The Black Mages II: The Skies Above
A little background: Nobuo Uematsu is the guy who composed and directed the music in the RPG computer game series "Final Fantasy", all the way up to the 9th, and the 10th while teamed up with another musician. He had many highly praised published works (Final Fantasy Soundtracks) and live, on stage performances. Arguably one of the best computer games soundtrack artists today.
The Black Mages is a band formed by Uematsu (he also plays the keyboard in the band), performing re-arranged music from Uematsu's past work, in the style of mostly hard rock. What they make is in a lot of Uematsu enthusiasts' opinion, one of the most valued collections in their possession. Even to Final Fantasy fans who aren't into the rock scene, had found to enjoy their work. Perhaps even broadening their music taste in the process.
After the success of the Black Mages' first work (album self titled), they released another collection following the triumph of Final Fantasy X. Looking at the track list, you would be pleased to see that there are a few excellent battle themes from earlier Final Fantasies, and a couple of famed boss battle themes from more recent ones. What is surprising is seeing "Vamo' Alla Flamenco", a salsa track played over mini games in FF9, and "Matoya's Cave", the theme dedicated to Matoya, a witch in the first Final Fantasy. Although they are memorable and praised tracks originally, I was sceptical about a rock version of those tracks.
Ignoring my doubts about those two tracks, I put the CD on. We were introduced by a fast-pace "The Rocking Grounds", a nice edition of the battle theme from FF3. Tracks you thought which would definitely make into great rock songs, like "Hunters Chance" (FF9), "The Man with the Machine Gun" (FF8) and "Battle With the Four Fiends" (FF4), turned out to be more than what you expected, and same goes for the doubtful tracks I mentioned earlier. Not only were they good tracks, they had gone beyond expectations and gave those originally favourite tracks a new light.
This album does have its downers, though. "Otherworld", the "heavy metal" track from FFX, turned out to be a disappointment. The song is already a rock song, so the fact this edition sounds pretty much the same is excusable. What they have changed, is the vocal. Now it is more in the style of girl metal. Very Buffy and very lesbian*. "Maybe I'm a Lion" is a decent track, but they spoiled it with the vocals at the beginning, however little.
The track "The Skies Above" is actually the Black Mages' version of "To Zanarkand" of Final Fantasy X, a slow and emotional piano track played over especially at the opening credit of the game. This track is using the melody from that track as the tunes for the vocal. When I heard the beginning of this track I thought they were pushing it, but the track weren't bad, really. It was even tasteful .
In conclusion, this is yet another album that can match the fame of the first. To some critical fans the down points might come across as too much of a distraction from the better factors, but with even an unreleased track on the album, they're fighting a losing argument.
*i'm gay, so before you start: fuck off (just in case)