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The Black Mages :: Review by Duke Lionheart

The Black Mages Album Title: The Black Mages
Record Label: DigiCube (1st Edition); Square Enix (Reprint)
Catalog No.: SSCX-10080; SQEX-10019
Release Date: February 19, 2003; May 10, 2004
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


When I first heard that Nobuo Uematsu had formed a rock band to cover Final Fantasy tunes, I was excited and couldn't wait to hear it. After "Other World," I put high hopes into Uematsu doing heavy metal. I was a bit disappointed then, for this CD is much more conventional rock, but it has some great arrangements of well-known and dearly-loved tunes from the Final Fantasy series. After some orchestral Final Fantasy arrangements of varying quality and several rather poor Piano Collections, this is definitely one of the better arranged Final Fantasy albums.

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) Battle Scene [Final Fantasy I]

This is a nice opener and starts changing between synthesizer sounds and heavy guitar riffs. At about 2:00 a solo part starts which follows the same pattern, but the synth sound is much funkier this time. It sounds rather anime-like. Nice opener track. (7/10)

2) Clash on the Big Bridge [Final Fantasy V]

You should know this one as "Battle with Gilgamesh." It is my favourite on this disc. A great track to bang your head to if you're a heavy metal freak like me. The first guitar riff really kicks ass and the track keeps up the heavy, fast pace. A keyboard solo in the middle gives you time to recover your neck muscles, then the guitar takes back into the so-much-loved bridge part. (9/10)

3) Force Your Way [Final Fantasy VIII]

"Force your Way" is also a real good track — fast and catchy. I like the original quite a lot, but this is even better, with a long intro where one instrument joins after the other. Great! Much heavy guitar play follows, changing the tune quite a bit. A real weird organ / guitar solo follows that is lots of fun. The rest is also done extremely well — very upbeat and fun. Makes you feel good, really! (9/10)

4) Battle, Scene II [Final Fantasy II]

This is a track with a big problem: it can't compare to the awesome rendition of the same theme in Final Fantasy Symphonic Suite. Other than that, it's not bad, and has some nice ideas and a fantastic break at 2:15. It sounds a bit like from one of those remix CDs Square published for Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy V. (8/10)

5) The Decisive Battle [Final Fantasy VI]

This is a solid track that is almost done by guitars entirely. I really miss the great intro part from the original, and the solo is rather uninteresting. But it's nice and catchy nonetheless! (7/10)

6) Battle Theme [Final Fantasy VI]

Another heavy guitar track, but with more keyboards in the background which fit in very well. The first riff reminds me very much of Metallica and the solo is quite okay this time. Very good performance of this classic piece. (8/10)

7) J-E-N-O-V-A [Final Fantasy VII]

"J-E-N-O-V-A" is a bit different, since it's driven forward by a drum machine and has no real drums. Still, there's lots of guitars in here which fit in quite good. Still, this arrangement is not half as exciting as the original. (5/10)

8) Those Who Fight Further [Final Fantasy VII]

This track, known as "Still More Fighting" from Final Fantasy VII, makes up for a good rock tune, too. Another fast, energetic track, but I really don't like the guitar solos here. The 80's don't seem to be over in Japan yet. In the Western world, no one would dare to play such solos any more. Apart from that, they couldn't do much wrong here and thankfully did not. (7/10)

9) Dancing Mad [Final Fantasy VI]

Well, that's what we've been waiting for, isn't it? "Dancing Mad" performed by a rock band with lots of synthesizers? It could have been great, really. But some of the sounds almost destroy it. So, how's it done? Each of the four parts is played only once instead of twice, which is quite okay. The intro sounds awesome with very powerful organs. Part one is heavy stuff profiting much from the guitars, but sadly the cool sinister male voice in the fast part is replaced by some cheap synthesizer standard female voice sound. I'm really disappointed with it. The original sound with its mediocre SNES sound quality would have been better in my opinion. The second part suffers from the same problem, but is great fun still, it can really make you laugh. The drums make the whole thing sound like a circus tune. Part three sounds very much like the original (which is quite logical because it's all just organs); the sounds are just a bit better here and it's a bit more lively. As for part 4, I still hold this to be the most amazing battle theme ever composed because of the weird rhythms and the frantic melody somehow derived from the "Kefka" theme. So, I'm really astonished, how well they did perform this VERY difficult thing. But, once more, the track is almost ruined by that rubbish percussive organ sound in the heavy part. It's really disgusting to me. Luckily, we're given a compensation by a two-minute guitar solo that is played over the slow organ part being repeated again and again. Wonderful. Overall, not a bad effort, but due to the weak samples it can't replace the original. (6/10)

10) Fight With Seymour [Final Fantasy X]

This is done really good, but you'll have to get into it because of some sounds that differ from those in the original, and not always sound better. Still, it's a good track full of energy, a bit faster than the original and a great work by Uematsu, who plays the keyboards on this one. The break at about 3:30 is well done, with a beautiful piano solo going over into a nice clean guitar solo; only the distorted guitar solo following is a bit annoying. (9/10)


The idea of doing hard rock remixes of Final Fantasy tunes is definitely a good one, and you can say Uematsu and his band did a quite good job. Of course, there's nothing really innovative about this CD, it's something between hard rock and J-Pop, and the arrangements are rather simple. That is not bad, because the original tune are all very good, but I remember that Nobuo Uematsu has also composed something as interesting and heavy as "Other World." But, hey, banging your head to Final Fantasy tunes is fun, and it seems the band are having fun, too. I'd like to see them live, but I really doubt that they'll ever come to Europe. The big disappointments are a few uninteresting guitar-solos that sound all the same and some really bad synthesizer sounds. In particular, I can't forgive them for what they did with "Dancing Mad." Still, a nice CD to listen to.

Overall Score: 7/10