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they're all grown up now - 94%

RapeTheDead, December 15th, 2015

Look, I realize I'm just piling on the hype train here, but it's difficult to argue with an album that pretty much satisfied all of my expectations. With Hearts Toward None already solidified this band's status as a bona fide black metal band in my mind, and you can already see the little ways Mgla's evolving their sound begin to manifest with this album. Everything that made them a good band before is still left intact, and there's even more for a seasoned fan to enjoy.

The strength of this band as far back as Presence (the only thing I haven't heard by this band is the split they put out with Clandestine Blaze) has always been the straightforward riffs and how they remain memorable, even when emphasized and repeated. Somehow, despite staying strictly confined to a melodic black metal realm leading to a similarity in theme between songs, this band has a multitude of tracks and moments that stand out. Exercises in Futility is no exception to this; while my favorite tracks on this album were the first and last ones after the first few listens, I started gravitating towards "Exercises II" and "Exercises IV" once I had listened to the opener and closer way too many times, and then eventually the rest of the tracks grew on me once I gave them more time. Every track has something really cool to offer, which is something I couldn't even say about past Mgla albums--they're not impervious to a stinker or two, after all, but there are none to be found here. Exercises in Futility is surprisingly diverse despite remaining within the parameters of the band's style, and as a result it sounds the most well-rounded of any album they've put out.

There are a couple extra spices that have been thrown into the mix that give Exercises in Futility its own flavor compared to Mgla's previous releases. Primarily the drums. Especially the drums. The way Darkside dances on the cymbals effortlessly to make the standard blast heavy black metal drumming really stick with you is awe-inspiring and persists throughout every song. The moments where the drums lay off the blasting for a little bit and settle into the pocket are great tension-releases, too, and the songs that have a mid-paced groove in them are on a whole new level as a result. I'm particularly thinking of the moments at the beginning of the album, the opening of the fifth track and the groove midway through the closing track--each one of these three segments of music is near-impossible not to bang your head to. It's rare that I find myself noting a black metal drummer having really interesting beats, but shit, this guy might be one of the most memorable drummers I've ever heard.

The real beauty of Mgla lays in their songwriting, however. Because their riffs are so melodically similar to one another, they write songs that can take proper time and care to introduce the best riffs while still keeping every moment interesting in some way. They always write a hell of an epic closer, too (I'm starting to notice that I really like it when a band has a larger-than-life final track), and "Exercises VI" holds its own with the best of 'em. Starting off with a nice acoustic intro, a triumphant tremolo riff crashes in to introduce the black metal element, and then the song goes to a rolling double-kick while playing the distorted version of the opening riff. It sounds somewhat simple and mundane when I type it out, but I swear it's genius when you actually hear how it flows. Earlier Mgla was riffy and enjoyable on a more primitive level, but now that these guys have more patient songwriting everything stays as enjoyable on the twentieth spin as it was the first time around. "Mgla's third album shows them really maturing as a band and expanding on their earlier albums while staying true to their core" sounds like some stock music-journalist tripe and it pains me to even write a sentence like that, but at the same time I can't say it's incorrect.

Maybe this review doesn't serve a particularly intriguing purpose, because I've heard nothing but positive feedback already about this release and I really can't find any major negatives with it myself. I was a fan of the band before, I'm still a fan now, and if you're the same way I can imagine Exercises in Futility will also satisfy you. Everything you liked about Mgla is still there--powerful harmonies, lots of energetic groove, hollow, resonant vocals that do well to add a low-end to the otherwise somewhat shrill music, and of course a stubborn adherence to black metal tropes through it all. Anything you could have possibly liked is just explored in greater detail on Exercises in Futility, and this really shows that these guys are beyond being just a mere up-and-comer in the world of black metal. They've established themselves as one of the black metal heavyweights in a strong Polish scene, so jump on the bandwagon while you still have the chance. I haven't really said anything new about this album, but nothing else needs to be said. It's good. Listen to it if you like black metal. Cool? Cool.