Reviewer’s nightmare, right here! If you caught the review of Texan post-metallers GLASIR recently, you’ll have read about my frustrations with bands keeping not only their identities “secret”, but also pretty much refusing to disclose any other information that those of us that write about music might find as interesting etc. The upside to this is of course this review will be devoid of any distractions other than that of the music that’s presented to us… And that’s surely no bad thing really! But for those of you really interested, MGLA are from Poland and seemingly only have just two full time members, but are a four piece live. I’m also lead to believe the name means “fog” in Polish – but thats just about all i know!
And so, to this, MGLA’s third full length album, and my first encounter with their brand of blackened extreme metal. Now, I’ve never really been one to get swept up in hype before a release, but word got circulated about “Exercises in Futility” in black metal circles recently to the point where this release was something of a game changer in terms of intensity and craftsmanship, so it’s then pretty difficult to set these thoughts to one side while reviewing… Does this live up to the hype? What could “Exercises…” possibly offer that’s different to what’s already out-there?
Firstly, the album is split in to 6 acts all called “Exercises in Futility” and numbered accordingly, so one can only assume there is a related thread running through each of the tracks on offer. Starting (as you’d expect!) with “Act I”, atmosphere is built, not with the expected keyboard or sample intro, but with scratchy guitar sounds that form in to a slow paced riff and beat that then punctuated by vocalist, guitarist, arranger M’s gravel-throated rasp. This tension continues to build much like when you just “know” a storm is approaching… and at 3 and a half minutes in, it does just that. Cascading in to blast-beat driven anger, Act I suddenly changes shape with punctuated symbol work and striking guitar melodies highlighting the continuing beating. As this continues, among the barrage, its left to just some simple chords to add glimpses of light to what would be an otherwise very dark journey – it works well, very well, and creates memorable, almost catchy, passages that sink their murky talons deep in to the psyche!
“Act II”sees the band reel in the fury, but not the intensity, as they march through 7 and a half minutes of foreboding laments to anguish, whilst “Act III” is probably the bands safest track, as it relies on a few tried and tested formulas, mainly in the blastbeat department. But that’s not to say that there isn’t any highlights here as there are plenty.
One of the standout features of the entire album is the exceptional drumming by Darkside who has a true understanding that its the small differences that make tracks standout. Take for instance his superior skills on the ride and crash symbols – seems like a strange thing to bring attention to but its these punctuation’s in the gloom that you’ll be holding on to to help find your way around.
Standout tracks for me were the combo of “Act IV”, “Act V” & “Act VI”– the balance of speed, melody, precision and brutality are incredibly well judged. Its difficult to quantify why though but they do have an almost hypnotic quality to them that draws you in. The repetitiveness (and i dont mean this in a negative context at all) of the riffs has an almost pulse-like nature – its addictive – i found that on one evening, i’d had “Act V” on repeat for close to an hour and 45 minutes – there are not many tracks that i could do that with these days!
It seems almost inconceivable that a band so rooted in the extreme metal genre have been able to plug to gap between full-on-kvlt levels of ferociousness and new-to-the-scene-accessibility, but thats exactly what MGLA have done. Of course, the purists will tell you this is all hot air and not worth your time, quoting the most obscure names they can muster in a veiled attempt to prove a point, but rest assured there is a great depth here in “Exercises In Futility” – from the lyrics, the sense of power, the intricate drumming, but most importantly the atmosphere. For this listener, I’ve not had the same intense levels of satisfaction from black metal album since Emperor or Cradle of Filth’s debuts.
I posed the question early on about whether “Exercises in Futility” could possible live up to the hype? As far as i am concerned, it absolutely does. My only regret is not having listened to this sooner, but i’m more than making up for it now.
The bar has been raised. VERY high.