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Mgła’s take on black metal is interesting and perhaps rather unusual, in part because it does not exactly emulate anybody else, and also in part because it almost seems as though it should not work – yet it does. The music found especially on Groza is a cornucopia of disparate ideas working against each other in order to work together. The music is at once raw and melodic, wrathful and subdued, contemplative and emotional, dissonant and consonant. On the surface, the song structure may seem simple, but there is actually a modestly complex structure of layers involved here which, lain one on top of another, somehow creates a grand montage that is actually quite beautiful.
The musical influences that construct Mgła’s sound are not immediately evident. Indeed, these influences do not seem to be particularly relevant to begin with, as their music stands quite on its own. M’s songwriting continues to advance, having become quite adept at layering various sounds, one on top of another, creating together in dissonance a consonance unachievable by other means. There are rather consistently at least two chords being played at a time, one fundamental and the other either playing a consonant role by expanding the range of overtones which complete the idea or a dissonant role by playing contrary minor keys which in one sense subvert and in another accentuate the power of the fundamental.
The music remains consistently melancholic, even throughout blasting sections and moments of uncharacteristically heavy passages. The production is certainly part of this, which is splendidly clear, the drums sounding particularly crisp, yet natural, and certainly not overproduced. The drums play a prominent role on Groza, being utilized effectively as another layer to the larger scheme to complement the main body of the song. Likewise, the production also enhances the emotional layers of the music, highlighting the sympathetic chords, in contrast to the largely dispassionate lyrics. It reflects both an anger and a sense of pity, perhaps rival emotions that the Satan addressed in the lyrics feels toward mankind in their collective state of “blissful unconsciousness”.
The grand philosophy behind the works of Mgła is not easy to understand, and this is perhaps because of the diversity to be found in his influences as lyrical references. Among other examples are Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, an obscure 16th Century English novelist by the name of Thomas Deloney, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and John P. Sisk, Professor Emeritus of English at Gonzaga University. Like the component parts of the musical structure, these literary influences are quite disparate, yet there is some universality to them which brings together the work as a whole in a way seemingly unattainable by more conventional means. It is like constructing an elaborate mosaic using only one uniform style of glass, of the same color, shape, and texture; in general, what you come up with is just static, a dull, uninteresting blob of uniformity that possesses no depth, no detail, and, in general, nothing to truly behold. M seems to construct the music and lyrics with this same concept in mind, blending his influences so that, to the untrained observer, they work together in such a surprising way that it seems entirely new, though in actuality it is made up of component parts that already existed outside of the work in question.
In “Groza I”, M uses an extended quote from a piece written by Sisk, which reads as follows:
Here, in fact, we may be in the presence of one of the most necessary of all Devils: the Ecumenical Unifier, champion of all efforts to remove invidious distinctions between nature and nurture, body and spirit, interdiction and impulse, time and eternity, individual and community, male and female, Hell and Heaven-and ultimately, of course, between man and God.
The reference here is to the concept of Satan as necessary to ultimate salvation. Earlier in the piece from which this excerpt is culled (entitled “The Necessary Devil”, which can be read online), Sisk explains that it is no surprise that some people have sympathy for the Devil, and furthermore, that some even believe that “in the fullness of time, when the tents of the Apocalypse have been struck, the Devil himself will be saved - having proven to be as dialectically necessary to a final grand unity as in the Marxian view selfish bourgeois capitalists will prove to have been to the final triumph of the proletariat”, The object of focus from the quote in the text is later charged with not being worth the sympathy, because, as Sisk writes, “He does not want to be saved. He wants to scramble those 'signals of transcendence' (Peter Berger's fine term),” – another lyrical reference in “Groza III" – “which if unscrambled speak to a yearning for a kind of salvation that to him is damnation”. This Devil is the antithesis of the mindless fools that the lyrics earlier on chastise for their simpleminded and brainwashed ways, locked in their religion which is “the finely crafted, / Precise mechanism of sheep and scapegoat” in which “the lowest common denominator is crowned”. That these mindless fools would call upon Satan to join in their salvation in order for their own salvation to be complete is the utmost tragedy of human intelligence. Even the Devil here finds this behavior disgusting. He does not want man to desire for his own salvation, but rather to come to him for the salvation that he can provide.
There are other obvious literary references which will be largely left untouched, though the one by Conrad at least is certainly worth noting. M uses what is perhaps one of the most well-known phrases in the history of literature, and certainly the most well-known from Conrad, when he says “The horror. The horror.” in “Groza III”, though the way in which it is used is seemingly positive. As referenced earlier, Satan wants man to come to him for salvation, and that seems to be what the lyrics in this song express. He uses the obvious Oppenheimer reference of “Now I am become death”, describing himself as
The bitter blood of the Lamb.
Shattered grace. Ashen virtue.
The horror. The horror.
A precious jewel of His making.
‘The horror’ here is clearly a positive, an offspring of ‘His’, namely Satan’s, making. That this is paired with Oppenheimer’s reference regarding the atomic bomb is curious, providing an unusual insight. The horror is become death, the offspring of Satan is the bringer of destruction to man. This rests in direct opposition, of course, to God. The lyrics here actually turn out to be quite Satanic, but in a very subtle and perhaps surprising form.
