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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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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.

Queen By-Tor | 2/5 |


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