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The Black Mages - The Black Mages III: Darkness and Starlight CD (album) cover


The Black Mages


Progressive Metal

3.09 | 30 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars A third Final Fantasy gone metal release, the best one yet? I'll make a long review as I haven't reviewed an album in ages.

If you are not aware of what this music is, I'll briefly explain. Black Mages is a project by Japan's famous videogame composer Nobuo Uematsu, known for his contributions to the Final Fantasy games and Chrono Trigger, which at first were groundbreaking and even later he managed to get a huge hit on a soundtrack with vocals Eyes on Me. The Final Fantasy music can be proggy at times, especially on battle themes which sometimes seem influenced by bands like Emerson Lake and Palmer (especially on FF6). With Black Mages, he performs these final fantasy songs into a livelier and metal form with a definitive song structure that contains and intro and an ending (as the songs used to go in repeat during the video games).

This third album generally sounds more mature and definitively more enjoyable than their second album. You might notice that the soloing is much more tasteful and better done here. While you hear eight songs in a row completely instrumental, you would get a relief from the terrible vocalists from their second album ruining songs. There are actually Japanese opera singers on the title track near the album tho, which you might like or not like. They have a good voice, but that style of singing is not for everyone. The new flaw in this album is that some songs start with quite moronic metal riffs. I'll do track-by-track analysis with ratings this time.

01_ Opening - Bombing Mission: As being the intro to Final Fantasy VII with the memorable bombing mission theme tacked in, most FF-fans will easily recognize this one. After a symphonic intro, a piano riff playing low notes at fast speed, it will sound like Keith Emerson is here instead at first. However, you will hear a different style of classical-music writing on rock format with beautiful metal guitar arrangements and various styles of keyboard tones capturing the themes of the song. One particular synthesizer strikes me as beautiful which is near the end, reminding me of 70s Jazz Fusion. In short, this is a fantastic remake to an already good soundtrack theme. 9/10

02_ Neo-Exdeath: I remember this sounding very good for a midi-song back then. As being the final boss theme in Final Fantasy 5, it delivered. The keyboard themes were quite good. For this version, I think that the remake didn't add anything great to the mix. The keyboards sound a bit too much like a videogame and the guitar solos don't add much to the composition. It sounds great as a videogame song but not excellent as a stand-alone piece. 6/10

03_ The Extreme: As someone who played most Final Fantasy, I don't know this song. The introduction is very gentle and well done, combining background synths, piano and acoustic guitar. Then a moronic metal riff with misplaced fanfare-synths bring the song to a not-so-good start. Fortunately, it gets much better when the usual memorable themes start appearing and the guitar starts shredding. I love how they buildup into a beautiful theme at minute three. 7.5/10

04_ Assault of the Silver Dragon: Again, starts with a really unimaginative guitar riff (which reappears later), but this is another great reworking to a not-well-known Final Fantasy 9 song. This song showcases Nobuo playing various synthesizer themes and solos. It's a keyboard-dominated piece with a galloping-rhythm reminding of Iron Maiden. Great stuff! 8/10

05_ KURAYAMINOKUMO: Another song I don't recognize. It begins with a hauntingly dark synth theme but didn't get the time to develop as the typical hard rock interrupts it. There's one memorable theme or two, but the solos are the highlight of the song, especially the chilling hammond near the end. 7.5/10

06_ Different Worlds: Another song I don't recognize, but a beauty and much needed break from the metal songs. This is a very symphonic and relaxing tune with many layers of sounds, whether keyboards, guitars, synthesizers. It makes you visualize exotic landscapes. I do not think the inclusion of the electric guitar was needed but his playing is so tasteful that it doesn't bother me. 9/10

07_ Premonition: This might be one of the best battle themes that Nobuo came up with during his entire career. When I heard it, it was so epic and made fighting Princess Edea and Ultimecia terrifying. I think this is another song that works better as videogame music than as a standalone piece, except that this one is too good to pass up regardless of that. The memorable keyboard themes intertwining with chugging and wailing guitars is very enjoyable. Unfortunately, I believe that the song should have been shorter as the lack of melodies begin to take notice after a while. 8/10

08_ Grand Cross: This prog tune from FF IX is another winner. The first minute is frightening with its menacing string arrangement and what sounds like a bunch of moaning souls. The rest has very good usage of keyboard themes and the most fiery and best guitar work in this album. The ending is just spine-chilling with an apocalyptic guitar solo accompanied with those moaning souls from the beginning of the song. I wish that ending was developed a bit more. 8.5/10

09_ Darkness and Starlight: I can't really love this song, but can respect it as a very ambitious song in which Nobuo poured his heart into. It sounds like a mixture of opera sang in Japanese, Heavy metal, Symphonic Prog, and a song structure in the style of Wakeman's Journey to the Center of the Earth with narration appearing at various parts of the song. The first minute starts in a bad note with some really weak riffs, but then it starts to get better. A male tenor opera voice sings nicely to introduce the piece and some lively arrangements get the composition rolling nicely. A wonderful church organ and narration introduces a new section which is my least favorite due to the female vocalist singing with too much vibrato, though I admit the melody is good despite its simplicity and when she stops singing, it sounds great. Later, it unexpectedly transforms into an odd party-like theme that twists as if an emergency happened during it. That transition is my favorite part of the song and I wish it would have been developed more. Afterward, the two protagonists sing together for a bit until the song turns into a hard rock piece with the male protagonist and male choirs present, power metal style. The song ends with the two singing together. Overall, it is quite an interesting song and I enjoy quite some parts of it, but the female vocals irritate me at times and I also feel like some transitions are too abrupt (like that party-theme that came out of nowhere). 7/10

10_ Life - in memory of Keiten: Nobuo paying a tribute to someone. Just a 1-minute piano piece, but it really makes a great ending to an album, as simple as it is. 7.5/10

Overall, I recommend it to anyone who wants to hear a different type of progmetal/powermetal, in which keyboards take a big presence and memorable themes and riffs (usually played with keyboards) take a large role. Of course, this album is essential for fans of Final Fantasy music.

Zitro | 4/5 |


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