Mgła - Exercises In Futility review




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Reviewer:
9.7

441 users:
8.83
Band: Mgła
Album: Exercises In Futility
Release date: September 2015


01. Exercises In Futility I
02. Exercises In Futility II
03. Exercises In Futility III
04. Exercises In Futility IV
05. Exercises In Futility V
06. Exercises In Futility VI


After years of distancing myself from the black metal scene and community, my revisitations are brief and fleeting. I do not seek out new releases as fervently as I once did; old favorites have phased out of my habitual rotation, whether due to apathy or evolution of taste, I could not say. Yet, Mgła has remained a constant and daily indulgence. They're never further than the tip of my tongue in conversations of recommendations with the less initiated, yet open-minded pursuant of music—and I consider their entire discography to be of utmost importance in not only black metal, but in the entirety of metal's more extreme subsets.

I've targeted Exercises In Futility in particular because it is demonstratively and quintessentially Mgła, and all preceding and subsequent efforts are defined by it. Their most prior release, With Hearts Toward None, was a revolution in self-discovery for Mgła. It was a polished reformation of the ideas presented in their adolescence—a clear and concise transition into the maturity so undeniably presented on Exercises In Futility.

Black metal was not born of sophistication or maturity. Dating back to its inception and acceptance into modern music, it has always been rooted in filth and offense. The infectivity of shock value is what drove black metallers to further evolve this genre that, as a whole, was anthemic to the counterculture that spawned it. Lyrical themes pushed at boundaries. Metaphorical bodies of dead Christians and innocents piled up; Hellish deities were praised and churches were burned. The musicality became more aggressive. Tremolo-picked riffs and screeching vocals ripped through the soundscapes over processions of frantic, blasting drums, all encapsulated in a dirty production that provided a sense of tangibility to the suffering, hate, and misanthropy that fueled it… but, that evolution was decades ago. The shock & awe has subsided. Musicality within black metal has long since been pushed to the limits of human capability, and the pursuit of lyrical repugnance now feels nonsensical, toeing the line between evil and silly. This, then, leaves the orthodox to delve into experimentation with the unorthodox or risk a career built on stagnancy, echoing the machinations of yesteryear. And being contradictory to this analysis is exactly what I find most enrapturing about Mgła. It's their ability to continuously deliver such a complex and unique sound that is very much firmly planted in an orthodox strain of black metal.

I have often contested that there is a difference between musicians and artists. Definitively speaking, an artist and a musician share a striking amount of self-explanatory similarities, but similarity does not, or should not, suggest equal. This argument is not restricted to the parameters of black metal, but will be kept there for simplicity's sake. A black metal musician is any individual providing instrumentation within the confines of the black metal genre and their abilities as a musician varies greatly from individual to individual. We know that physical ability is often more objective than subjective, as it is more easily assessed and quantifiable than something less tangible, such as, say, theoretical knowledge and/or understanding of the music in which they are performing. We can only draw inference of a musician's theoretical knowledge or understanding through analyses of the accessible compositions in which they present to us. And so this is where lines become muddled. We are left to draw inference from what we are presented in order to differentiate between "do these musicians truly understand that which they are presenting" or "do these musicians know what they should be presenting, yet lack the understanding of why and how, despite being fully able to physically present it". When we can answer these questions, we can then differentiate between a band of musicians and a band of artists. Any musician who sets forth their efforts to create black metal, generally speaking, knows what black metal sounds like. They know what it is comprised of and can likely imitate it; however, it is often fact without the substance of understanding, leaving the listener with a product that sounds formulaic, stenciled, or worse off, a paraphrasing of preexisting work altered just enough to skirt the boundaries of what could be considered blatantly plagiaristic.

