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Blackmore's Night - Fires At Midnight CD (album) cover

FIRES AT MIDNIGHT

Blackmore's Night

 

Prog Folk

3.31 | 48 ratings

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Kotro
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Heavy knights and fair ladies

The third album by Blackmore's Night represents as huge jump in production value from the previous album, just as that one was so much better than the debut - this band seem to be getting better through the years, this time going for a more personal approach and really finding their own sound. And its funny to think that perhaps some of this personal approach was buried not 500 years ago, but rather on the recent past - Ritchie's rocker past, that is.

This is clear from the very beginning, where, after a small vocal intro by Candice Night, Written in the Stars bursts into a heavy electric guitar riff heavier than everything Blackmore's Night had ever offered up to this point, and more reminiscent of the heydays of Deep Purple and Rainbow, featuring some great drums mimicking galloping and battlehorn-like synths. The keyboards and guitar really add richness and depht to this track, where for the first time Candice Night's vocals serve more as an accompaniment to the music rather than the opposite. It's probably the strongest opener they ever had. The Times they are a Changin' is a clever break from the energy of the first track. It's another cover, this time of the Bob Dylan song, but done in a very delicate, Tudor-like mood, with woodwinds, delicate percussion and acoustic guitar. And, once again, like most of Blackmore's Night covers, they make it pretty much their own, reducing the original to a forgettable footnote in music history. I Still Remember follows, a gentle ballad opened by an Eastern flavoured intro just before Candice begins her delicate and soothing singing. Soon enough Blackmore reaches for the Strat offering some great accompanying chords and a great guitar solo. Not as heavy a song as the first track, but miles above what Blackmore's Night have gotten us used to, with Ritchie finally showing why he is considered one of the greatest guitar players in rock history. The following track, Home Again is a great tavern folk song, a clear invitation to sing-a-long to its catchy chorus, given extra life by the cheerful choir after the melancholic build-up by Candice. Great acoustics and woodwinds. Crowning of the King picks up from the mood of the previous track, a cheerful and majestic track filled with great trumpets and horns passages and delicate acoustic guitar and woodwind sections. Fayre Thee Well is the first of the mandatory small Blackmore instrumentals, here served by overlaid acoustic guitars. Ultimately it serves as a nice intro to the mammoth title track that ensues: Fires At Midnight displays its dark mediaeval credentials from the first chords, soon followed by the delicate vocals by Candice over a lush keyboard-created atmosphere in the background. The acoustic guitar is also heard somewhere in there. At this point, it not a very exciting track like the previous ones, but there is something quite hypnotic in it - soon the heavy sounds of drums and bagpipes are heard in a galloping instrumental passage. The drums remain for the reprise of the first sections, Candice's vocals a bit stronger this turn. The heavy instrumental section repeats, as if challenging Candice, before crumbling to Earth as Ritchie comes to the aid of his lady with his weapon of choice, the mighty Stratocaster, delivering a scorching solo. All parts of the song come together for an exciting finale. Progressive rock? Hell yes.

Like the second track, Hanging Tree serves as a quiet contrast to the power of the preceding song, a gentle acoustic ballad with an pretty chorus and very rich arrangements, the strings being worthy of special mention. It is followed by the slow-starter Storm, opened by a great acoustic guitar solo and an almost a-cappella vocal intro by Candice. The guitars suddenly speed up, accompanied by violins and bass, as well as some keyboard bursts. The drums then introduce the really fast-paced rhythm of this song, only stopping for short periods of time where we hear the great interplay between acoustic guitar and violin. Candice's vocals are full of energy on this track, and the instrumental passages are sublime and quite exciting, featuring one of the finest rock solos delivered via acoustic guitar I ever heard. By now this album has already surpassed any previous Blackmore's Night offering, with nine excellent songs. So it is only natural that it should go a bit downhill from here on. Mid-Winter's Night is a return to the gentle Renaissance-inspired bucolic love ballads of previous works. Not by any means a bad track - composition, instrumentation and arrangements are all top notch, but the end result is ultimately too boring, especially after all the energy displayed on the first two thirds of the album. All Because of You is the exact opposite, but this one resembles too much a so-so pop song with great guitar (see later Fleetwood Mac) rather than a proper folk-rock song. Again, not bad, but sub-par. Waiting Just for You really picks up from Mid-Winter's Night, beginning like another bland love song, but somewhere in the middle it kind of picks itself up with the help of some good drumming and backing horns and keyboards. Praetorius (Courante) is the second and last instrumental, a bit more cheerful than the first, this time benefiting from the accompaniment of woodwinds rather than just having the acoustic guitars. Like the previous ones (both on this album and others), it is quite pleasant to hear in the moment, but not something very memorable once you turn off the stereo. Banzai-Ten is another gentle ballad-like song, this time inspired by medieval Japan with all the musical influences that carries. Village on the Sand is actually an island amidst the second half of the album, an excitingly catchy electric guitar-driven folk-rock piece, bringing to mind the question "how would Jethro Tull sound if they sang about pirates?". Great rhythm, instrumentation and electric guitar work by Ritchie. Candice's vocals could use a bit more energy (like the one she usually displays live), but as they are they're not enough to ruin the song. It fades away with a Ritchie solo, soon to be followed by the farewell final track Again Someday, a small acoustic guitar-driven piece with Candice singing us a lullaby.

Fires At Midnight was actually my first venture into the realm of Blackmore's Night, and I was delighted at the time. This album remains one of my all-time favourites, and I still find it the best they've ever done. Compared to previous albums, there is a clear improvement on many levels: composition, arrangements, percussion (no more drum machines!) to name a few. It is also a bit more Prog and a lot more Rock (what a delight hearing Blackmore doing what he does best!) than the first albums, which for this listener is an obvious plus. In fact, Fires At Midnight could have been an almost perfect folk-rock album, but Blackmore's Night creativity might have been their own worst enemy here - at 70-plus minutes, the album is simply too long for its own sake, and this is especially damaging when the material for most of the second half of the album is miles away from the quality of the first nine tracks. Personally, I would have been happy (perhaps even delighted) with the absence of the tracks between Storm and Village On The Sand. Still, 55 minutes of great music in a 70 minute album is not a bad bargain. This is an album that should really please the more open- minded progheads, the Deep Purple fans, and less demanding folkies. 4,5 - almost but not quite there.

Kotro | 4/5 |

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