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


The Black Mages

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4 stars After a long hiatus of four years, the Black Mages return with a great new album entitled The Black Mages III: Darkness and Starlight. While some of you readers find the previous endeavours of this band mediocre and weak (especially their last album, which was terrible at most times), you will most certainly not be disappointed by this new album. Nobuo Uematsu, after reflecting for four years, finally came up with a full-proof work of Progressive Metal. First of all, the musicians have come a long way since the last album. The drummer Arata Hanyuda has done a remarkable job here, with non-stop action, and keeps up perfectly with the rest of the band. The guitarists Tsuyoshi Sekito and Michio Okamiya are in constant fight for dominance, resulting in explosive reefs and solos and whatnot. Last, but not least, the keyboard, the main instrument of this band, is down right to genius. The production of this album isn't squeaky clean like the one in their last two albums, and is a lot more dirty, giving the album an overall feeling of a Metal album. The drums are a lot more powerful, the guitars rely a lot on bass sounds and the bass is perfectly audible, however the keyboard still has a clean, crisp sound. The reason for this is quite obvious: keyboards must sound like this, no matter which kind of music you intend to play with it.

A few comments about the musics and the band in general: while listening to this CD, you have to keep in mind that a couple of tracks can become slightly repetitive, since they were originally video game musics. Thankfully, the band did an awesome job in keeping variety, something they hadn't quite nailed in their last CDs. Also, there is only one track with vocals, Darkness and Starlight, which is, in fact, an Opera Rock piece. While this might not seem like an important detail for some people, for others that alone is enough for them to not listen to this CD (a shame, really).

While this is a great album, there's a track I'm not particularly happy with: Distant Worlds. For starters, this music had a weak rearrangement. Also, this music has a slow pace, and that alone kills the momentum built by the previous tracks. And to top it all off, this music wasn't composed by Nobuo Uematsu himself. Why the hell did they even bother rearrange this music? I have no idea.

The other tracks are non-stop action, being the most powerful tracks Bombing Mission and Grand Cross, both of them demanding a constant headbang and air guitar, if you know what I mean. Darkness and Starlight is also an interesting and fun Opera Rock music. Some people might complain about the voices, but I personally like them.

Overall a great album, 4* material. If you're looking for a different experience, or for an oriental Progressive Power Metal album, this is it! Also, I highly recommend this album to all fans of the Final Fantasy videogame series.

Report this review (#165666)
Posted Friday, April 4, 2008 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#166145)
Posted Wednesday, April 9, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars well... i'm a huge fan of Nobuo Uematsu and other japanise composoers of game music so Black Mages are nothing new to me. Also the idea of creating a prog metal band by Uematsu and his companions didn't surprised me, because i know about music fascinations and roots of Nobuo's music (he listen to evrything: from Elthon Jon by camel, rush and king crimson trough some chease j-pop celebrities).

First cd was an medicore album on i'ts own, dedicated only to fans of Final Fantasy. But it was a succes. Second cd was more ambitious, but in artistic field it failed. But this also was a succes. Now after 4 years of silence Black mages comes with their trhiud longplay. Is it good? Lates see

1.Opening - Bomboing mission- final fantasy 7- a memorable opening, with mystical keyboard intrudaction and powerfull guitar work wich comes after one and a half minute in elp style rocker based on superfast kayboard work. Wonderfull guitar work and stunning drums over whole song. This what i wanted. 10/10

2.Neo EXDETH- final fantasy 5- a hard rocking final batlle theme from ff5. I has it moments, but for me the base song is not so good itself. It's a kind of old DT- rocker... hmmm... lets say 7/10

3.The EXTREME- final fantasy 8- theme from final batlle with Ultimecia. I always liked this song. It has beutifull acustic-ambient opening and then speed up to bulid a fascinaiting keyboard based rocker. Some misplaced tunes here, but overral great work. Espaccialy a somwhat weired guitars and great keybord play. 8,5/10

4.Assult of the silver dragons -final fantasy 9- theme ending third disc of this game (or beginnig of fourt, i'm not sure now). Another good, keyboard driven rocker. In the end it builds to one of the most noble Nobuo's themes... wonderfuul, airy, somwhat melancholic, it can take you to the skies. Overall 8/ 10

5.Dark Cloud-final fantasy 3- theme of main evil in ff3- it's not a first rearange of this tune, you can find one in a music novel maked from ff3. BUt this version is better- it's have a strong retro feeling wich fits here perfectly. If you know previos BM cd you can describe it as a continuation of batlle with four fiends. Very rocky, and with guitar riffs on first plan. Some graet symphonic moments invluded. 7,5/10

6 Distatnt world- final fantasy 11: online- long and non composed by Uematsu but beutifful and mystical. Sounds rather like MItsuda's work (but it's not his work after all)... after all this metal storms a perfect theme for some rest: great harp and piano cooperation and some heartcatching keyborad melodies. 9/10

