Editor’s Note: “KURAYAMINOKUMO” translates to “The Darkening Cloud.”
The Black Mages III: Darkness and Starlight is the third album from the Black Mages. For those who do not know what the Black Mages are, it is a rock/metal band founded by Nobou Uematsu, famed for his Final Fantasy music. It features four final boss songs, three other battle themes, and three other songs, and is very much a success for the Black Mages.
Opening ~ Bombing Mission is the opening to Final Fantasy VII, and is likewise the opening to this album. It begins as an improved version of the opening, and blends the Black Mage feel and the Final Fantasy VII feel early on. Once it hit the bombing mission theme, I was surprised. They could have done more with it–instead, it sounded like the original with a sprinkle of metal added. Shortly into that is some heavy metal dischord, followed by loose and original interpretations. I was not highly impressed with this rendition of the bombing mission; however, do not let that stop you from reading on.
Neo EXDEATH starts somewhat less intense compared to most boss music remixes the Mages have done. It’s still metal, yet it does not inspire you to instantly find a foe to smite like other tracks. This does not mean it is bad–it merely means it is less heavy than the other ones. It’s rather well done; however, later tracks are much more inspiring.
The Extreme was one of my favorite tracks from Final Fantasy VIII, and I am pleased with how they presented this one. Faithful to the original, it tinkers with the synthesized guitars and replaces them with real ones. The percussion blends in superbly. It does not sound drastically different from the original version, at least until the closing, which overall can be a good thing–don’t mess with perfection. It’s not overly intense, and it ends at a calming note which is a fitting finisher from this song.
Assault of the Silver Dragon is merely average compared to the one previous. It sounds much more forced and synthesized–at least at first. Never judge a book by its cover, however–while it may start off poor, it picks up around the two minute line. It is not as catchy as some of the other songs on this album, and at times can be relatively bland; it is still worth a listen to.
The Darkening Cloud opens on a relatively eerie note, initially relegating the guitars to the background and starting with the synthesizer in a haunting echo of ghostly sound. It suddenly ceases, and just as suddenly slams you with intense Black Mages metal boss themeage. Remeniscent of Zeromus from their previous album, this is much more intense than The Extreme. This is more wild and harder than the others so far, and it seems to utilize the keyboard and the guitars a good deal.
Distant Worlds starts off exceedingly surprising compared to the previous songs–VERY calm and peaceful You would not recognize it as being from the same album. It focuses on keyboard and melody, easing into other instruments. At just over three minutes into the song, it picks up, from a more calm track to a more epic one. However, it is not epic in the way of the battle-themed music; rather, it is more inspired and uplifting than the rest. While it is not what you would expect on an album dominated by symphonic metal fighting themes, it very much feels at home as a Black Mages masterpiece.
Premonition is one of those ones that starts soft and kicks into high gear for the standard battle/chase style theme. It eases into its comfort zone–rather than kicking it into high gear immediately, it sets its own pace, gradually shifting from a calmer start into the action-packed segment, definitely fitting for the Black Mages treatment.
Grand Cross starts almost exactly the same as it did in Final Fantasy IX–sounding like you are entering hell, with the sound of a thousand tortured souls crying out in unison. This continues for a minute and twenty seconds, where the Black Mages metal kicks in. Very much focusing on heavy rock and metal discord. Once again, it is authentic to the original while retaining that fresh Black Mages feel to it. It then proceeds to focus on the guitar and the keyboard in alternating parts, and finishes by blending the whistle of the damned to the metal goodness.
Naturally, the main theme of the album is Darkness and Starlight. It is certainly an epic track, and at over fifteen minutes long, it is one of the longest Final Fantasy tracks ever released. A rendition of Aria di Mezzo Carattere; it is the theme of the opera from Final Fantasy VI, The Dream Oath–Maria and Draco. It combines the themes of rock, metal, and opera, and is certainly one of the most distinctive tracks I have ever heard. The first couple minutes seem rather bland to me; however, the track picks up after that. There are spoken parts in Japanese, which I am guessing are narration, as I have no knowledge of the language myself. At other times are operatic segments featuring Maria and Draco; as well, there are rock segments later on, reminiscent of the rock operas of the seventies. Blending three differing types of music into one song is something that I have not often seen, and yet it comes off as an enjoyable listen.
Life ~In Memory of Keiten~ is rather calm and soothing. Done on the piano, it is a sweet and soothing memory. Not from a previous album, this track was made exclusive for Darkness and Starlight. And it is a simple track, with a single instrument, that makes for a nice finale to the album. Apparently, Nobuo wrote it for Yoshitaka Tagawa, who had, and later died of, acute myeloid leukemia.
This soundtrack was very much worth the over three year wait between this and The Skies Above. Only one song–Darkness and Starlight–features vocals, and in Japanese at that. It brings back memories of the first album, and is definitely a must for any Black Mages or Final Fantasy collectors.