The Rickety Old Shack

Mgła - Exercises In Futility

There is a lot that can be said in favour of the new wave of post-black metal bands, pushing the genre into new artistic directions — and blending non-metal genres into the fold. Still, there is a lot of life in the framework of more traditional black metal. Hewing much, much closer to the frostbitten roots of their forebearers, Poland's Mgła serve up six tracks of very old-school black metal for listeners in their follow-up to 2012's With Hearts Towards None. For a genre with such anti-commercial philosophies and obligatory musical constructs, it is always a pleasant surprise to get a quality serving of more traditional material — one that doesn't sound like it was recorded on an answering machine inside a metal trash can.

As with the group's last album, on Exercises In Futility the material is very minimalistic, though the songs themselves are quite lengthy — clocking in over 7.5 minutes in most cases. And while Mgła won't be winning any awards for their creative song titles, naming each of them after the album and the track number, the material itself more than makes up for that. Although it makes the tracks themselves harder to remember, and distinguish from one another, it does subliminally force one to consider them as part of a greater whole. In that regard, this is an effective tactic, as the record really does blend together into one long piece — with ebbs and flows in tempo to keep the listener from becoming disengaged.

While I'm sure there are other comparisons one could make, after listening to this record over a dozen times Exercises In Futility makes me think of a mixture of Dark Tranquility and Satyricon. The vocal delivery on these songs is very much in the vein of of both bands, with the lyrics barked in a guttural, wretched tone, while the material hews towards the tremolo-heavy standard black metal palette, with tasteful sprinkles of melody where appropriate. I also appreciate the fact the lyrics are also in English, despite the fact Mgła hail from Poland. While I have no problem with black metal albums in non-English languages, I obviously prefer them in one I can understand.

The production on this album is very good, despite the very authentic, "kvlt" feeling of the material. Exercises In Futility is a very no-frills record, with no extra instrumentation beyond the traditional guitars, drums, bass and vocals. What sets Mgła apart from countless other throwback bands, producing low-fi recordings and expending zero effort to market themselves, is the melodic underpinnings of their songs. Tonally, this is a very eerie, dirty sounding record, though there are numerous melodic moments and groovy parts — it's not all buzzing guitars, tremolo picking and double-kicks blasting non-stop.

As good as this record is, there really isn't a whole lot to say about it. Exercises In Futility is ~40 minutes of superbly crafted old-school black metal, with enough melodic flourishes to keep your attention for the record's whole duration. As a fan of black metal et al, I can appreciate the genre's ongoing expansion and embrace of new stylistic elements, but bands like Mgła serve as reminders of why I got into the genre in the first place. This isn't really a "throwback," as the contents of the album are excellent on their own merits — while I'm reminded of my love of bands like Emperor and Mayhem, this is more than just a tribute act.

Exercises In Futility has been garnering a lot of attention, and with good reason. Over the course of my pre-review listening, I found myself legitimately upset when the final track ended. In spite of the fact only "III" and "IV" are 4.5 minutes in length, the album feels much shorter than it actually is. Each track is packed full of ear-catching melodies and moody, atmospheric builds. The vocal style may be entirely one-dimensional, but it serves the music perfectly. There really isn't any one single track I would point out, above all others; Exercises In Futility is a collection of equally strong pieces.

Although their feet are firmly planted in the territory of traditional black metal, it's been very interesting watching Mgła progress as song writers. With Hearts Toward None was an excellent album in its own right, and this follow-up continues to show small improvements in every aspect of the group's output. Dripping with misanthropy, this amalgam of buzzing guitars, haunting melodies and bitterly vile indictments of existence is exactly the sort of thing a black metal fan wants. For that, I appreciate Mgła's offering and look forward to seeing what they do next.

Summary

I have no time or inclination to entertain purist debates about black metal; I can appreciate the more progressive, genre-defying groups that feature a blackened sound, but I'm also a big proponent of traditionalist material. Mgła satisfy the latter urge, and they do so in spades. Exercises In Futility is, regardless of any genre classifications, one of the better albums released this year. Whether you are a tenured fan of "trve kvlt" black metal, or a fan of heavy music with no real knowledge of the genre, Exercises In Futility is worth your time. This is a no-frills, well-produced collection of very strong black metal; I dare anyone to come up with a better primer for what constitutes the fundamentals of the genre in a current release.

Album Information

Release date: September 4th, 2015
Record label: Northern Heritage / No Solace

M — guitar, bass, vocals
Darkside — drums

Track Listing

  1. Exercises In Futility I
  2. Exercises In Futility II
  3. Exercises In Futility III
  4. Exercises In Futility IV
  5. Exercises In Futility V
  6. Exercises In Futility VI

—by Derek

Published: November 23, 2015