7.Permonition: final fantasy 8. - theme from batlle with sorceress. A great metal, DT-like, song. Wonderfull drumming and guitar soloing. But song is somwhat annoying, it loses melody somtimes. 7,5/10

8. Grand Cross: final fantasy 9. Another final batlle theme. Starts with great intro with some weired painfull screams in the background. After that we aproach a powerfull , hard, riffy metal smasher. A song to play loud and disturbing neighbours. Very good one. Riffy, catchy, with a great rythm and incredible guitar and keyboards solos. 9,5/10

9.Darkness and starlight: final fantasy 6. -opera from the game, now with singing , not writen text and MID voice. Long piece with horrible japanse narration. The song itself is good but i'm not a lover of this kind of tracks, opera vocals and stuff... for me only real flaw of the album. 6/10

10LIfe- short piano outro by Uematsu

Lets see... 4 stars. The best black mages album. Not only for fans of final fantasy. For all fans of prog metal.

Report this review (#166267)
Posted Thursday, April 10, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars The 3rd album from the Black Mages is here, and i'm reliefed that it's better then their 2nd album let's start with the opener - Opening - Bobimg Mission (Final Fantasy VII) is a very great opener, nice keyboard sounds and imo one of the best songs on the album - Neo EXDEATH (Final Fantasy V) not bad, nice guitar playing, but could've been better - The Extreme (Final Fantasy VIII) great prog version of this FFVIII song, with good keyboards and guitars - Assault Of The Silver Dragons (Final Fantasy IX) song from FF9 when Kuja attacks on his Silver Dragon it's a nice song, starts weak, but gets better to the end, again great keyboards - KURAYAMINOKUMO (Final Fantasy III) A song from FF3 that not everyone will know, the song suprised me with nice guitar sounds, nice solo - Distant Worlds (Final Fantasy XI) song from the online Final Fantasy game, FF11, and probably the least known one, it's a very calm song, which makes it just great, a very symphonic sound, a nice rest from the other songs - Premonition (Final Fantasy VIII) A battle song from FF8 against the sorceress, a great song with amazing keyboard sounds in it. and good guitar sounds - Grand Cross (Final Fantasy IX) another great song from ff9, starts with the hauling of souls, or something like it, after it great synthesizer and guitar playing - Darkness And Starlight (Final Fantasy VI) Opera song from the opera scene in FF6, it's a nice song, that grows on you, the japanese opera singing is getting used to, but once the song has grown on you, you'll like the singing, The singing didn't bother me - Life ~ In Memory Of KEITEN ~ a short piano piece in memory of someone, it's a nice tune and nice outro to the album

The album is very good, not as good as their 1st, and the epic song on this one isn't as good as Dancing Mad on their first, but still good album, better then their 2nd

I give it a 4 star rating, making it an Excellent addition to any prog music collection

Report this review (#166379)
Posted Friday, April 11, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars The Black Mages - 'Darkness and Starlight' 3.7 stars

Another solid and best (so far) effort from these gamers.

Nobuo Uematsu and his team came back very strong after being quite for nearly 4 years. They seem to have decided to span the tracks from across the vast timeline that is Final Fantasy; grabbing a little bit from here and there.

The musicianship is again, a top notch performance. The main difference in all of the Black Mages albums is the choice of songs, in my opinion, and I feel like they chose some great tracks and kept it varied very much.

The disc starts out quite strong with the classic bombing mission song from Final Fantasy VII. It is by far one of their best renditions of the original work, capturing the original feel to turning it into a very good track to appeal to the masses. There were two tracks that I despised quite a bit on this album which are 'Neo-EXDEATH' and 'KURAYAMINOKUMO'. Neo is the kind of video game song that cannot be redone in a modern setting; it is way too dull and cannot be taken outside its original form. The latter I mentioned just didn't really go anywhere, I found myself to be really bored listening to that track.

Other than that, all the tracks worked out well. I'll have a little section for the two intense tracks that really separate this work from the previous two outputs. 'Grand Gross' turned the last boss battle in FFIX into a ridiculous fully blown out prog-metal masterpiece. The track was all over the place on the guitars, but the keyboard kept the melody flowing. I was extremely impressed by the musicianship on that track. The title track is the other track that is great. I might be subjective here since this track might take a real big Final Fantasy fan to appreciate. Basically, the track is a rendition of an 'opera' featured in one of the games. Except, this version is a 15 and a half minute blow out version of it. It still features some of the opera vocals and some by the band, which can also be a turn off since it is in Japanese. The solos carry the music beautifully; it is really the first solos on any Black Mages albums to be a soft, melancholic and ultimately beautiful solo.

All in all..a great effort by this band. Recommended to fans of their music and any newcomers willing to try should check this one out first.

