Of all the conceptual themes that form the subject matter of the black metal universe, one of the more intriguing is that of nihilism. The stylistic musical elements of the genre lend themselves naturally to empty bleakness of these beliefs. Long using such topics as inspiration, Mgła has come forth in 2015 and released their most impressive work to date in Exercises in Futility, escalating them to the pinnacle of the black metal world.
Formed in Cracow, Poland, Mgła has, at least until recent years, quietly existed since 2000. Over the last fifteen years, they have released several EPs, but only two prior full length length albums, and none before 2008. Moreover, they didn’t really start to emerge in the United States until 2014’s appearance at Maryland Deathfest. And it’s a performance I remember vividly. Seeing these figures emerge onto the stage, completely cloaked in black (including their faces), leather jackets over it all, Mgła delivered an incredible performance, with an atmosphere and darkness that still resonates with me. While 2012’s With Hearts Toward None was the primary content of that particular set, tracks I was unfamiliar with the time, their image still matched their environment perfectly. With Exercises in Futility, they have only built off of that. And in the most impressive of ways.
Focusing first on the album name of Exercises in Futility, you can immediately pick up on Mgła’s perspective on humanity. A perspective I can understand and appreciate. Their misanthropic viewpoints cascade down on their audience from the moment you see the cover art — depicting a pitiful human form in suffering (in black and white, of course) — to the album title, to the endless waves of atmospheric musical bleakness that fills this record. Even the track titles, which simply follow the album’s title with an appropriate “I”, “II”, “III”, etc., through their simplistic apathy, illustrate how worthless and wasteful this, our, existence is. The message is clear and the delivery is unrelenting, through every medium possible.
The music itself, to get back to what matters, is some of the more perfected black metal you will hear. On a high level, the production is exactly what we look for. Clear enough to discern everything distinctly, while remaining organically raw in atmosphere. From the sharp tones of the guitar leads, which are absolutely mesmerizing, to the furious percussion, and then to M.’s echoing barks of hatred and frustration, nothing is lost. It creates the ideal environment for Mgła’s message. Getting into more specifics, the stylistic influences are what clearly categorize this as a black metal album, as no other influences need to be mentioned. After a few seconds of droning on the opening “Exercises in Futility I”, daringly melodic somber guitar leads introduce M.’s impressive growls. But it doesn’t take long for faster tremolo picking and resonating percussion to take form. This, surely, forms the spine of the album. Yet, throughout, the intricacies of the guitar leads introduce an element to Mgła’s sound that help carry this collection above the other impressive black metal work we’ve heard this year. From track to track, this darkness grows, swallowing its audience in its disdain for our existence.
While the style is consistent and pure, the structure can be more diverse. In the succeeding tracks, Mgła introduce slower, more droning interludes, where the vocals are borderline spoken at times (if present at all). It generates an overwhelming feeling of woeful depression before exploding into a far more aggressive, blistering tempo. This includes, in the opening stages of the closing track specifically, occasional guitar interludes that are really quite ambient. It is, in a particularly dark, somber form, somewhat peaceful. But of course, these also tend erupt into some of the harsher moments on the album. It is as impressive of a black metal display as you will find, and one that focuses on structural deliverance enough to keep an audience entranced.
With Exercises in Futility, Mgła have, without any doubt, released the quintessential black metal album of the year so far. Start to finish, their frustration with humanity is released in full force. As a listener, you become one with their apathy towards our insignificance and gravitate towards their nihilist viewpoints. And that is simply a tribute to the environment they create. With flawless sound and architecture, I can say with complete confidence that there is a new ‘Album of the Year’ candidate in Exercises in Futility.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”