This is where Mgła—most notably demonstrated on Exercises In Futility—triumphs in the sea of mimicry. These are the ruminations of a pair of artists manifested into a masterfully crafted album in which the lyrical content is no less important or impressive than the musical compositions they accompany. While both components are fully competent enough to stand alone, they are best recognized as two parts of a whole and consumed as such. Much of Exercises In Futility's success comes from the compositional theory of its instrumentations. It is complexity through simplicity. We do not see the incorporations of outside influence and so we are not subjected to the degradation of its compositional integrity at the behest of experimentation. We are left with black metal in its truest form, devised not through imitation, but rather through derivations indicative of an innate and deep understanding of the genre's origins, all perfectly juxtaposed with the band's Nihilistic ideologies that reverberate through every lyrical passage.

Mgla introduces Exercises In Futility the same as they always have; the album does not have track titles, rather each track is listed as "Exercises In Futility I", "Exercises In Futility II", etc. A silent stipulation that each track is to be taken as a piece of a whole and not as freestanding entities. Each piece contains a central theme from which the instruments build upon and around. The riffs and melodies are repetitive, yet never tedious; each revisitation is a variation of itself, conducted by some of the most—if not the most—dynamic drumwork found in the genre. Aggressive tremolo riffs find themselves presented as mid-paced grooves under the command of subdued drum beats with heavy focus on intricate cymbal work and precision fills that almost demand more attention than the auxiliary layered guitars. The true charm of Mgła's compositional style is its perspicuity without succumbing to one-dimensionality. The intricacies woven by layers and layers of simplicity provide approachability and intrigue, while their astute use of subtle variance is an assurance that every playback uncovers something previously undetected. Subtle crescendos and denouements provide a pulsation within the despondent soundscape. The ebbing and flowing of buzzing leads over lingering rhythms fuse into morose melody as they're gouged into your ears by spine-crushing basslines and ravenous stickwork. The production is bleak, yet crisp and clear. The instrumentations are mixed and mastered with meticulous care, with nothing taking the forefront. Every word, note, and hit falls in perfect synchrony like the gears of an end-times war machine—the very presence of which hurls the listener into a void of hopelessness, writhing with each second as the screams of Nihil remind them of their own insignificance.

Mgła is not, and never has been, a pusher of boundaries. What they lack in superfluity, they make up for in execution. They do not transcend black metal, nor do they lead us to assume that transcendence has ever been their goal. They are a force rooted in passion and they approach their craft with a punctiliousness that results in an entrancing listening experience within the confines of a genre that oftentimes falls victim to its own sense of self-righteousness. Their refusal to operate through platitudes and truisms continues to challenge us to check our expectations at the door, or turn away entirely. In a scene full of has-beens, rehashings, and one-offs, Mgła presents to us Exercises In Futility: an album whose appeal is never deafened by revisitation. It is their magnum opus and a paragon of artistry in an otherwise stale genre, and it should be experienced by everyone.


Rating breakdown
Performance: 9
Songwriting: 10
Originality: 10
Production: 10

Written by brimarsh | 28.08.2020


 


Guest review disclaimer:
This is a guest review, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.

Guest review by
Alina Zia
Rating:
7.0
Marked by acerbic yet atrabilious tremolo picking riffs morphing to egregiously repetitive mediocrity in concinnity with the arguteness and fervidity of ride cymbals and Mikołaj's monotonic execution of vocals limning the profundity of an exquisite agony, Exercises In Futility reaches its apogee with the nascent insurgency of diaphenous hope and cauterized distantiation in "Exercises In Futility IV" suffused with poignant melodic fluidity without veering into schmaltzy saccharinity.

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published 05.05.2020 | Comments (0)


