Released: 31 October 2014
Mage’s excellent 2012 debut album ‘Black Sands’ was a maelstrom of thrashy doom, and this impressive follow-up continues in a similar vein. ‘Last Orders’ is a collection of seven high-quality tracks that are majestically controlled and compact – and yet also ripple with a spectacular energy. This is the sound of a band in rude health, utterly watertight but far from safe. These underrated UK rockers barge into your living room, kick the pet dog out of the way, plug in and blast it.
The 1980s thrash metal influences remain, but perhaps now there is a little more Candlemass than Overkill, more Kyuss than Suicidal Tendencies. Mage have gotten darker, although not necessarily dirtier. They capture all their hurt and horror into finely crafted compositions. ‘Beyond’, for example, is a gigantic doomed epic, while ‘Violent Skies’ brings in a grungy stoner groove that is delivered with a confident air to ensure the vibe remains fresh. Mage are able to reach emotional depths through understatement and simplicity, a sign of worldy wisdom perhaps.
That said, some parts of ‘Last Orders’ hurtle like a massive, shuddering asteroid. ‘Old Bones’ sounds like Motorhead wrestling with Orange Goblin in a thunderstorm. And it possesses more fire and brimstone than the latest offerings from either of those great metal standard-bearers. Recorded at Skyhammer Studio in the UK and produced by Chris Fielding (Conan, Electric Wizard), this album is brilliantly balanced with a slightly meaner, meatier sound than on the band’s previous release.
Vocalist Tom sounds like Phil Anselmo after a few sleeping pills (in a good way) and while there is not a lot of variety in terms of the tonality or melody, his interesting patterns and phrasing make him a pleasure to listen to. Lyrically, too, you can fall into ‘Last Orders’ very easily and become part of the adventure. As with the music, understatement is the order of the day, and the lyrics are teasing and tantalising, never scarce or trite.
If there are any complaints, it would be that Mage tend to reject the codpiece-wearing, catchy choruses that some of these monster tracks deserve. Nothing too cliched or obvious, of course, but perhaps a few more to sing along to would boost the overall impact. And the final song on ‘Last Orders’ – ‘One For The Road’ – could be called a little formulaic by Mage’s own high standards.
Mage’s new album is a consistently excellent offering, combining doom with traditional metal energy, stoner grooves and thrash power. ‘Last Orders’ is a smart, modern album that is highly recommended for anybody who values honest-to-goodness heavy metal that worships the riff and is doomed to eternal damnation. Sign up here.