Mgla_Exercises in FutilityPoland’s Mgla caught fire on 2012’s acclaimed sophomore opus With Hearts Toward None, displaying the song-writing polish and sophistication that often comes with the experience and chemistry that the duo of Mikołaj “M” Żentara (guitars, bass, vocals) and Maciej “Darkside” Kowalski (drums) obviously share. It convincingly proved over a decade since their formation the poisonous fruit harvested through Mgla’s persistent artistic endeavors was ripe for consumption. Exercises In Futility finds Mgla returning to heap more misery and poetic musings on the listener, wrapping their gnarled old school blackened roots around their penchant for bleeding bummed-out melody and grim atmosphere into emotionally intense and addictive songs. This is a dejected and oddly infectious album that cements Mgla as one of the more interesting and innovative bands on the scene. Throwing the words ‘old school’ into the mix may be misleading but there’s a certain raw spirit casting an ominous atmospheric blanket over the album that embodies the values of the genre’s past while never comfortably fitting into a singular mold defined by any particular era or sound. Mgla know where their strengths lay and how best to utilize them to their advantage.

At the forefront of the Mgla experience is M’s exceptional guitar work, bending bleakly addictive melodies, atmospheric textures and harsh, dissonant riffage around the nuanced hammer blows of Darkside’s controlled drumming. The duo sound immense throughout, both on a sonic level and through the sheer passion and craftsmanship they apply to their work. And despite the music’s relentlessly spiteful and bleak tone, the extended instrumental sections and livelier passages drive with an almost anthemic sense of groove. Thick layers of guitars and bass coalesce in a swarming buzz of disparate yet somehow fitting elements of harmony and discord. Then of course, you have those insidious lead guitar melodies burrowing holes into the brain and lodging themselves in the memory bank.

Mgla_2015Much of the material gains forward momentum through subtle riff and tempo change-ups, swelling ebbs and flows, and a persistent yet varied mid-paced clip that almost gives the illusion that the speedier moments are faster than they actually are. Although never in short supply, the blast beats are used sparingly in comparison to many black metal acts, with their tasteful use proving all the more impactful. Darkside’s underrated and skilled drumming stands-out, not so much for out-of-this-world technicality but in how he deftly works to the contours of each song, adding constantly shifting variables, rolling double kicks and snappy cymbal work into inventive drum patterns.

Exercises In Futility is divided into six self-titled chapters, with the opening “I” a dose of malevolent atmosphere and churning riffs underpinned by expert shifts of momentum and rhythm. Shorter cuts punctuate the album’s mid-section and are equally well written and effective in their punchier form, while the epic “V” is a grim headbanger with extended jam sessions featuring superb cymbal work and shooting bolts of electrified energy through the song’s charred black exterior. While there’s no reason each chapter couldn’t be isolated to provide short term bursts of satisfaction, Exercises In Futility is particularly effective in its ability to immerse the listener when consumed as a whole.


Also noteworthy are M’s thought-provoking lyrics, channeled through harsh pipes as he spouts hateful and intelligent vitriol that is far more insightful and poetic than your average black, or for that matter extreme metal band, lending the album further depth of emotion. The production is mostly spot-on as well, with the instruments sounding crisp and well defined without sounding overly polished or dulling the band’s edgy tone. The drums could sound punchier at times, but the brightness of Darkside’s cymbals highlight his impressive handiwork.

I’ve certainly heard albums with higher peaks and hooks that penetrate deeper throughout the year, but Exercises In Futility is a complete album boasting a consistent high standard and cohesiveness, not to mention an ideal run time that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Mgla have hit the ground running with another harrowing, power-packed album built on stony foundations of dismal melody and dynamic songcraft that proves as irresistible as a loaded needle in a crack house.

    Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Northern Heritage Records
Releases Worldwide: September 4th, 2015

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  • L, awesome point about the drums. I thought the production of this record was excellent minus the drums. Perhaps a mix issue. Anyway, definitely one of the best black metal records this year.

    • I’ve read this a couple of times but I loved the mix of the battery compared to With Hearts Towards None, besides being more squashed, on that one the cymbals and hi-hats where so high on the mix I found it really hard to listen at times. On this one there’s real musicality to them, especially on the fifth track.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    First caught wind of this on NCS, and it hooked me on the first listen. A number of people have mentioned the quality of the lyrics. I don’t often read along with the lyrics on metal albums, but in this case I’m definitely going to sit down with the album and do that.

  • tomasjacobi

    So far this one hasn’t clicked with me yet like With Hearts Toward None did. Maybe I just need more time get into it or maybe it just isn’t as good.. We’ll see…

  • Gonna need to find a lyric sheet for this I suppose (though I normally don’t pay attention to them). On that note, I need to buy this bloody album already.

    • The lyrics are included in the bandcamp release. You can even check them on the web stream, just select the song and a lyrics link will appear on the right to the title to display them.

