Friday, September 4, 2015

Mgła - With Hearts Toward None / Exercises in Futility

Written by Andy Osborn.

It’s always exciting when a band goes from unknown to being inserted into everyday discussion of the scene. Sure, arriving at the forefront of the metal web doesn’t make you rich and famous, but in our little world there isn’t much more to hope for--and there’s nothing more satisfying to watch from a fan’s perspective. Much like Bolzer did with their first EP, Mgła exploded into the collective metal conscious after With Hearts Towards None was released. I remember a solid couple months in 2012 when I saw them mentioned in one place or another just about every single day. Naturally, I succumbed to the hype. I picked up the new album and prepared myself for auditory revelation.

What I heard surprised me. Not because it was unlike anything I had ever heard before, but because it was so damn familiar. Just high quality, epic black metal with a melodic sheen. Some of the songs were absolutely ragers, unsurprisingly, but it took me a few listens to understand it all. And then I realized Mgła’s greatest strength: Their uncanny ability to shy away from all forms of bullshit. There are absolutely no distractions. You’ll notice a distinct lack of pointless intros, outros, interludes and half-assed invocations to Satan. They provide a nonstop assault of only the best that black metal has to offer. Hell, even the lyrics are more than just passable, they’re downright poetic. A rarity for the style. Mgła reinforces the importance of black metal by ripping out every song, melody, and note that’s not essential. All killer, fuck the filler.

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The three EPs are a great starting point, and contain largely what you would expect from the band early in their days. With hints of the future greatness to comes, the songs are largely unchanged from what they are making today, but with a much rawer production and a more relaxed attitude towards song construction. The first full-length, Groza, actually stands alone among the Mgła releases. It’s the least accessible and sees the band aiming for more of a mid-paced style with less emphasis on melody. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s more of a grower and the kick-to-the-face style the Poles are known for simply isn’t there. It’s moody and has their classic sense of groove, but lacks that certain memorability that’s so endearing.

Mgła at Maryland Deathfest 2014. Photos by Metal Chris

As I mentioned, With Hearts Toward None is what started turning heads, and rightfully so. The first few seconds are thunder, and the storm only gets more awe-inspiring from there. It has the perfect blend of melody and tight songwriting that pairs so well with their aggressive nature. They pay their respects to their forebears with the almighty tremolo, but not excessively because it’s laid over a dynamic backing of--gasp--chunky palm muting. It’s a near flawless record that has that magic quality making sure all the songs fit, but without overlap or sense of deja vu. But the final track is where it all comes together, an absolute masterpiece. Its epic opening is something that stuck with me since I first heard it and the triumphant explosion that follows is one of the greatest moments in black metal.

Exercises in Futility follows the same path as its predecessor. There’s the careful balance of accessibility and aggression, coupled with fantastic production that makes every instrument shine and worthy of attention. "IV" and "V" in particular stand out as some of Mgła’s best work as they tighten the grip on the listener until unleashing the addicting hooks that they’re careful not to overuse. It’s not a huge departure from what they’ve done before, just more of the quality we should expect. The six tracks weave through their memorable moments with ease, and the nuance is enough to demand endless listening. While maybe not as revelatory as what came before, it shows exactly what Mgła does best and why they have the popularity they deserve.

In this era of post-everything, ungodly genre marriages, and image-obsessed divas, it’s essential to have bands like Mgła to cut through it all. And to see them gain success from it all should give hope that there will always be worthy bannermen to follow. Mgła is making triumphant, epic music without overthinking it or trying to show off. And that’s exactly what black metal needs.

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Tagged with 2012, 2015, Andy Osborn, black metal, Metal Chris, Mgła
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