Report this review (#169894)
Posted Monday, May 5, 2008 | Review Permalink
2 stars Undoubtedly some of the best and some of the worst of all the Black Mage Output. The album opens well with the previously missing Opening - Bombing Run from FF7 followed by a decent FF5 final boss song NEO Exdeath. The Extreme and Premonition are the two other highlights for me. The rest was of this was poorly inspired especially the horrible rendition of the FF6 operas (one of Uematsu's finest pieces in the original soundtrack). This album is not recommended unless you must have the tracks in highlighted in the beginning of the review. 2 stars
Report this review (#179913)
Posted Monday, August 18, 2008 | Review Permalink
Queen By-Tor
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars I hope they've got some Phoenix Down in their bags...

Japan geek-metallers, The Black Mages are back for more, but something seems to be missing this time out. While the band has released two exquisite albums before this one capitalizing on making progressive-metal out of the soundtracks to the Final Fantasy video game series it seems by this point the band is running out of ideas. While there's still a few classic moments to be had on this album for the most part it feels samey and, at times, uninspired.

One of the biggest draws for video game fans is the knowledge that you're going to hear your favorite 8-bit tunes brought to life by some excellent musicians. One of the biggest problems with this album is it's selection of such tunes. While the previous albums rang true on just about every track it seems that the band ran out of familiar tunes and has had to revert to using the more obscure songs from the soundtracks. Only a few of the songs are recognizable, even to the hardened Final Fantasy veteran and while this certainly would not be a valid point if where the only thing holding the album down there's other factors at play as well. The songs that are recognizable are the shortest of the bunch, and while that's not a bad thing in general there's always the hope that a song like the excellent opener, Bombing Run, will run for more than 5-minutes, but to no avail. KURAYAMINOKUMO is the other song that's immediately recognizable, and it's another good one that runs unfortunately short. Some songs should have been very noticeable off the bat, especially a tune like the final-boss fight from FFV, Neo EXDEATH, a tune that (if you're familiar with the series) most hardcore fans could whistle to you at a moment's notice. Here it sounds familiar, but vaguely.

The musicianship on the record is impressive as always, but there's a certain energy that is strangely absent. Even in the good songs like Bombing Run there's an overplay of a strangely soft keyboard that doesn't seem to demand much of the audience. One of the best things about these guys is the aggression that they've put into some of their previous albums, especially on songs that are meant to represent grand battles. Assault of the Silver Dragons is a point where this does not apply - and this one is an absolute classic that every Black Mages fan should hear. This is everything the band has done well before - aggressive guitars and keyboards with flashy soloing and a good hook.

Most of the rest of the songs on the album are strangely unremarkable. What's odd about that is that on the band's previous albums most of the tunes had a life of their own and each one had a kind of personality. On the first record, even Battle Scene and Battle, Scene II were very different in approach and memorable in their own ways. On this record it gets hard sometimes to tell a distinct difference between something like The Extreme and Grand Cross, and everything turns in wailing on chords.

Luckily the end of the album is supported well by the band's most ambitious effort to date, the 15-minute long title track. For those who are unfamiliar with the game series, there's a scene in Final Fantasy VI in which one of the characters has to perform in an opera, and this song is the score to that opera. Of course, in the game the cut scene was not 15 minutes long, so the boys had some room to experiment and add pieces here. The singing is in Japanese and in an operatic manner with spoken word throughout. Some parts come off as forced while others shine through beautifully as the song makes its way to the end. A few weak moments, but overall a great track that has made significant improvements on the style of the title track from the previous album, The Skies Above. After that the album ends with a reflective and short, touching piano piece called Life ~In Memory Of Keiten~.

So while the album has its moments this one is definitely aimed more at the hardcore fans than a general populous. Fans will still get a kick out of select songs while the broader range of people might just wonder what it is they're listening to. If someone were to ask which Black Mages album to buy, however, this would be the last one in line for recommendation. 2.5 stars out of 5, good to have the boys back on the scene, but hopefully their next effort has a bit more oomph to it.

Report this review (#185044)
Posted Wednesday, October 8, 2008 | Review Permalink
2 stars It holds a special place for Final Fantasy fans as select songs from certain games get a prog metal treatment. I've never played a FF game in my life, even coming from the generation that grew up with video games and owning a couple of PlayStation consoles in my adolescence, so I have no emotional attachment to the pieces here. Musically, it's just a cross of Dream Theater and ELP with no vocals; hardly an original musical style even if Uematsu's compositions are original. The only song I like is the epic title track and that's due to the operatic vocals and dramatic setup of the piece. Mainly for FF fans as I really cannot see the necessity of DARKNESS AND STARLIGHT.
Report this review (#190785)
Posted Friday, November 28, 2008 | Review Permalink

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