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THE BLACK MAGES

Progressive Metal • Japan


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The Black Mages biography
Nobuo Uematsu was born on March 21, 1959 in Kochi, Japan. After graduating from Kanagawa University, he composed music for commercials before joining Square Co., Ltd. (now Square Enix Co., Ltd.) in 1986. He went on to compose music for over thirty game titles, including the award-winning FINAL FANTASY series. The FINAL FANTASY franchise has developed into one of the best-selling video game series across all platforms, selling over 60 million units worldwide (as of March 2004). Uematsu's soundtracks were a key element in the success of the series, carrying the deep storylines with sweeping emotional scores. In October 2004, Uematsu formed SMILE PLEASE Co., LTD. and continues to compose for Square Enix along with several other works.

Uematsu is a renowned composer who has been touted as increasing the appreciation and awareness to the advancements made in videogame music. A prime example is the FINAL FANTASY VIII theme song, "Eyes on Me," composed and produced by Uematsu. The theme song featured Hong Kong pop diva Faye Wong and sold a record 400,000 copies. It then went on to win "Song of the Year (Western Music)" at the 14th Annual Japan Gold Disc Awards in 1999-- the first time music from a video game won the honor.

The music from the game series has grown to such notoriety, Nobuo Uematsu was named as one of the "Innovators" in Time Magazine's "Time 100: The Next Wave - Music" feature. Uematsu's approach to FINAL FANTASY music is diverse, encompassing many styles. This diversity along with the popularity of the music has resulted in a variety of musical performances including classical symphonies, rock and acoustic.

After a string of successful concert performances in Japan including a six-city, seven-show concert series titled "Tour de Japon - music from FINAL FANTASY-," the first stateside concert, "DEAR FRIENDS -music from FINAL FANTASY-," followed May 10, 2004 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Calif. selling out in 3 days. The performance featured music from world-renowned FINAL FANTASY video game series, performed by the acclaimed Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Due to the positive reception for this performance and clamor from fans for more, a concert series was recently announced for North America.

In February 2003, Uematsu formed a group called "The Black Mages," producing a self-titled album composed of FINAL FANTASY battle music arranged in rock style.The line-up consists o...
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Black Mages 3: Darkness & StarlightBlack Mages 3: Darkness & Starlight
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Sony Japan 2008
Audio CD$28.48
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  • Nobuo Uematsu + The Black Mages + Earthbound Papas at Nalen, Stockholm on 3 Nov 2014

THE BLACK MAGES discography


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THE BLACK MAGES top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.48 | 36 ratings
The Black Mages
2004
3.39 | 20 ratings
Vol. II:The Skies Above
2005
3.04 | 23 ratings
The Black Mages III:Darkness and Starlight
2008

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THE BLACK MAGES Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 The Black Mages by BLACK MAGES, THE album cover Studio Album, 2004
3.48 | 36 ratings

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The Black Mages
The Black Mages Progressive Metal

Review by JLocke
Prog Reviewer

3 stars I love Nobuo Uematsu's music more than I can even describe in words. He is one of my all-time favorite composers, and the work he did for the Final Fantasy soundtracks is just astounding. Setting the record straight right this moment: yes, this is video game music. No, it does not suck. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a better collection of video game soundtracks than the repertoire Mr. Uematsu has built up over the years. His Prog Metal band, The Black Mages, takes the themes and stories from the series and presents them in a way that impressed me quite a bit.

Having said that, things are bit different when you consider that this is music often meant for orchestra and/or midi. Some of the tracks here are indeed tracks that had that 'Heavy Metal' edge anyway, and I suppose Uematsu chose which tracks he felt were best suited to be turned into full-blown Metal music. Despite that, though, I found myself wishing these guys had ventured into the more orchestral territory of Uematsu's back catalogue. But no matter. After all, if you want to hear the Final Fantasy music as it was originally composed, buy the soundtracks to the games themselves. In fact, I would recommend that. The Black Mages are a different breed. They are taking the most majestic, heavy-hitting tracks from the series and beefing them up with Prog Metal stylings. It works, but it may shock some listeners who were expecting more of the same.

