The Black Mages – The Black Mages (2003)
It’s been a while, but in the mid-late 2000s, vast improvements in internet connectivity and emulation meant I spent a good chunk of time playing various installments of the Final Fantasy series. Therefore, when I started listening to metal music, I was very susceptible to this sort of music. Boss battles? Relatively heavy guitar? Lots of keyboard and synth lines? Even now, those are easy and effective ways to grab my attention. By now, the archive binging readers are probably asking me how my opinion on this album has evolved in recent years. The answer? It really hasn’t.
You see, I first listened to this album in the middle of 2009, when my ears had essentially acclimated to the sickest of the sick in extreme metal. Unlike some of the albums I first experienced in that year, I didn’t go into this looking for a gateway. We might as well get it out of the way – The Black Mages is a fairly traditional work of metal, with some obvious diversions into progressive rock styled content that admittedly was already present in the original tracks. It does not go up to 11 at any point, as much as my attuned ears would enjoy such. Still, it’s not exactly a wimpy album; it’s well produced in the traditional metal sense, with more than enough bite to its production to sell the aesthetic. Back in the day, I heard a lot of complaints about the fidelity of the keyboard symphonics, but given some of the other things I listen to, it doesn’t bother me one bit. The instruments still sound better than the originals.
From a composition perspective, this album mostly functions as a straight reenactment of your favorite iconic Final Fantasy themes (up to the date of release). The fidelity is better, and the intensity is greater, but if you’re familiar with the originals, you won’t be surprised by most of what you hear. There are a few dramatic alterations, like the slowed battle theme from Final Fantasy VI, the electronica elements in “J-E-N-O-V-A”, and whatever happened to Final Fantasy II‘s feature; in my defense, I never played FF2(J) for more than 5 minutes or so, so my understanding of that original is somewhat limited. Judging the value of these additions and subtractions is hard primarily because the context in which I listen to these tracks is a bit different from how I would experience them in their respective games. In Final Fantasy V, for instance, I’d be more focused on Gilgamesh’s qualities as a boss than the music which backs him (“Clash on the Big Bridge”). Ultimately, I think the general result is that I hold these adaptations to higher standards than the originals.
I still enjoy and value The Black Mages’ debut. To be fair, it does have some questionable creative decisions at times, but as a remix and enhancement of Final Fantasy’s already adept music, it’s an overall success. Besides, I don’t hold it against other musicians for having different opinions on songcraft than I do, so no point in grilling this album too much for the same.
Highlights: “Clash on the Big Bridge”, “Those Who Fight Further”, “Dancing Mad”