In Groza, Mgła has accomplished a truly remarkable work, a wonderfully crafted exhibition, fertile and complex, creating a holistically pure piece of art which, like a mosaic (or indeed, the cover artwork, more prudently), looks indiscernible if viewed from too great a distance, and likewise looks random and unstructured if viewed too closely. It is only through first ‘zooming in’ upon closer inspection and then zooming back out again that Groza can be appreciated utterly for the splendid work that it is, sonically rich, conceptually sophisticated, and surprisingly well-versed.
Originally written for issue 1 of The Heretic's Torch magazine.
Mgła, Mgla, or even MGLA, are a band who’s name I cannot pronounce and struggle to understand how it’s spelled, seeming as people feel inclined to change the spelling every so often. The underground is a haven for eclipsed and enigmatic bands but this Polish act, who have enjoyed much success before the arrival of ‘Groza‘, have managed to rise above the struggling influx of less suspenseful bands. Fans of extreme underground music have harped on about Mgła since the dawn of their creation, stating that they will become one of the most significant acts in modern black metal folklore due to their incredible spirit and style. Having heard ‘Presence’ before this full-length effort, ‘Groza’ (which means ‘dread’ in English) I can say that the reaction to Mgła’s earliest material is certainly hyperbolic. I did enjoy their EP’s, most of which I heard after hearing ‘Groza‘, but I cannot say that I haven’t heard far superior bands to this Polish two man effort. ‘Groza’, thankfully, has hit the heights that some of the previous material didn’t but I won’t be judging this on the basis of what has gone before it as full-lengths are a step up in quality.
What with having ties to much hyped and much loved fellow Polish bands such as Kriegsmaschine (who I am not that fond of) and Massemord (who I am particularly fond of), one was waiting in anticipating for ‘Groza’, which was released over the summer of 2008. Signed to major record label Northern Heritage also added an extra sense of anticipation, which was steadily mounting. The pressure was firmly positioned on the shoulders of the members of Mgła to perform and thankfully, as stated, this record has hit unprecedented heights that perhaps previous material may have struggled to do in the past. There are some notable changes to the style of Mgła, who have increased the importance of production, which is thankfully much improved from previous outings, where the material was immersed in an intoxicating fuzz. ‘Groza’ however, although different in terms of production values, hasn’t lost any of the magic that the previous releases may have had, in terms of the production, which is much more accessible to modern day listeners. As black metal has evolved from a sub-genre of heavy metal, with it’s lo-fi production and blizzard like distortion, the standards have risen and expectations on elements like the production have changed. Although fans of the genre may have accepted the lo-fi nature of the production, the majority of fans seem to be swaying towards improved standards in terms of quality.
This improvement doesn’t just exist in one form either, instrumentally, this Polish act have shown a degree of maturity in terms of song writing. ‘Groza’ is covered by a captivating production style, which doesn’t tend to rely too heavily on any specific element of the instrumentation. In the past, Mgła have perhaps seen the guitars as the most imperative aspect of modern day black metal and thus, whilst improving the standards of the guitar sections, the rest of the instrumentation has inevitably been let down. That is not the case with ‘Groza’. The bass, even, which is often left out in the cold on black metal records, is submerged in a sunny production that offers a fascinating contrast in soundscapes. Although the production may be airy and light on this effort, unlike on previous efforts, it allows the instrumentation to solely do the work in terms of creating the diversities in sound. For example, the guitars, which still do contain the blizzard like tremolo effects, are used to firmly establish the ‘evil’ atmospheric tendencies, which plague the listener throughout by increasing a sense of destructive imagery and reflective patterns. The vocals are pretty standard and don’t tend to stick out much, but Mgła are all about the instrumentation, using tight percussion, interesting bass lines that like to dominate and special guitars, which bring the most splendor to the soundscapes.
Although negatives do exist (the largely redundant vocals and such), they don’t dominate in any sense of the word and I can easily see a horde of onrushing black metal fans, with their armory, battle paint (or corpse paint if you prefer) and raised swords ready to fight for and worship this Mgła record if it were to ever come under intense scrutiny. Having had many chances to listen to ‘Groza’, I can’t see that it will. The effective use of bass which, as stated, likes to take control on occasions, as well as being very diverse and interesting, those spectacular driving guitars (which are particularly inspired on ‘Groza IV’ which uses twin guitars to stunning effect), the distorted blizzard fest is mystically blissful and sounds like any fantasy novel reads, with a special atmospheric aura. Perhaps less importantly, despite the rather redundant vocals, the lyrics express a complexity that the instrumentation might not and delivers a poetical view of the lyrical themes.
“The lowest common denominator is crowned.
Standpoints are chosen over general reason.
Stars allocated to every man and woman.
Fair measure of futile love and will.
Fortresses of blissful unconsciousness.
Anywhere between Aquinas and Descartes.
Blazing a trail as shown, as told, over the exact same traces.
Crawling in circles with face in dirt and spirit skyhigh.”
Highly rated for a reason.