Les Mages Noirs!

Although we have overwhelming masses of Final Fantasy nerds clogging the internet airwaves these days, not all of them have become familiar with The Black Mages. The Black Mages are a project started by Nobuo Uematsu, the primary music composer for the first ten Final Fantasy games. The music of his project reinterprets the classic FF tunes with a live metal band. He plays keyboards in the band, which means yes — there are two keyboardists.

This stuff rocks and shreds and blows down the house like Chuck Berry at the Fish Under the Sea dance. The recording is pretty uh, “clutch” — it reminds me of some early ’90s Tony Macalpine! The guitar and keyboard lead tones are absolutely wonderful; they sound so liquid smooth. And the instrumentation and technical performance of the band is very clean and professional. None of it is overdone or ridiculously flamboyant and they have enough instruments to tackle all the orchestration. I gotta say it again: two keyboards and two lead guitars? In an instrumental band? Full of Japanese musicians? Wa-wa-wee-wa.

Part of what makes this band so beautiful is that the format is so ideal to perform this music. Sure, there’s good stuff out there that covers video game music, and maybe S.S.H. has done some of the finer video-game/metal song covers ever. But this is Uematsu doing metal renditions of his own work, as he sees fit to arrange it, with slick studio musicians. The atmosphere here is top-notch, full of seasoned performers who don’t let too much attitude seep into the actual performance. It’s all about accentuating and bringing out the most that these tunes have to offer. And that’s a hell of a lot! I mean, the music was the best part of the later FF games.

I love the prog-ish keyboard sounds (the smoother leads and patches), the jazzy basslines and drum kit. The drums sound great. Really full, there’s no heavy double-bass drum (a welcome absence for this band!) and the snare and bass drums have a nice thick compression despite their wide tone. On a few songs it even sounds like the drummer is playing on a Dennis Chambers kit!

One element of professional Japanese video-game studio audio releases (i.e. stuff commissioned by Konami or Falcom or Sega that feature their studio sound teams recording re-interpretations of the official game soundtracks) that I’ve always loved is the unique Japanese metal/jazz crossover fusion genre they created. I love that sound and aim to explore it in my own work (cause I is poseur). The Japanese Jazz/Metal videogame music genre has probably been most ideally captured with releases like Yasunori Mitsuda‘s Chrono Trigger: The Brink of Time, some of the Perfect Ys collections, some of the Arc the Lad re-interpretations, or on some of the old Sega CD and Dreamcast releases.

But don’t be fooled by the jazz allusions. Sure, there are a lot of nice organs used, and a huge amount of improvised playing (particularly on the ending tracks). The Black Mages are still paying homage to classic video-game metal from the early CD era. You know, Thunderforce V or Ace Combat 2. The good stuff. That being said, the two tracks with singing on the second CD feature surprisingly hilarious vocal performances.

It’s funny, I did show a Black Mages album to one of my friends, who just couldn’t get into it because he didn’t recognize most of the songs. He’s one of those people who only played Final Fantasy VII. His loss, since these songs are real peaches in their own right. Real treasure! I ain’t held back by the fact that I didn’t get deeply into every single one of the Final Fantasy games. I mean, I like some of the music from Final Fantasy VIII, but it doesn’t mean I played that hunk of junk!

Luckily for you, music is unprofitable and it’s all online for free at Last FM. But just in case you want some proof of the band’s greatness right this minute, here are a couple of choice samples:

Buy it @ Amazon

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~ by chaosrexmachinae on March 24, 2008.

2 Responses to “Les Mages Noirs!”

  1. nice dude, this stuff is pretty hot. I’m listening to Terra’s Theme on last.fm right now. There’s something pretty majestic that happens when you break those old MIDI orchestrations down into live instruments. Or maybe I’m just a guitar geek that gets giddy when I hear something familiar come out in that sweet, sweet tone.

    Are you a Minibosses fan by any chance? I’m a fan, but I guess I get more of a punk vibe from them than a trained jazz/metal vibe. Feel free to call me a POSEUR if I dropped the wrong name :P

  2. Yee-arr! I’ve been a Minibosses fan for many moons! I remember the day they released their Mega Man 2 medley for download. ‘Twas a great day for the internet! I always liked the Minibosses because they really have the “spirit” of the songs or something. Like, the only things they practice are those covers because they like them so much.

    Yeah, I’m always thinking, did metal influence video game music? Or did video game music influence metal? I have a feeling it’s a co-dependent relationship. I feel like the live instrumentation of that music in a proggy metal format is the most ideal one possible!

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