There are variations made to the arrangements in some cases, and more often than not I agree with them. Some of them are minor and seemingly unnecessary, but they suit the style of music better. Other changes are more drastic, and the songs in those cases have been expanded and fully realized from the stubs they once were. This takes place when playing the much older work from the midi days of video game composition when real instruments weren't a part of it. Now we get to hear what was in Uematsu's head the entire time when all we heard before were blips and beeps representing a much more majestic song hidden underneath. I find this all very fascinating and it makes the album worth listening to, even if you're already familiar with the music as it existed before.

However, I do feel that Prog Metal is only one aspect of this man's musical abilities, and you want to truly experience his genius full-tilt, you'll need to hear ALL sides of his work, and not just the heavy stuff. Since The Black Mages don't really deliver in that regard, and I know what else Uematsu is capable of, I feel I cannot give this album a super-high rating. It's good. Very good. But I have heard better from this man, and while I enjoyed this music very much, it merely whetted my appetite for the main course, which is his vast, expansive work in many other musical realms.

If you enjoy Prog Metal or video games, this will be especially remarkable for you. If you don't really like Prog Metal OR video games, I think you might still like this, though personally I think it would be the wrong place to start if you want to get into Nobuo Uematsu's work.

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 Vol. II:The Skies Above by BLACK MAGES, THE album cover Studio Album, 2005
3.39 | 20 ratings

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Vol. II:The Skies Above
The Black Mages Progressive Metal

Review by Valarius

4 stars Nobuo Uematsu and The Black Mages are back with 'The Skies Above'. Once again we are treated to more rock versions of Final Fantasy songs, and as before, they do not disappoint.

For those who aren't familiar with The Black Mages, Nobuo Uematsu is the composer of the music found on the Final Fantasy video games. Here he is accompanied by a band of musicians playing rock versions of these songs.

The first Black Mages album is easily one of my favourites, so it's no surprise that this album doesn't quite reach the same high standard. Whilst there are no bad tracks here, there just isn't that youthful fun that can be heard on 'The Black Mages'. That's not to say that 'The Skies Above' doesn't have its moments, there's still plenty of video game madness on this record.

The major difference between the two records is that there are two songs with vocals here. They're great songs, but I think any fan of this band will agree that they definitely do better in the instrumental department. And speaking of instrumentals... these guys are amazing, easily the Japanese equivalent of DreamTheater.

This is a great album which covers a lot of different styles of music, so there is a nice mixture to keep things fresh and unique. If it's your first experience with the band, try to get their self- titled debut album, however failing that, this album should do nicely.

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 The Black Mages by BLACK MAGES, THE album cover Studio Album, 2004
3.48 | 36 ratings

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The Black Mages
The Black Mages Progressive Metal

Review by Alitare

4 stars The Black Mages' first studio album.

This is a japanese metal band headed by Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu. Their style is symphonic power prog, and I quite enjoy it. The songs are fairly straightforward, though. None of them hold up too well to the prog label, and it shows. Some of the songs feel like Dream theater mixes, while others are almost opera style in their instrumental metal approach.

Consisting of battle music from the game series, each one tends to pack quite a punch, and enjoyable listens, but show their slight shallow nature with repeated listens. The melodies are fantastic, the playing is top notch, and the memories some of these songs bring up are more powerful than the songs, themselves.

One track of note, is Dancing Mad. This 12 minute long masterpiece of music is the main reason I recommend this album. It is extended, powerful, progressive, and the album's one true highlight. I could give this album an extra star and a half just for this song, alone.

Not for everyone. If you aren't too keen on power prog, or symphonic metal, you won't like this, and if you aren't into instrumental music, this might put you off. In all, it is an excellent release. Fans of the series should buy this, now. Four Stars.

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 The Black Mages III:Darkness and Starlight by BLACK MAGES, THE album cover Studio Album, 2008
3.04 | 23 ratings

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The Black Mages III:Darkness and Starlight
The Black Mages Progressive Metal

Review by Sinusoid
Prog Reviewer

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.

