Following up their massive Exercises in Futility release from this past fall, Polish black metallers Mgła set out on a run of shows in the United States with Sangus and Mortuary Drape. This particular run of shows only spanned nine dates in the eastern half of the United States. Given the fact that the only time I had seen Mgła previously at Maryland Deathfest 2014, and considering the reality that Exercises in Futility very well might be the best album of 2015, there was no choice but to make sure I made it to the November 7th date at The Middle East.
Yes, I am aware that there is more than one band on the above bill. And as much as I would like to spend significant time focusing on Sangus and Mortuary Drape (not really), the point of this review is discuss Mgła and how they toured the album everyone is completely obsessed with. Ok fine, for the sake of transparency maybe I can’t discuss Sangus and their blood-bathing ways because I was too busy socializing and drinking with long lost friends. And maybe I can’t discuss Mortuary Drape because by the time they took the stage I was fulfilling other social situations in a different place of libation. Regardless of all that, Mgła was a band I simply couldn’t miss. And their performance on this night was just as impressive as their latest release.
If you live in the greater Boston area, or Hell, even if you don’t, and you haven’t checked out The Middle East for a show yet, make it a priority in your life. A pain in the ass to get to by public transportation, I’ll admit, The Middle East is an extremely diverse establishment on Mass Ave that features two different performance venues (the larger Downstairs and smaller Upstairs), amazing food, and an even better bar. The Middle East has long been respected for the variety of music it has presented and the intimate atmosphere of its venues. Especially the Upstairs. You see, the upstairs area holds probably no more than a hundred people, keeping the energy entirely focused on the stage. With crowds right up against the stage and a sound that carries impressively through every inch of the venue, it was an epic setting for a Mgła show. In fact, the last time I found myself at this venue was for the impressive Sólstafir show of 2014. This show was every bit as memorable.
Having watched Sangus wrap up and after managing to weasel my way up against the stage, I patiently watched as Mgła tested their speakers and monitors for what seemed like an eternity. The adjustments and readjustments were incredibly meticulous. While we all appreciated their attention to detail, there was growing concern that all this may cut into their set time. We were wrong. Eventually, once everything was just as it needed to be, Mgła departed the stage for about three minutes before returning in standard performance. If you’ve never seen Mgła perform in person before, you need to understand how important the visual aspect of their show is relative to the music. No, they aren’t running around, engaging the crowd, or trying invoke any real energy. There is no corpse paint, blood, or spikes. Instead, they walk to the front of the stage cloaked entirely in black with veils hiding their faces under leather jackets. As misanthropic as their music is, their live show couldn’t come with any other visual element. They look as nihilistic as the sound they create. And to see this same imagery five feet in front of me was a totally different experience.
Not once addressing the crowd as usual (which would foolishly break their image) Mgła quickly broke into “Further Down the Nest I”. This was an unexpected opener to say the least. Being eight total tracks, the expectation was that this set would be heavily weighted towards Exercises in Futility. Sure, three of these tracks were part of this set (I, II, and VI), but as a whole the set was incredibly diverse. With Hearts Toward None, Groza, and Mdłości were all featured. In fact, it was the closing track to With Hearts Toward None, which was the penultimate track this evening, that really brought the crowd to life. The pits opened up (much to my annoyance) and a surge of energy filled the venue. This atmosphere continued through the final song, which happened to be the final track to Exercises in Futility, before Mgła departed the stage. And lucky me, as they finished their final track, I managed to snag a copy of the set list from the stage. Another trophy in my expansive collection of memorabilia.
If I had to knock the performance for anything at all it would have to be the mixing of the lead guitars. This is an element that really carries the emotions, more than the rhythms or percussion, of their sound. But this night (and it very well could be where I was standing), it seemed to be a bit overtaken by the vocals and rhythms. A minor concern in an otherwise incredible show.
In the wake of this evening, Mgła have proven once again that their live performances are just as impressive as their albums. Their sound was sharp and they delivered a completely entrancing performance as they threw out punishing lyrics and notes in an unrelenting fashion. Fresh off releasing easily one of the best albums of 2015, Mgła has delivered a live performance to match.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”