoy much of the material, my clear favorite tune is track seven, “Warlord Eternal,” which beautifully marries the NWOBHM and epic metal strands of Midnight Force’s sound while also featuring a magnificent chorus, “I’m a king, I’m a savage, I’m a warlord / I rule with an iron hand.” Simply sublime, especially when the tune kicks into high gear in the final minute or so.
There is no question that Dunsinane is rough around the edges. A polished diamond this is not. But it is exciting to hear a young band taking a time-honored, well-worn sound and making it feel fresh. Midnight Force have taken some chances. They’re not just blindly adhering to the paint-by-numbers Diamond Head / Angel Witch playbook. A band steeped in the genre classics while still retaining a devil-may-care sense of experimentation is the type of band that can move this style of music forward in the 21st century rather than being trapped in the past. For all its work-in-progress qualities, Dunsinane is highly enjoyable, both in its own right and for what it may portend for our beloved music should Midnight Force put all the pieces together and perfect their craft on album #2.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~