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 The Black Mages III:Darkness and Starlight by BLACK MAGES, THE album cover Studio Album, 2008
3.04 | 23 ratings

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The Black Mages III:Darkness and Starlight
The Black Mages Progressive Metal

Review by Queen By-Tor
Special Collaborator 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.

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 The Black Mages by BLACK MAGES, THE album cover Studio Album, 2004
3.48 | 36 ratings

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The Black Mages
The Black Mages Progressive Metal

Review by Valarius

5 stars Despite playing music that could appeal to so many people, it's sad that not many people have heard of The Black Mages. A rock band playing Final Fantasy music? This certainly sounds interesting...

An old keyboard player friend of mine was a huge Final Fantasy fan who worshipped Nobuo Uematsu, so it's no surprise that he came across The Black Mages. He introduced me to them with the song 'Clash on the Big Bridge'. I loved it. Catchy, heavy, melodic, fun... the song was incredible.

I instantly rushed home and ordered their first two albums. So impressed was I with one song that I decided to get both albums instead of just one. And I didn't regret it one bit.

I've never played Final Fantasy video games, and I've never really been curious enough to give them a chance either. However I've always enjoyed the musical arrangements found in video games, and this album is full of 'em.

Every song is full of life and energy, amazing musicianship and overall, a lot of fun. Though this is an instrumental album, there is still a lot to offer. And it doesn't matter whether you like the games or not because the music is fantastic.

Essentially this is an album for anyone; fans of video games, and especially video game music. Prog fans should enjoy it, as should fans of instrumental music. Whether you're into any of these things or not, it's such a great musical adventure, with each song being catchy enough to hook fans of any music genre. Wanna try something different? Try this.

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 Vol. II:The Skies Above by BLACK MAGES, THE album cover Studio Album, 2005
3.39 | 20 ratings

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Vol. II:The Skies Above
The Black Mages Progressive Metal

Review by merrickyoung87

3 stars This album although not as quite as solid as the first album contains some gems. The two final fantasy 4 songs Zeromus and Battle With The Four Fiends are definitely the best tracks on this album and well worth listening to regardless if you enjoy video games or not. I never completed FF 3(japanese 3), 9 or 10 so I didn't really try so hard to get into those songs. The FF 8 songs left alot to be desired because both of those songs are really nice in the OST. The over-the-top cheese that came from Maybe I'm A Lion is the worst part of the album. I just can't get over the completely unnecessary interjection that comes in 10 seconds when the song begins.

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 The Black Mages by BLACK MAGES, THE album cover Studio Album, 2004
3.48 | 36 ratings

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The Black Mages
The Black Mages Progressive Metal

Review by merrickyoung87

3 stars I always had thought that if a band did a really decent cover of Final Fantasy music (video game music in general) that it'd be excellent. The first Black Mages album certainly holds up to that concept. Ran by the composer of Final Fantasy music himself, Nobuo Uematsu hand picks and revamps some of the more intense pieces of music from the beloved Final Fantasy Games. He sticks with the older games and picks songs that truly fit in this more progressive metal style. Most of the album is fairly enjoyable if you can get over the some of the really cheesy synths (Clash on the Big Bridge) and some of the less inspired solos that take place in this album.

Highlights from Most awesome to not as awesome but still awesome are: Dancing Mad Decisive Battle Battle Theme Jenova Clash on the Big Bridge (possibly my favorite FF piece from the OST and the piano versions... kind of disappointing but still enjoyable)

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 The Black Mages III:Darkness and Starlight by BLACK MAGES, THE album cover Studio Album, 2008
3.04 | 23 ratings

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The Black Mages III:Darkness and Starlight
The Black Mages Progressive Metal

Review by merrickyoung87

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

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 The Black Mages III:Darkness and Starlight by BLACK MAGES, THE album cover Studio Album, 2008
3.04 | 23 ratings

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The Black Mages III:Darkness and Starlight
The Black Mages Progressive Metal

Review by ProgBagel
Prog Reviewer

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.

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