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Useless - 85%

KonradKantor, September 6th, 2015

Let me make something perfectly clear before we get going. Not only does Mgla not give a shit about what anyone has to say about its new album, Exercises in Futility; it also doesn’t care about your parents being diagnosed with cancer or your children being psychologically abused or physically tortured. It doesn’t care about people blowing themselves up in the Middle East, planes crashing in Asia, explosions in factories in China or that your childhood heroes are all depressed and committing suicide. Take a look around your house, look at the things around you and ask yourself what you see? Furniture? Shelves? Books? Pillows? An empty cereal bowl? Whether you studied M-theory in an 800-level grad school class at MIT or you were born with a missing chromosome, your existence is worth less than the inanimate objects around you. At least, that’s how Mgla sees it. If you find that to be offensive in any way, you’re clearly too short to ride this roller coaster, Timmy.

The foundation that shapes a piece of music can be dissected in two ways: 1. By its raw musical content (notes, beat patterns, production, etc.). 2. By the philosophical lessons and emotional influences that flow from it (i.e. lyrics, how the music makes you feel, etc.). Generally, one of these aspects usually outweighs the other, especially when it comes to black metal. With Mgla, however, things are a bit different. Everything the band has been involved in, from Crushing the Holy Trinity all the way down to With Hearts Toward None (the album that brought the Polish nihilists onto nearly everyone's radar), carries a lot of weight, musically and philosophically. In other words, every piece of music Mgla has written contains lyrics just as valuable as the music itself. Exercises in Futility is no different. Actually, this is the first time that both the everyday bumblefuck going about his or her day doing as little critical thinking as possible, as well as the philosopher still trying to interpret the Qabalistic significance of With Hearts Toward None’s III and VII, are spoken to directly, and as equals. So put down your copy of the book of Isaiah, because this shit ain’t too hard to figure out, even if it's not very easy to accept.

Musically, it's clear that Mgla has dedicated its existence to an astonishingly orthodox, black metal approach. The band doesn’t just beat riffs to death, it strips them down, tars and feathers them, drags them through the streets, flays them alive as slowly as possible, and once they’re less than an inch from suicide, gives them a water break while delivering the same level of torture to another riff, only to return and finish the job before the end of the song. “Exercises in Futility I” is a prime example of how diverse the riffs of a single song can be even if they only possess a few harmonious notes that bounce back and forth between guitars as they’re accompanied by very standard, interchangeable drum patterns. As predictable as it may seem, Mgla’s style of songwriting will have ninety nine percent of modern black metal bands eating its dust as they're left standing on the side of the Autobahn attempting to reinvent the wheel. Isn’t it ironic that one of the most uniquely sounding bands of this decade has achieved greatness by simply not attempting too many unique things at all and merely sticking with what works? That may not be entirely true, as there are exist plenty of “aesthetically” orthodox albums recently that could put even the most caffeinated of us to sleep (stop pretending that bands like Marduk and Watain excite you). But perhaps Mgla’s ability to captivate comes simply from the fact that their hearts really are in it. That's right... members M. and Darkside hold their brand of nihilism sincerely in the innermost center of their precious aortas. How's that for a paradox?

Aside from “Exercises in Futility I,” which may be the album’s crowning achievement, tracks “II,” “IV,” and “VI” maintain similar degrees of harmony and pacing. Tracks “III” and “V,” however, are a bit uglier in the best of ways, primarily because they don’t lead the listener where the listener wants to be led. Harmonies quickly disappear in these two tracks, and things get pretty ugly. Because of the songs' perfect placement on the album, "III" and "V" go from being nearly dismissible to downright mandatory. In fact, more than ever before, Mgla bears some striking resemblance to Polish counterparts Azarath and Behemoth just by hammering its instrumentation into your skull over and over. One, teensy-weensy complaint, though? The album’s production hides the Darkside's brilliant cymbal work, particularly in “Exercises in Futility V.” The drumming sounds as relentless as ever, but the subtle intricacies of the drum fills are lost due to the sheer volume and constant humming of the guitars and bass. The mandatory stretching of one’s ears isn’t something black metal fanatics are unfamiliar with, but it feels like an unnecessary practice with a band like this, as the music is so straightforward to begin with. Nevertheless, the complaint only speaks to Darkside’s greatness as a black metal drummer.

Exercises in Futility fits in line stylistically with all of Mgla’s other LP’s, with the biggest potential standout of the three being whichever one it was that first turned the listener on to the band. Structurally, the album itself is built much more like With Hearts Toward None than the band’s debut, Groza, however it is unique in its own way. As opposed to utilizing the grandiose ebb and flow system that made With Hearts Toward None so cathartic, or slowly tearing apart an open wound the way Groza did, Exercises in Futility gives us more of a hurried glimpse of the macrocosm of the band’s core philosophy. Imagine focusing a telescope powerful enough to break through all dimensions so that we could see the greatest secret that lies at the end of the outermost wall of the outermost universe, and then suddenly realizing that the great secret is... simply nothing. However frightening or exhilarating that may be, it’s not healthy in large doses. And neither is Exercises in Futility, so be happy that, as The Dude would put it, Mgla is definitely into the whole brevity thing.

At the very center of our brief cosmic journey here on Earth, there exists a cesspool of people who claim to know things. They claim to know whether or not we existed before this and in what form. They claim to know why we’re here, and they also claim to know what lies in store for us at the end of this very brief, mortal existence, and what we need to do in order to reach immortality so that we can be eternally happy. On the other side of the fight is Mgla, an entity comprised of no less fanaticism and self-loathing than any other person “claiming to know,” but they’re still an underdog, and they're as sincere as ever before. In short, the world could use a bit of nihilistic philosophy to balance out all of the bullshit that spews forth into our faces every single day. And as an agnostic simply sitting on the sidelines and witnessing all of the spiritual chaos, it’s kind of nice to see such a good fight put up by these Polish reapers of hope, shrouded in secrecy, with all the passion and conviction in the world that we are nothing but worthless, organic sacks of matter. Well, either that, or they’re just another fucking emo band feeling sorry for themselves and trying to be scary, but the first description sounds so much cooler, doesn't it?

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