Have you ever wanted to curl up into the fetal position and contemplate the feeble nature of existence? Well, have I got the record for you! Matter of fact, even if the answer is no, Mgla’s Exercises in Futility is a stellar black metal album that’s still worth a listen or two.
It’s the third and latest album from the Polish duo of M (vocalist, guitarist, bassist) and Darkside (master percussionist), both members of Kriegsmaschine, a very solid addition to the great canvas of European black metal. While the former focuses on satanic themes, Mgla (“fog” in Polish, pronounced “mgwa”) instead takes an approach to the darkness that dwells within and without humanity, not being as expansive as Deathspell Omega and their anti-cosmic objective, nor as outright introspective as, say, Austere or Gris. Instead the band does away with mysticism and melancholy, focusing squarely on the emptiness of simply being, a perspective that has grown to a fullness in Exercises, which, as the title implies, bears a barren nihilism in its ashen core.
And, hand in hand with its overarching theme, the band’s sound lacks much of the fanciful niceties that many profound black metallers have adopted, instead taking on their substance with a heftier black metal sound that avoids the often seen stringy, synth and tremolo approach of Paysage D’Hiver and other classic acts, fleshing out the riffing style that the subgenre wields to become burlier and meatier—powered in great part by the crashing, plodding and steadfast drums and the thick, concrete bass—all in conjunction with piercing, melodic buzz-saw guitars that sizzle above the pounding, burning riffage, sounding sepulchral, tenebrous, bleak, and earthy—the production is clear and unburdened by usual black metal tropes, giving it an organically loud and ragged rawness. It’s an overpowering sound, one that’s meant to drive desperation in its darkest moments, as it grows to a shuddering crescendo. Take the very first track, which leaves its rails and enters a cathartic tunnel, ending the song with a sorrow that elicits so much of the album’s underlying emotional center.
It’s a powerful combination, actually, that takes into account the maturity of the band’s cooperation of precisely-worded lyricism and their brazen, bleak soundscapes, which dips into powerful moments that belie a very sentimental subtext to the album’s nihilism, moments that contrast with the dejection and spite driven into the lyrics. “II” opens with a hostile declaration powered by a hovering engine of peering malevolence that cracks open into something that can be described as “heartbreaking”, a shift that returns throughout the song. The melodic tremolo-driven riff of “IV” grows in anxiety as its chorus nears, tearing the song to a wrenching climax as the haunting lyrics are croaked in a furious lamentation—a constant in M’s throaty, low-ranged growls, a dominating force that adds gravitas to the record—the song’s tragedy a sudden contrast from the contempt and bile-ridden rasps of “III”, which runs on a consistent rising and falling of oppressive, piercing notes. And, perhaps most strikingly, “V” runs a gamut of chaos, perpetuated by Darkside’s fantastic cymbal work and never-ending precision pedals, and the hair-raising, tyrannical, grinding, churning riffs that bear down on the song like a choke-hold, reprieve offered only by the sudden and singular appearance of synth, a ghostly echo that surfaces in the song’s closing moments, a touch of silk amidst a ravine of sharp rocks. And that’s all without mentioning “VI”.
Lyrically, the band is a cut above many of their contemporaries; while songs occasionally border on excessive wordiness, the slip ups are minimal when the actual writing is taken into consideration. Despite the language barrier, the lyrics demonstrate a great command of English, one that’s ambitious enough to attempt something as grand as an album reflecting on the blindness of being. Each song expands upon the record’s theme of nothingness begetting nothingness, damning even the very symptoms of sentience, with the system of human emotional response considered an illusive crutch and a curse. It’s admirable, actually, how thematically consistent and thorough the album is; there are no diversions from the darkness—the album starts off grim, and ends with a thesis statement that declares the worthlessness of all things, highlighting the naivety of sadness and misery, firmly planting the singular absolute truth to existence: we create storms in a glass of water, one that will evaporate with the passage of time—one day, the celestial gasses that fuel the stars and make life possible will burn out, and the universe will become eternal darkness. The only consequence to trying to free yourself from the shackles of our reality is well-deserved madness.
To be honest, what else can I say about Exercises in Futility without dragging it out? It might not be spectacularly monumental in the same way In the Nightside Eclipse or Slaughtersun are, but it stands as a monolith of solid, wonderfully executed black metal, a no-nonsense slice of the real deal that sounds thoroughly, refreshingly desolate and cold without resorting to goofy or blasé imagery. Musically, it’s powerful and precise to a tee, managing to balance melody with a dismal severity. Lyrically, it’s well spoken and utterly fierce. It might not be a record that can convince those averse to black metal’s dismal charm; however, for the aficionado, it’s a fell-winged work that dips into the heart of despair.
M’s label, No Solace, has uploaded the album in its entirety on YouTube. Give it a whirl: