Review Summary: Blackmore's Night triumph yet again with their third offering, creating not only a more ambitious and epic musical sound but also a sense of content and uplifting happiness in the listener.
By taking one look at the front cover of Blackmore’s Night’s third album, you’d probably be wondering if Candice Night and Ritchie Blackmore had gone for a darker and somewhat more mysterious approach to their music. While this may be in part true due to songs such as the album’s title track (suspiciously entitled ‘Fires at midnight) and ‘The storm’, the musical tone in general is, as on their two previous albums, enchanting and uplifting.
The band’s second effort "Under a violet moon" was slightly more successful than their debut, granting the band a New Age Voice award for the best vocal album of 1999. It also developed their sound to a much more ambitious take on their medieval influenced Folk Rock, an aspect that is even more developed on ‘Fires at midnight’. The band’s third album was also a finalist for the New Age Voice award, and even went on to achieve Gold status in the Czech Republic. Whether this undoubtedly deserved success was a direct cause of Ritchie Blackmore incorporating more electric guitar parts in numerous songs on "Fires at midnight" or not is debatable, but it is certainly something that deems the band’s third album slightly different to their previous releases.
The one thing that makes "Fires at midnight" stand out a little more than the rest is perhaps the more epic structures of songs such as the title track and ‘The storm’. Both songs are very tense, and build up very gradually into something explosively ambitious, thanks in part to the many folk instruments that are used very effectively, including horns, violins, and even in rare instances the hurdy gurdy. However, the title track is probably the lighter of the two since the instruments seem to follow the tone of Night’s voice very closely, whereas on ‘The storm’ the instruments each find their own space and charge the song at a very fast pace, providing a possible soundtrack that could fit in with any fantasy-related film (and no, I’m not merely referring to LOTR). In particular it is how Blackmore uses the electric guitar to give the sound a bit of a kick and a lot more power than perhaps would be suggested by Night’s vocal style. Blackmore doesn’t seem to be afraid to provide a sound that has more in common with the harder songs of Rainbow and Deep Purple than it does with numerous songs on the "Shadows of the moon" album. In ‘The storm’ he uses his electric guitar to back a galloping drum beat which focuses purely on the epic atmosphere than it does in keeping to Night’s soothing voice.
However, the one thing that has drawn Blackmore’s Night’s fans in the most is probably the excessive use of folk instrumentation. Of course, it just wouldn’t be the same if instruments such as the violin, bagpipes and the recorder didn’t make themselves known so much on songs like ‘Home again’, ‘Hanging tree’ and ‘All because of you’. In particular however it is songs such as ‘Home again’ and its accompanying follow-up tune ‘Crowning of the king’ (with a very vivid image of a king being crowned in the Renaissance era), which not only feature the most prominent use of every folk instrument imaginable, but also a crowd that seems to sing along with Night and even clap encouragingly along to the music, so that it would seem these songs were in fact recorded live at a festival. Even on songs such as the instrumental ‘Praetorius (Courante)’ and ‘Fayre thee well’ the listener can grasp a feeling of such uplifting and cheery happiness that it's quite hard not to smile and hum along contentedly to every second.
Yes, there are a couple of songs that could be deemed filler material to even the most focused of listeners, including the very sombre yet mellow ‘Midwinter’s night’ and the somewhat cheesy romance of ‘Waiting for you’, but by taking into consideration the fact that Blackmore and his wife were only ever going to have fun making songs like these, you can forgive them easily. Blackmore’s Night has always been a band to embrace mutual passions for the Renaissance era and medieval imagery, and on ‘Fires at midnight’ these passions are more than a little displayed. To say that this is the band’s best album would perhaps be a little hasty, but if there is only ever one album that is to be recommended to an unknowing listener, it would be well advisable to state "Fires at midnight" since it encapsulates everything the band have ever done well.