Poland’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.
Much 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.