  • Karmazov

    Really excited to listen to this when I get home for work. I need some frosty black metal to coincide with the cooling Minnesota temperatures.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    My only problem with this album is that the first track is so fucking awesome that the only way forward is down.

    • It’s hard for me to pick between the first and last tracks to put in my list for songs of the year.

  • bolok

    doing a quick google, i realise i have come across this band before but have not had a proper listen [their album art in particular is very cool]. the sample track sounds absolutely fantastic, and appropriately cvlt in its compressed stream quality :p. thanks for the exquisite review, seriously there is no other place to come for such well considered, balanced and thoughtful writing on metal! i shall be splashing out next pay day on this XD

  • Daniel Figueiredo

    “I’ve certainly heard albums with higher peaks and hooks that penetrate deeper throughout the year”

    Such as…? IMO this easily takes this year’s black metal crown so far.

    • Mark Hunt

      This year hasn’t been bad for black metal I think. The Obsequieaudeusue (whatever) was really solid, I haven’t listened to it nearly enough.
      I also really liked the latest Enslaved, allthough most people on here seemed to disagree. The Hamleypa album was also really solid, flew way under the radar though.
      Then A Forest of Stars, the fantastic “Stellar” by Der Weg einer Freiheit and Galar’s glorious “de gjenlevende”.

      • basenjibrian

        I revisited the Galar. Rarely do I love so much BOTH the “classical” and “metal” parts of an album.

    • I’m with you man. Even though there has been a lot of worthy stuff this is way ahead.

    • Luke_22

      I was speaking more generally rather than in terms of black metal releases. I agree this is one of if not the best BM albums of the year.

  • Will

    I haven’t been following black metal too much this year. What other solid records similar to this one can you recommend from 2015?

    • The new Nechochwen is really great.

      • Pimpolho

        He said black metal though, not the-best-fucking-black-metal-since-the-last-best-black-metal

      • Luke_22

        Cool I’ll have to check that out.

    • Mark Hunt

      Obsequiea (spelling?), Enslaved, Hamleypa, Der Weg einer Freiheit, Galar, A Forest of Stars,…

    • Similar to this, I’d say Spectral Wound – Terra Nullius, or Luciferian Rites – When The Light dies, they all have that Finnish BM style.

      Also perhaps Ninkharsag – Blood of Celestial Kings, but that one it’s a bit more Dawn/Dissection inspired.

      If you want something more atmospheric-cascadian I’d go with Lluvia, the ROTM Myrkur, or the already mentioned Nechochwen.

      There’s been a metric butt-ton of great BM this year in a wide variety of styles and sub-sub-genres. Amestigon, Kjeld, Imperial Triumphant, Leviathan, Drudkh, Outre, Acherontas…

      • Pimpolho

        What do you think about Outre, Hell? (calling someone literally ‘Hell’ is just glorious) I know Grymm was VERY found of it, but i didn’t really like it

        • They accomplished a great and unique style on a sea of Deathspell Omega clones. And Ghost Chants has an amazing guitar tone IMO, it gives it a ton of atmosphere. And then there’s the Mgla connection, it was recorded at the same studio by the same dude that plays guitar here, so there has been a lot of talented people fingering that pie.

  • t l

    nice one, but next time please remember it’s Mgła – funnily enough you typed M’s surname correctly (or might have just as well copied it from elsewhere). So, then, copy the band’s name from this post and use it correctly. Also, feel free to vote this down (might even start it myself for encouragement)

    • Mark Hunt

      I hate that thing. Always looks like dirt on my screen, no matter what font. :D

      • Martijn Brugman

        I like it better than the spelling preoccupations ov some other Polish guys

  • Daughter of Achelous

    5/5 here. GODLY! Horns to this.

  • BranMakMorn

    Fantastic album, serious contender for BM album of the year. I gave a couple of spins to their previous albums, and I remained impressed. But this really accomplishes much more. Three things to note: 1) it is a deceptively old-school album, that is to say, at first blush it sounds like a groovy album placed somewhere between second-wave BM and black n’roll, but it actually hides very smart arrangements, superior riffage and a punchy sound that make it very contemporary; 2) the lyrics: definitely better than your average “Satan-is-coming-darkness-will-prevail” BM stuff. Well composed, genuinely bleak nihilistic stuff which sounds to me almost Ligotti-inspired; 3) the drumming is fantastic, varied and dynamic. And the imaginative fillers and variations with cymbals are on a par with some of Hellhammer stuff (think Shining III era). And the artwork kicks ass (as in their previous releases). Great review, it’s a 4.5 for me.

    • Luke_22

      I agonised over the scoring but in the AMG tradition of scoring down when in doubt I settled on the 4.0. Either way it’s a terrific slbum. Love the drumming.