Comments

Comments: 17   Visited by: 83 users
28.08.2020 - 08:00
Troy Killjoy
perfunctionist
The fact that this album inspired two of the site's most comprehensive write-ups is direct evidence of its immersive quality. If such a thing as a masterpiece exists in contemporary black metal confines, this is it.
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28.08.2020 - 08:21
Ball Fondlers
An excellent review. Thanks for posting. 9.7 is a little low for me though
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28.08.2020 - 16:50
brimarsh
Thanks for the kind words and for taking the time to read this! I know it's a bit long-winded... I actually trimmed some of it before submitting it; I've got a lot to say about this album. LOL. I should have been a little more vigilant in trimming because I left out why I gave it a 9.7 instead of a 10... As much as I want to consider this a perfect album, I struggle a bit with M's vocals. He's got a fantastic style, but he's just so... stagnant. For all of this album's nuances, the lack of variation (save for perhaps his quasi-clean spoken words in the closer?) in vocals is noticeable... just not enough to deduct a whole point.
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29.08.2020 - 13:22
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
Long review, good one. I nwve6been on new vave of polish black metal, i like old bands, ut this, blaze are ok.
Its sad you list intrest in bm.
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I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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30.08.2020 - 12:05
kukac
Masterpiece.
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01.09.2020 - 00:59
Morbid Angel 13
Couldn't agree more. I'm no huge BM fan but this is unreal. The album demands to be listened to in its entirety, every single time...
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03.09.2020 - 10:11
nikarg
Mod
Great in-depth review, even if a bit long. With Hearts Toward None is their magnum opus for me but I can't say that I don't understand why most people prefer this one. It has always been my impression that Mgła make music for both those who like and those who don't like black metal. They are that good.
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03.09.2020 - 10:44
Angel N.
Evil Butterfly
Written by Troy Killjoy on 28.08.2020 at 08:00

The fact that this album inspired two of the site's most comprehensive write-ups is direct evidence of its immersive quality.

I believe it's just because this band IS extremely hyped all over metal community and metal forums. At the moment it's of the most popular black metal bands, and anyone undeniably consider them as great and perfect. But it's more of a very easy to grasp, standard, bland style, even at times mediocre, but everyone's to their own opinion. I think there are much more amusing and challenging music by obscure names that won't get this much of attention since the majority of metal community are much decided in their comfort zone that this band is offering them excellence.
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03.09.2020 - 16:21
Troy Killjoy
perfunctionist
Written by Angel N. on 03.09.2020 at 10:44

I believe it's just because this band IS extremely hyped all over metal community and metal forums. At the moment it's of the most popular black metal bands, and anyone undeniably consider them as great and perfect. But it's more of a very easy to grasp, standard, bland style, even at times mediocre, but everyone's to their own opinion. I think there are much more amusing and challenging music by obscure names that won't get this much of attention since the majority of metal community are much decided in their comfort zone that this band is offering them excellence.

The hype is due to their having a wide target audience that appreciates the quality of their music; I don't see a problem with that, nor the resulting popularity they've achieved. Talent tends to get recognized. Whether you think of them as bland and mediocre is a valid opinion but it's not one that reflects how most people feel toward them.

And of course there's more challenging music out there. It isn't the goal of Mgla to make it hard on the listener to enjoy their material, otherwise they wouldn't incorporate elongated melodies and catchy rhythmic sections into their sound. That other bands fail to capture the same level of interest isn't the fault of Mgla, and I don't think it's fair to suggest it's purely because those who listen to metal are afraid of leaving their comfort zones. Sometimes the underground stays in the underground because it just isn't appealing enough to rise in terms of popularity.
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03.09.2020 - 17:02
brimarsh
I've gone back and forth with myself on whether I consider WHTN or AoE their magnum opus. WHTN was a huge step up from Groza in terms of their maturity as songwriters, but given the timelines and comparing the material it feels like WHTN was their "aha!" moment and AoE was the polishing of that idea. It's extraordinarily hard for me to pin one above the other in terms of enjoyment because these albums are 1a and 1b for me, but I do think AoE edges out WHTN marginally. And I love the distinction that Mgla makes black metal for people who don't like black metal. That's so true because my partner hates black metal, but loves a lot of Mgla tracks.

I think that "easy to grasp" style is what makes them so accessible and enjoyable across the spectrum. To be able to create compositions of this caliber without resorting to overt complexity is a feat in and of itself. I don't think Mgla set out to "challenge" their listeners, except maybe philosophically. Mgla, I think, are so highly lauded because they've planted themselves so firmly into the scene with a formula that really ISN'T all that unique or groundbreaking; they just run that formula so much better than their peers.

