Back in the early ’90s, the Christian alternative scene was flooded by a number of industrial bands. Following in the wake of such pioneers as Blackhouse and The November Commandment, bands like Mortal, Circle of Dust, Generation, Deitiphobia, X-Propagation, globalWAVEsystem, Passafist, and Under Midnight all released albums that, at the time, seemed incredibly groundbreaking, especially for the staid Christian market.
I remember the first time I heard Mortal, courtesy of my friend Daniel: I was a junior in high school at the time, and I remember thinking “Christians are finally making good music.” This was also right around the time when Ministry released Psalm 69 and Nine Inch Nails released Broken, so it was cool to hear Christians making cutting edge music that didn’t feel a decade behind the times… or so it seemed to my angst-ridden, 16-year-old self.
Those bands’ albums have all aged to varying degrees. I still have a great fondness for the first Mortal albums, Lusis and Fathom, due in large part to Jyro Xhan’s lyrics, which are bit more poetic (think Gerard Manley Hopkins) than your typical industrial fare. A few weeks ago, I rediscovered Circle of Dust’s first two albums, which I enjoyed quite a bit (especially Brainchild). And I have a special fondness for Under Midnight’s debut, a concept album about a cult using virtual reality to control people’s minds, all told with copious metal guitars and Blade Runner samples.
Over the last few years, Chad Thomas Johnston has been doing a great work trying to shed some light on this era of Christian music, and many of the artists that operated on the fringes of CCM (e.g., Undercover, The Choir, Michael Knott, The Prayer Chain). So it’s not too surprising that he tracked down the former members of Under Midnight for a lengthy interview for the March 2014 issue of Down The Line Magazine. A couple of snippets…
Chad Thomas Johnston: Where did Under Midnight come from, creatively speaking? What were the origins of the band, both in name and concept?
Mark Robertson: Caesar came up with the name. I was in a band called The Stand and we were signed to Wonderland. I coproduced the In Three Days record, and Caesar thought I had strong production instincts and asked me to come up with a project.
I’d been messing around a lot with sampling/programming, was a huge fan of Einstürzende Neubauten, Test Dept, Skinny Puppy, etc. I was also intrigued by the second wave industrial bands that used metal/punk guitar: Ministry’s Land of Rape and Honey and Nine Inch Nails’s first record, which appealed more to Caesar than the original industrial ‘musique concrete’ thing I was into. I had also gone off the deep end for cyberpunk literature — William Gibson, in particular. Blade Runner was a very obvious influence, with all that dystopian stuff.
Caesar Kalinowski: At the time, I thought we needed a name like PM Dawn — such a cool band name — and then Under Midnight came up. And then Thom Wolfe came up with the logo, and it was so freakin’ perfect.
It’s been 20 years since your self-titled debut was released, so we are living in the future — at least as your 1992-self might have thought of it. How does that future measure up to your expectations? Do you think there are elements of our present day and age that make Under Midnight’s records seem prophetic?
MR: I think it’s exactly the way we envisioned it, but not because we were so smart. Orwell and Huxley saw all of this years before we were born. Things are moving along more or less the way it appeared they would back then. The cautionary side of those records is still the same: Be careful what you wish for.
Prophetic would be a very generous thing to say about those records. Maybe you had to be there, but the church was very concerned with virtual reality, the World Wide Web, all that stuff. And I was reading tons of cyberpunk and futurist writing. The concept seemed pretty obvious to me at the time. Think of Under Midnight as the evangelical soundtrack to Blade Runner. That’s the easiest way to describe it.
As an added dose of nostalgia, here’s the video for Under Midnight’s big single, “Cyber Vision.”
Which has not aged very well… at all.