    • Paul

      Far from being Bm album of the year

  • Dennis Thomsen

    This is a great album. Perfect scoring on behalf of the reviewer. Not sure what ‘perfect’ would sound like, anyways… this band has it’s charm and they are certainly good at their craft. Maybe perfect would be the accumulation of both Mgla and Kriegsmaschine combined… always amazed me how some of these blokes can have so much skill to spread over several projects haha. Highly recommended band(s)

  • I’ve been listening this one a lot since release. With Hearts Towards None was a doozy but they really pushed their formula forward and the production is ace IMO. Right now it’s stands comfortably above everything else I’ve heard in the year.

  • You wot m8?

    So much black metal, so little time. I’ll have to grab this one as soon as I can. I must admit, I missed their earlier work [though I think I’ll be checking them out now]. Loving the Nergal-esque snarl.

  • Thou’s Heathen’s cover art is eerily similar to this… like I’m assuming it’s the same artist.

    • Did you knew that Thou cover art you’re speaking of it’s only for the bandcamp version? All of the bandcamp versions have cover art that come from old engravings that most likely come from old book illustrations where they were most commonly used. Since I haven’t found hard info about the artist I’m willing to bet this one is also an old engraving on the public domain so they don’t have to deal with pesky copyright issues. It’s quite striking though.

      Here’s the retail cover for Heathen. It was a bit confusing at first when I saw this cover on my scrobllings

      • Oh! Yeah I had no idea. Thanks for the explanation.

        • no worries, cover art is a bit of a secondary obsession of mine :)

  • Alex Leverkühn

    This has been on repeat nonstop for me for a whole week now. If this had been on a cassette like the old days, I would have worn it out by now. Album of the year for me. I can’t even pick a favorite song, although I and VI are justunbelievable; it’s that good. I would have rated it a 5. It’s silly to listen to bands like Marduk and Watain after this.

    “The grotesque eagles of misfortune, we’ll fed on Thanatos, sit still.

    It’s the dignity of scavengers at the ever growing garbage dump of life.”

    • JeremyZero

      Hey man, don’t be hating on Marduk and Watain. Just because MGLA is awesome, doesn’t mean they aren’t too.

      • basenjibrian

        I still like later Marduk myself. :(

      • Alex Leverkühn

        Sorry man, didn’t mean to offend anyone. Mgla just seem to make me stop listening to other black metal bands, especially when it comes to the lyrical aspect, Deathspell Omega notwithstanding.

  • Alex Leverkühn

    Mgla have really come a long way since I first heard of them on the “Crushing the Holy Trinity” with DsO and some others. Is black metal supposed to be this catchy? Lyrically nihilistic but musically so damn uplifting. Track V oddly reminds me of Ministry’s “NWO.” Weird, I know.

    • ALSO BANNED: Howard Dean

      The Crushing the Holy Trinity split fucking slays. Very happy that I own that ugly bastard on CD.

  • Gallaxas

    I’m so hooked it’s silly. Fuck this is good.

  • grooben

    These guys are a great example of the way top-level songwriting can really set a band apart. On the surface this is fairly traditional but the songs and performances push it to the next level. Do they tour? Wonder what the chances of them coming to Scotland are…

    • They do tour. They have US dates right now IIRC

      • grooben

        Sweet, I’ll keep an eye out.

      • basenjibrian

        Less than an hour from me! I am way, way too old to go to metal shows, but I may make an exception here!

  • siegbran

    It’s a fantastic record of course, I am however mystified why this record ends up getting rave reviews everywhere (it currently is #1 metal on RYM too) while last years Kriegsmaschine album, which has the same members playing pretty much the exact same music (albeit without blastbeats), ended up completely ignored by everyone.

    • drathbun502

      Damn right. That Kriegsmachine albums has turned into an absolute favorite that I still play regularly. Everyone I play it for loves it. It seems to be invisible to the public though and I can’t figure out why either.

    • I liked Kriegsmaschine, however I think that one lacks the melodic structure of this one.

  • Greg Hasbrouck

    There’s always been something special about this band. They have an element about their sound that’s comfortably familiar, without being at all derivative.

  • groverXIII

    For all the hype over this album, and my dislike of a lot of black metal, I have to say, this album is really, really good, and it gets better every time I hear it.

  • Kronos

    September’s list is going to be entirely unpronounceable.

  • Óðinn

    Great review, L. Saunders. Thank-you very much.

    • Luke_22

      No problem. Thanks for reading.

  • Yep that’s the one for the bandcamp version

    Here’s the one for their collab with The Body on bandcamp. If you look for the retail cover is totally different too.

  • sir_c

    the embedded clip…. woah… fucking magnificent!

  • ALSO BANNED: Howard Dean

    Still one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, after all these months. A stunning black metal record. Elevated Misthyrming to the top of the Icelandic BM heap for me (which is saying a lot, with Svartidaudi, Sinmara, Carpe Noctem, Mannveira, etc hailing from the country).

    Long time no see, Herr Bearikson!

  • Nick Maestas

    Such a badass album! I did not expect it to be as good as it is.