These days, there are a couple ideologies fighting for the hearts and minds of Black Metal enthusiast groups. The first could be called the progressist camp. They want something groundbreaking that shakes the sub-genre’s foundation into truly innovative music beyond just tracing over and over the archetype. The second, more popular among the conservatives that are legion in a musical field as stiff as it is, demand to keep the genre beyond any evolutive desires. They want their metal raw, frilly up to a properly tremulous point, and lyrically shiny as tar. Any deviation from the template is met with derision and high animosity. Be it a catwalk model/indie pop celebrity “invading” their ranks or Avant-garde pretension with little bite to their bark, it seems that both camps will be eternally locked in a stalemate that’ll drive the sub-genre into oblivion. If we had to put Mgła in any side of the warring factions, it would be for the traditionalists. They come from the vibrant Polish scene, where there is already enough infighting to come up and stand out against the immensely burdening popularity of that certain Polish band. That would explain in part why they have just started to enjoy a fame of sorts, and a bit surprisingly, not from just one side of the fight. Releasing their third full-length Exercises in Futility with little notice but a lot of anticipation and generating a ton of buzz, it’s their strongest production to date, and one that could be a watershed of sorts for the entire genre.
There is a lot on Mgła’s music that is conventional without remorse, the lyrics are dejected, the blast-beats are mathematically precise, and the tremolo guitars are aplenty. There is, however, an impressive melodic sense that is fairly unique to them, perhaps only matched by the slower-paced Kriegsmaschine, which is to be expected as they share half a lineup. You don’t have to wait too long after pressing play to hear a prime example of the increased sense of urgency that Mgła has. A mid-tempo build-up on the opener track gives way to a frantic beat that it’s just too good to ignore and greets the audience into a riff, solo and hook galore that showcase the great composition skills of Mikołaj “M.” Żentara. In addition to the guitars, M. also plays the bass and lends a gruff rasp to the lyrics, surprisingly engaging despite being based on the all too common themes of nihilism and misanthropy. Completing the package, the work on the drums by Maciej “Darkside” Kowalski is nothing short of awe inducing. The only lull in the entire record comes on the third track, where the formula of reworking the base riff into diverse rhythmic structures falls into a rut with not enough melodic variety. They still manage to craft a solid song out of that hitch and it helps that it’s the shortest track. This track’s shortcomings become a bit more glaring when it’s followed by the strongest half of the record. But there’s barely enough time to reflect on that when you’re compelled to scream the infectious chorus of the fourth song. Then start an impromptu moshing with your unaware co-workers when the blast beat of the fifth track hits you like a ball-peen hammer to the temple. And then you must finish with a stagedive from the nearest desktop without regard for self-harm or property damage inspired by the amazing closer of the fastest 42 minutes you’ll enjoy this year.
There is something uplifting about Exercises in Futility that contrast starkly with the lyrical content. Be it the strong martial pounding Darkside gives to the skins, the solid melodies composed by M., or perhaps the acknowledgement of a shared set of emotions of despair and trepidation, but you’ll have no shortage of fist-pumping and imaginary citrus-grasping gestures. Progressivists can’t fault the melodic craft, conservatives can’t censor it’s strong foundations. The combination of both has been able to create exciting exuberance in a road that has been eroded into near-lifelessness. And all this would be for naught if it weren’t for the powerful production job with healthy dynamics and an accurately balanced mix that let every instrument shine as beautifully as obsidian. If Mgła is to become the next torch-bearer, and its work keeps improving and inspiring the scene, Black Metal has its relevancy secured into the next millennium with ease.