The Black Mages :: History
Note: This history was written exclusively for Square Enix Music Online by Chris. The act of using it without advance written permission is regarded as a copyright infringement. It was last updated on December 21, 2007.
The Black Mages are a rock band formed of six current and former Square Enix members that principally perform arrangements of Nobuo Uematsu's battle music from the Final Fantasy series. During his youth, Nobuo Uematsu loved rock music and even played in amateur bands as a keyboardist. Nevertheless, he received few opportunities to work with the style after becoming the lead composer of the Final Fantasy series. He nevertheless instilled his rocking spirit into several of his Square era action themes, including FFIV's "The Final Battle", FFVII's "Those Who Fight Further", and, most explicitly, FFX's "Otherworld". In 1995, Tsuyoshi Sekito and Kenichiro Fukui joined Square's Osaka branch, having previously created rock-oriented compositions for Konami's action games. A virtuosic guitar player, Sekito is obsessed with any music focusing on the guitar, particularly enjoying uptempo rock of Van Halen and the metal bands Papa Roach and Dream Theater. Keyboardist Fukui, on the other hand, prefers the light Lost Angeles fusion style and even appeared as a guest musician in Kukeiha Hope ~ Hope, an original album by Konami's in-house band. Both regard the accomplishments of the Kukeiha Club and its leader Motoaki Furukawa as a motivation for forming The Black Mages. Despite not meeting Nobuo Uematsu of Square's Tokyo branch till 2003, Sekito and Fukui both enjoyed Final Fantasy music as well. When Sekito, Fukui, and Uematsu came to cross paths, The Black Mages were born...
Sekito and Fukui came to collaborate as composers for the first time on 2000's All Star Pro-Wrestling. Preceded by Bushido Blade 2 and Cyber Org, the game featured one of Square's first rock scores, incidentally never released in soundtrack form. Though the game was a flop, it inspired a sequel and, though Sekito created all its compositions, Fukui assisted performing some of the tracks featured in its soundtrack release. During the production, Sekito and Fukui sometimes jammed together with the intention of creating fun music to accompany rock. This led them to improvise on some Final Fantasy battle themes by chance and, guided by their past experiences and Uematsu's powerful melodies, produced some surprisingly good rock arrangements. Having had contact with Nobuo Uematsu due to the Final Fantasy Origins project, Sekito decided to show him the results in 2002. Uematsu was very pleased with the arrangements but regretted that the music wasn't available for all to hear. He decided to show publicity producer Michio Okamiya the work with the hope of changing that. A guitarist himself, Okamiya appreciated the hard and energetic arrangements and commissioned an instrumental rock arranged album. Continuous with Tetsuya Nomura's vision for Final Fantasy, he crafted its publicity to emphasise its hard rock nature to seduce youth and opted to call the album The Black Mages due to its evocative Final Fantasy associations. Little did he know that Sekito and Fukui were middle-aged men with a professional demeanor and an intolerance to alcohol!
On February 19, 2003, The Black Mages was released in Japan. Sekito and Fukui offered 10 hard rock tracks from across the series. With key renditions such as FFV's "Clash on the Big Bridge", FFVII's "J-E-N-O-V-A", and the finale FFVI's "Dancing Mad", the album united blazing nostalgic renditions of familiar melodies with impressive solo sections. The performances were handled by Sekito on electric guitar and Fukui on keyboards, while the drums were sequenced and there was considerable synth use elsewhere. The album grew to become a best-seller as it became widely known through the Internet and remains top of many Final Fantasy fans' game music collections. To celebrate its release, the band The Black Mages were formed to perform a live concert. Sekito and Fukui were to remain lead guitarists and keyboardists. Another obvious choice was bass guitar Keiji Kawamori, synthesizer operator of the Final Fantasy series and performer on All Star Pro Wrestling II. Michio Okamiya decided to join the band as a second guitarist and Arata Hanyuda, the director of promotion and advertising of PlayOnline, became the drummer. Completing the line-up was organist Nobuo Uematsu himself, the band's figurehead. The Black Mages made their live debut at Shibuya-AX, Tokyo on April 26, 2003, running into the next morning as they shared the stage with Hanjuku Hero VS 3D. To enthuastic reaction, the band refined many of their earlier arrangements premiered a jazz-influenced rendition of "Matoya's Cave" at the event. On November 3, 2003, the band performed a 30 minute concert at Kanagawa University at, at the end of the year, a DVD exclusive to Nobuo Uematsu's Japanese Official Fan Club was released.
In early 2004, Nobuo Uematsu announced The Black Mages' second album was in progress. In the meantime, they celebrated the anniversary of their live debut with an appearance on the Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange, an arranged album for Dark Cloud 2, at persuasion from Team Entertainment. "Flame Demon Monster Gaspard" marked the band's true album debut and their only non-FF arrangement to date, impressing with an energetic sound and powerful solos. On December 22, 2004, The Black Mages II ~The Skies Above~ was released after a year of speculation. Arranged by Sekito, Fukui, and Okamiya and entirely studio performed, the album had a more diverse personality than its predecessor and included even an original composition for Japanese wrestler Takehiro Murahama and two controversial vocal tracks sung by their only guest performers to date FFX's "Otherworld", featuring Do As Infinity's female backing singer Kazco Hamano, and "The Skies Above", an operatic rendition of FFX's "To Zanarkand" with Tomoaki Watanabe (aka Mr. Goo). Despite mixed reactions, The Black Mages II ~The Skies Above~ was an outstanding success and a testament to the potential of the band. The band interpreted the album with The Black Mages Live "above the sky" at Club Citta, Kawasaki on January 22 and 23 and Namba Hatch, Osaka on January 28. They shared the stage with Kenji Ito's piano renditions of SaGa pieces, muZik's Final Fantasy techno/pop arrangements, and Udatsu Tanaka's stand-up comedy routine. A surprise guest appearance at Osaka was from Konami composer and Kukeiha Club guitarist Motoaki Furukawa. In February 2006, a fan club exclusive DVD was released for the concert.
Since their second album, The Black Mages have made several concert appearances. On Los Angeles' More Friends - Music from Final Fantasy at May 16, 2005, The Black Mages made their first Western appearance with renditions of FFIII's "The Rocking Grounds", FFVIII's "The Rocking Grounds", and, for an 'orchestra meets chorus meets rock band' finale, Fukui's new arrangement of FFVII Advent Children's "Advent: One Winged Angel". They performed the finale once again on VOICES - Music from Final Fantasy, a Yokohoma vocal-based concert held on May 16, 2005. They did not explicitly appear in Advent Children itself, however, though Sekito, Fukui, and Kawamori all arranged and performed; on this score, Romancing SaGa Minstrel Song, and Dawn of Mana, the success of the band inspired the use of rock-based action themes. Coinciding with an announcement of their third album for release at the end of 2006, they made an appearance on a bonus track on September's Final Fantasy III Original Soundtrack with Fukui's remix of "This is the Last Battle". They concluded Tokyo's six hour multi-artist Extra: Hyper Game Music Event 2007 on July 7, 2007 with performances of this theme, "Those Who Fight Further", "Maybe I'm a Lion", and "Clash on the Big Bridge", though didn't appear on the official compilation. While their third album has been delayed till March 2008, it is their most ambitious work to date, featuring a Final Fantasy arrangement disc akin to their previous albums and a bonus disc featuring rock-operatic compositions focusing on Japanese mythology. Despite departing Square Enix, Fukui and Uematsu will remain active with the band. Having made so many accomplishments already, the future of the widely known band is very bright.