Blind Guardian, Nightfall in Middle Earth (Century Media 1998, 2007 reissue)

My servant you'll be for all time.

It isn't often that I get to hear the words that Morgoth, the Black Foe of the World, uttered to his lieutenant, Sauron, the future Lord of the Rings, in the dark depths of the fortress of Angband at the end of the cataclysmic War of Wrath. With his rich, menacing baritone, Morgoth convinces as the rebel archangel who could seduce lesser spirits into his service, and cause them to desert their allegiance to the noble Valar, their rightful overlords.

With the avenging host of the Valar having broken into Angband, the uncharacteristically obsequious Sauron counsels his dread master to seek safety in the bowels of the stronghold. Morgoth rejects this advice, and orders Sauron to instead save himself. “I left ruin behind me when I returned,” he ruminates after his servant with a famous career ahead of him has departed, “but I also carried ruin with me.”

If this does not send chills up your spine, then you are as cold and lifeless as a barrow-wight. But as a certified Tolkien geek since the age of ten, this is right up my alley. German metal band Blind Guardian has delivered a tour de force rock album based upon Professor Tolkien's famed legendarium, The Silmarillion. Remastered in 2007, Nightfall in Middle Earth (1998) is a dark and brooding contemplation of the fall of the Noldor Elves after Morgoth steals the priceless jewels, the Silmarils, kills their king, and absconds to his icy fortress in the far north of Middle Earth.

I won't even attempt to describe what flavor of metal this album represents. Blind Guardian is described as a power metal band, but I see Nightfall in Middle Earth as something else. Imagine the product of a collaboration between Queen and Def Leppard based upon Tolkien's great fantasy world, and this is the result. With operatic flourishes, and driving metal, Blind Guardian has captured the spirit - the pathos especially - of The Silmarillion. It is not a happy album, but, then again, The Silmarillion is not a happy book. Combining traditional metal songs with much shorter pieces, and perhaps most intriguingly, with spoken word compositions, such as "War of Wrath," which is quoted at the beginning of this review, Nightfall in Middle Earth is suffused with a sense of irreplaceable loss, the sad but defiant spirit of the ancient North. Blind Guardian has picked out some of Tolkien's most poignant, moving stories and set them to music.

We feel the rage and sorrow of the hot-tempered elf craftsman Feanor in the album's best track, "Nightfall," as he reproaches the impotent Valar after the murder of his beloved father. He asks them “The enemy of mine, isn't he of your kind?” In "Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill)," we stand with the valiant Fingolfin, High King of the Noldor Elves in Middle Earth, as he duels the wicked Morgoth in vain. "Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns)" explores the catastrophe that the Noldor, glorious and mighty, but arrogant and proud too, have brought upon themselves in their rash pursuit of Morgoth without the aid, or even blessing, of the Valar.

Nightfall in Middle Earth is a concept album in the truest sense of that term. It is an older album, originally released in 1998, but its sound is very much Eighties metal. If you are a fan of Tolkien, then you must give this album a chance.

reviewed by Marc

A live performance of "Nightfall"

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