Mage were forged in 2010, in Leicester. That’s right: heavy metal from Leicester. I know! From a scene where ‘heavy’ is synonymous with ‘half time breakdown’, it’s great to know there are some bands that don’t need to spell brutal with a ‘v’ in order to get their message across. Mage are pretty straightforward at that: once you hit play, you’ll instantly get what Black Sands is all about. Sludgy, dirty, heavy metal.
Since their formation, Mage have been constantly assaulting venues around Leicester and the surrounding towns, so the band has achieved a very tight dynamic. Black Sands, recorded at Stuck On A Name Studios in Nottingham, sounds very live-in-the-studio. This doesn’t mean it sounds sloppy – far more the case, the record has a very natural, energetic groove.
Mage hold no pretensions about their sound. It’s all 4/4 rock beats and pentatonic noodling, and that simplicity is what makes them so easy to get into, if old-school heavy metal is your cut of meat. The band describe themselves as stoner-doom metal, if that’s a thing; if you’ve ever heard The Sword before, you know what you’re in for. The vocalist cannot be missed, though – instead of The Sword’s relatively clean vocals that floats about on top of the instruments, Mage’s vocalist Tom can be found down, akin to a bear chewing a tree. He’s not so gutteral that you can’t make out the lyrics, but when he growls out, “The weight on my shoulders is like a dead cow – it’s getting old now,” you don’t need to ask if he means it. You could call the lyrics a little unimaginative, but for their delivery, they fit the bill perfectly.
A lot can be said for the other instruments too – Mark, the bassist, is constantly up to something interesting, rather than just chugging the lowest note he can, whilst Ben and Woody resist the urge to go for Iron-Maiden style guitar harmonies and lay down a real groove with the drummer, Andy. The lead guitar parts are catchy until they really get stuck in with the solos, turning far more raw and frenetic. They might not be especially melodic, but it’s show-y and, lets be honest, just plain cool.
From start to finish, the album is very consistent – there are fast songs and slow songs, but every single one sounds like Mage. They walk the razor’s edge as to sounding repetitive and samey, but every minute of the album will keep you nodding your head in time, or else fighting the rock-n-roll urge to stomp around and break things. ‘Cosmic Cruiser X’ is a killer opener, but the rest of the album manages to live up to the high bar they set for themselves. ‘Degenerate’ is another favourite (of previously mentioned ‘dead cow’ fame), consolidated by ‘Super Supremacy’ (when you hear the chorus, you will understand), but a real highlight of the album is ‘Star Born’, for it’s very retro, old-school heavy metal feel.
That’s what we’re here for, really. If you’ve been dulled by modern metal records with all their production values and erring on the side of caution, Black Sands is a breath of that stale, sweaty air that we’ve come to associate with being drunk in crap-but-fantastic pubs, deafened by up-to-11 bands that don’t really care what you think, and are having a great time doing it. Mage love what they’re doing, and you can tell.
The only problem with records like Black Sands is that you will never be able to crank the volume up high enough to really appreciate it. If you’re anything like Mage’s target audience, though, they trust that you’ll try your best. If you’re going to get an ASBO for deafening your neighbours, Mage is definitely the way to go.