And, honestly, if this were just an album of Darkside's drum tracks I'd still give it nearly a 10.
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03.09.2020 - 21:16
brimarsh
I just realized I'm a fuckin' moron and typed AoE (Age of Excuse) instead of Exercises in Futility because I was listening to AoE this morning. Coffee first, respond second... lest we look like idiots.

Nevertheless, Age of Excuse is still a fantastic album. I wouldn't call it a step down in comparison to its two predecessors, but it doesn't hold the same weight, IMO.
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04.09.2020 - 11:26
nikarg
Mod
I will just add this to what Troy said above:
At least the hype is purely due to their music, it is not a result of any sort of commercial promotion. Fans think they are great because they actually think they are great, not because websites and youtubers shove the band down people's throats. Mgła hardly ever give any interviews and Age Of Excuse was released out of nowhere, there was no press release before it, the album was not distributed anywhere for reviews, etc. No other band does that.

Finally, I am quite tired of hearing how "un-unique" and "standard" they are. I am not saying that they are reinventing the wheel but can someone please point out who specifically Mgła sound like and/or who someone might confuse them with when listening to their music?
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04.09.2020 - 16:30
brimarsh
Written by nikarg on 04.09.2020 at 11:26

I will just add this to what Troy said above:
At least the hype is purely due to their music, it is not a result of any sort of commercial promotion. Fans think they are great because they actually think they are great, not because websites and youtubers shove the band down people's throats. Mgła hardly ever give any interviews and Age Of Excuse was released out of nowhere, there was no press release before it, the album was not distributed anywhere for reviews, etc. No other band does that.

Finally, I am quite tired of hearing how "un-unique" and "standard" they are. I am not saying that they are reinventing the wheel but can someone please point out who specifically Mgła sound like and/or who someone might confuse them with when listening to their music?

The closest comparison I have found (not that I'm any sort of authority) is Uada, and they came after Mgla... and it's no secret who they draw inspiration from.
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04.09.2020 - 17:13
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by brimarsh on 04.09.2020 at 16:30

Written by nikarg on 04.09.2020 at 11:26

I will just add this to what Troy said above:
At least the hype is purely due to their music, it is not a result of any sort of commercial promotion. Fans think they are great because they actually think they are great, not because websites and youtubers shove the band down people's throats. Mgła hardly ever give any interviews and Age Of Excuse was released out of nowhere, there was no press release before it, the album was not distributed anywhere for reviews, etc. No other band does that.

Finally, I am quite tired of hearing how "un-unique" and "standard" they are. I am not saying that they are reinventing the wheel but can someone please point out who specifically Mgła sound like and/or who someone might confuse them with when listening to their music?

The closest comparison I have found (not that I'm any sort of authority) is Uada, and they came after Mgla... and it's no secret who they draw inspiration from.

Even looking through their "Similar artists" list on M-A, most of them are either more recent than Mgla (whose first release was in 2005) or where their similarities are kind of a stretch, so unless Arckanum and Sargeist are secretly who every critic is referring to, I don't think there's much of a case left.
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04.09.2020 - 17:21
brimarsh
The fact that there's no one who sounds quite like them despite them doing nothing inherently eclectic holds a lot of merit, especially in a genre rife with unoriginality. I hate to be this guy because obviously music is subject to opinion, but if you think they're bland or "un-unique", I'm not sure we're listening to the same artist... Even their most formulaic shit, dating back to their first EPs, was still fairly recognizable among the masses.
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08.09.2020 - 15:08
Ball Fondlers
Some people are clearly looking for different things in their music. Personally I'm not looking to be "challenged" by music. "Pleased" would be more what I'm after. Mgla pleases my ears
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19.09.2020 - 10:52
BetulaObscura
I haven't read this review... No need to. It is obvious that this album is already a classic! Not only in BM history but in music history in general. Same with previous Mgła releases... Period.
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