After the nice surprise that was their S/T first album, The Black Mages (whether through personal desire, or fan pressure) began the process of writing ĎThe Skies Aboveí, and continued in the same vein as the first, while building and improving on the cover format.
Everything is taken up a level from the original
Accessible, yet technically improved
Some track interpretations may disappoint fans
Oh noes! No FF7 tracks!
The first obstacle to overcome when making a second album is what songs do you re-work this time? The big fan favourites and well known tracks had been done on the first, but with the massive amount of material to choose from, the hard part was going to be what to leave out, and what could work in the rock/metal style. Thankfully the band not only picked good, popular tracks, but they also tried a few that were challenging to put in such a format.
Once again, a range of games have been covered. 2 tracks from FF9 made me a happy person (though ĎYouíre Not Aloneí is crying out for the band treatment still), and a large majority of Final Fantasyís more musically orientated fans let out a cheer to see 2 classic FF8 tracks present. Add to it 2 tracks off FF10, and more requested fans favourites from FF1, 3 and 4, and youíve got the foundations for a great second album.
So how well do the new reworked tracks sound this time? Straight off the bat, you can tell a budget increase has helped the production. Not that the first was bad, but everything sounds so much crisper this time around. Technically, its more diverse too, with more variety from just straight up riffing, incorporating more acoustic and classical playing this time, examples in tracks such as Vamo Alla Flamenco, and Matoya's Cave. Though the same could be said about any other track off the album, each songís reworking adds more life to the originals, even more so than when done on the first album, with more complex solos and layering of tracks. Even small changes like tempo increase (Maybe Iím a Lion, becomes more of a thrash song due to its belting speed) give tracks new individuality.
Another new addition to the reworking comes in the form of lyrics. Something that Nobuo has used sparingly on soundtracks in the past (although when he has, its been to devastating effect, see Liberi Fatali and One Winged Angel for examples), is used to different effects on 2 tracks on this album. Both are dramatically different, one being a female vocalist, in the familiar Japanese vocal style, on the track Otherworld. The other is a more classically, almost Tenor style monster of a vocalist, on the albums title track. Both are hit and miss, and very open to personal preference. Love them or hate them though, it does add that extra dimension to their respective tracks.
(I avoid track by track reviews these days)
is an example of the albums diversity, a track that was good before TBM treatment, now itís a whole different beast, with its calming intro, and then the groove in the middle. The solos added give the song extra dimensions, and show off the technical, and composing talent of the band.
, is a slightly odd choice for the album, with the song itself being a strange pick for a reworking. The original was the first time a FF game had been exposed to a standard rock/metal band tune, it was a brutish low tuned mother of a track, with half sang, half growled unique vocals. Itís a track that stands well on its own, yet TBM chose to re-interpret it themselves, and with the combined female vocals and standard tuning re-writing of the music, it loses all the bite the original had, yet still manages to hold credibility. Chances are, if you hated the original, youíll appreciate this more, and vice versa.
The Skies Above
, is for me personally, the highlight of the album. Itís based upon the haunting piano melody from FF10, which is used in its original form as the intro. However, it then heads off into a hard hitting driving tour-de-rock track, which allows the band to stretch its wings and write a fresh track without having to stick too close to an original template. It also contains the best TBM solo work so far, and one of my all time personal favourites for any band. If it were based on this alone, I would see this track as accessible to any hard rock/metal fan. The element stopping that however, are the vocals. When I first heard the operatic voice, it made me cringe. However, I have come to appreciate the power and depth his voice adds to the song, and after re-listening to other vocally driven FF songs, I wonder why I ever had a problem with them.
Blue Blast: Winning The Rainbow
requires a special mention, as (to the best of my knowledge), itís the first original TBM composition. Itís a good showcase to where the bands influences lie, as it has elements of classic prog and metal (The main riff melody could easily have been an Iron Maiden creation), and the keyboards maintain the Nobuo trademark sound. Even if I am mistaken and itís based on an existent composition, itís still an awesome track, and a great way to end the album
Once again, if youíre a fan of any previous FF soundtracks, and enjoy rock/metal, download/buy this album. (as long as you contribute finically in some way, these guys need the money for their World tour /fingers crossed). If you still havenít heard anything from the FF series, this is still worth a listen, as the songs are accessible, and could sit right in most good bands discographies.
(Now back to crossing my fingers for a 3rd album)