Mage was born as a conclave of doom worshipers from Leicester in 2010, and its lineup was stable, as all five doom magicians have one goal — to create heavy, straightforward, groovy, and sincere music.
Tom was chosen to take the duty of vocalist, Woody and Ben committed to do best they could with playing guitars, as Mark and Andy (who replaced Moe in 2011) have formed a solid rhythm section.
Just one year after their birth, Mage recorded their first self-titled EP with four good’n’heavy songs. Limited to 100 copies, it was distributed by Witch Hunter Records. Ten new songs have shaped the full-length record Black Sand, released in October 2012 by the band’s own efforts.
With massive and punchy riffs, memorable solos, and impressive vocal lines, Mage easily gained recognition. Tom sings in a forthright, pretty hardcore manner, and it works excellently with Mage’s uncompromising riffs… It took the band only two years to finish their second album Last Orders, which was released by Witch Hunter Records on Halloween 2014.
Last Orders is a perfect collection of heavy doom tracks with some minor influences of stoner, and the stuff is diverse, so there are proper and angry soundtracks like “Beyond”, “Violent Skies”, or fast killer songs like “Old Bones”. Most of riffs were composed by Ben, and I suppose that he is one of the important reasons why there are no fillers on the album.
No one could expect it — but Ben has passed in 2015, and Mage took a break to figure out if they could continue or not. I’ve found Tom to learn of the band’s future plans and to ask a few questions about Last Orders.
Hail Tom! How are you?
HAIL! All good thanks. I looked up some greetings in Russian but I don’t trust the internet not to lie to me.
What’s Mage’s status now?
I would say that it is down but not out. We haven’t had much time to figure out how we will move forward, but we will. We have some plans and we’ve had some amazing support.
After Ben’s death the band took a break, but later returned to play a few gigs. What drives you and the guys to sustain life in Mage?
The main answer to that is, Ben. He put so much into Mage that we couldn’t just give up on it. It is his legacy, and we will do our best to honor that. We also enjoy what we do, and the only reason we would call it a day would be if we couldn’t hack it emotionally (or if we sound like complete shit without him). But we’ve come through the worst of that I think, so now it’s just a case of discovering what is possible without Ben’s input.
Your second album Last Orders was released about a year ago and it is a killer work, you know it. And as each album, it starts with an artwork, a cool comics-styled artwork in your case. What is the story behind it? Does it illustrate the “Old Bones” song?
Thanks. That artwork was done for us by an artist in Chicago who I think had approached us. Ben liked the style because it was reminiscent of Frank Miller. He asked me for some ideas from the album lyrics and we originally came up with a zombie in a space suit, which was a mixture of themes. That looked cool, but we noticed it was a concept that was showing up a lot around the time, so we just went with the Old Bones theme.
Mage performed on this album a strong doom metal with stoner elements and a pretty straightforward approach. What formed your vision of doom as you recorded it on Last Orders?
Last Orders definitely has a more Doom vibe to it, but that was never intentional. We don’t usually set out to write a particular style of song. We just go with what we think sounds good.
Ben was definitely the doom bringer. Most of those doom riffs came from him. I guess what you write is influenced by what you’re listening to at the time and how you feel, so maybe we were all on a darker trip around that time. It’s just one of those things that worked out that way. It worked for the album, it worked for us, it worked for a lot of other people so we’re happy.
Mage – Last Orders
Tom, besides the music, I’d like to notice your manner of singing, with a bloody expressive and hard delivery. Who are your teachers of the vocals?
I haven’t had any actual vocal lessons since I was at school (I’m not telling you how long ago that was). The basics, like breathing, come from that, but everything else I’ve learnt through trial and error.
I hadn’t sung for a long time when I joined the band. I was kind of nervous about it, not knowing what they expected or what I could do at that point. Andy, Ben, and Mark had a couple of songs part-written already and they were playing God Luck and Good Speed by Weedeater (who I hadn’t heard before). When I listened to the track I had to go back to them and say, “You know I don’t sing like that, right?”. They just said to do it in my own way. Singing that song definitely had an influence on how I sing now.
Last Orders has some remarkable song texts dealing with sci-fi, horror, and darkness-in-a-broad-sense topics. How important are the lyrics for you? How did you write the texts for this album?
The lyrics are very important to me. I probably put more time into the lyrics than into how I sing them. Whatever I’m writing about, even if it’s a song about a zombie or some nonsense stoner lyrics, my goal is to write the best lyrics I can. I write for me first and foremost, and to justify my work next to the awesome music the others create.
Thematically, inspiration comes from different places. Literature, experience, other people’s suggestions and often just right out of the music. Again, I don’t set out to write a sci-fi song or a religious-themed song, the ideas just fall into place eventually. Sometimes it’s a struggle, sometimes the words just pour out, but I always sweat over them.
“Violent Skies” for example, that opening section immediately sounded like a storm gathering and breaking to me. The chorus was there straightaway, but the verses took a lot longer to figure out. Ben actually wrote the lyrics to “Beyond” on a whim. I just tweaked them a bit. That’s very much his song.
Mage is a British band, and your country has a damned rich history, a unique vibe, and a lot of cool places like Grimpen mire. How is England reflected in Mage?
It makes us miserable, cynical, hard-drinking, dope-smoking, angry men in search of escapism.
There’s a song “Witch of the Black Desert” on Mage’s first full-length album Black Sands; the witch is a popular figure in doom metal songs, so why did you choose her as a personage of this story?
I had the opening lines for a while before the song was written. It fitted well and I just developed the narrative from there. I guess I just thought the title sounded like a good story.
Are there any songs left after the Last Orders recording session?
We had a few riffs that didn’t get used and we dropped one song, but we had been in the process of writing new material since the start of the year almost. We’re beginning to get back on that horse but it will inevitably be affected by how we go forward (as a four-piece or with a new guitarist). We definitely want to get the songs that Ben started finished and recorded anyway.
Tom, I have a standard questions, so… what was your favorite book in a school? I need to say that H.P. Lovecraft still takes the cake!
Damn, we’re back to remembering stuff from school. I genuinely don’t remember what I read when I was at school apart from children’s books. Possibly Lord of the Rings. I don’t remember when I first read that. I discovered Nick Cave in my last year, so I might have read And The Ass Saw The Angel. Which is still a favorite.