I picked Groza from the promo bin for one simple reason: Mgla is a great fucking band, and Groza share their name with Mgla’s debut album. That’s not by accident, either. The promo blurb that accompanied Unified in Void was frank in its admission of Mgla influence, leaving me quite excited to hear what this German quartet had to offer. Begun in 2016 as a one man studio project, Groza’s nameless founder soon enlisted three other anonymous members from the German metal underground to help him complete this full-length debut. With Uada’s sophomore album disappointing El Cuervo earlier this year, does Groza‘s unification manage to fill the Mgla worship void?
Yes—but not in the way you might expect. Given everything I said above, it probably comes as a total shock that Groza sound an awful lot like Mgla. Songs are propelled by assertive rhythms that often accelerate into blasting or collapse into chunky marches. The riffing is melodic, but with a dark and militant feel that fits well with the nihilistic lyrical themes. Even the gruff, bellowing rasps sound like someone found the long lost brother of Mgla’s frontman holed up in a German biergarten and bribed him into laying down some vocals. In short, this is black metal that’s sure to sound familiar to those who hold their hearts toward none or consider life but an exercise in futility.
Yet compared to their primary influence, Groza are much more concise. While Mgla’s songs often run seven minutes or longer, Void tears through its five tracks in less than 28 minutes, with only a single song hitting the seven minute mark. Despite this, the album has enough ideas to fill a record 10 minutes longer, with surprisingly airtight songwriting to boot. Opener “Unified in Void” is a perfect example, with its main melodic riff exploring multiple versions of itself before slamming into a massive wall of surging chords. At four minutes in length, it manages to be direct and punchy while still feeling vast in scope. “Amongst the Worms” hits equally hard, beginning with an oddly uplifting tangle of clean notes before employing what I can only describe as black metal’s version of a breakdown. This stop-start section feels huge and authoritarian, and while it admittedly isn’t all that different from something Mgla would do, its execution here feels more attention-grabbing.
While their formula is engaging in itself, the band make things better with a few moments that stray from the shadow of their Polish idols. Following a set of stormy and wrestling chords, “Unworthy” closes with a melody that possesses the same emotion and woodsiness as King Apathy.1 Likewise, closer “Thanatos” features rushing riffs that reek with the melodrama of Woods of Desolation. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for this track is somewhat deflated by a riff that sounds almost identical to one from Mgla’s Exercises in Futility, a complaint which also extends to “Ouroboros.” The album’s brief, dense nature is also a double-edged sword, as it sometimes makes the music feel less atmospheric and harder to get lost in. Fortunately, the production does a good job supporting the material’s immediacy, with a sharp and clean sound that recalls Harakiri for the Sky or other fellow Art of Propaganda signees.
All told, I’m pleasantly surprised by this debut. In a way, Groza feel like Mgla for the working man, using the same musical elements to craft songs that are shorter and punchier. It’s a testament to the band’s songwriting ability that nothing feels disjointed despite the abundance of ideas. It doesn’t hurt that the riffs are incredibly evocative, either. While I wouldn’t say Groza have bested Mgla, it’s commendable to see a “worship” band attempt to put their own take on a formula, not to mention do so successfully. Though I’d love to see more originality in the future, for now Unified in Void stands as an impressive and tightly-composed modern black metal album that’s sure to please any fan of the style.