Sunday, January 12, 2014


Mgła - With Hearts Towards None
Northern Heritage, 2012
Genre: Black Metal

1. With Hearts Towards None I
2. With Hearts Towards None II
3. With Hearts Towards None III
4. With Hearts Towards None IV
5. With Hearts Towards None V
6. With Hearts Towards None VI
7. With Hearts Towards None VII

Mgła take a step back in their approach and present us with something that can only be experienced with calm and careful inspection. "With Hearts Toward None" is not an album you tell people about because of how "catchy" the riffs are, or how the moments induce "head banging"... no, this album is about a mind expansive experience. One that is achieved by sitting quietly and observing what is being performed. This is arguably the best album released this year. The release of "With Hearts Toward None" also brings us a new interesting fact, Mgła can now be experienced live. I happened to see them in Montreal with Forteresse and I have to say that Mgła is also the best band I have probably ever seen live. They perfectly embody what I imagine a proper Black Metal performance to entail. No crowd interaction. No moshing. No acknowledgement of an audience at all. This is everything Black Metal was meant to be and this is exactly how this genre was meant to be engaged by an audience. This has, naturally, only heightened my respect for Mgła.

Critics the world over seem to agree this album is incredible, but I have read many reviews about how it's formula is similar to that on "Groza" and I think they are somewhat mistaken. After a four year wait I would not expect M. to simply rehash something and I don't think he has. "With Hearts Toward None" is actually a lot more simple in it's approach. It's actually a minimalist ideal with a focus on building a very particular atmosphere. They still use the the approach of crafting an interesting rhythm while the lead section generates a more droning feel. However, a lot of the rhythms are a lot simpler this time around and the crafting of the arrangement focused on riffs that work well together, but in repeating them enough times when they first show up that you never have to return to them again. This way the listener feels rather satisfied with how often they've experienced an intoxicating riff. And these riffs truly are intoxicating. This approach of simplicity has also faced Darkside with a new challenge of writing interesting drum lines that don't drone on, but also creating a very interesting backdrop. He has succeeded where I feel many drummers would fail. Darkside creates very interesting arrangements and the way he interacts with the droning guitar sequences is very fascinating. He actually manages to keep up a feeling of monotony while doing fairly different things and varying up his drum arrangement. Subtle things stand out far more and one gets a more appreciative feel for his technique and arrangement ideas.

There isn't a single misstep on how this album was crafted. It takes four years to compose perfection of this level and that is some seriously hard work. This is another level of respect for me. Mgła don't feel they have to release an album every year or two. Instead Mgła release an album on their time-line when an album is ready for publication. The level of work and building towards the perfect feel is almost mathematical. The amount of work and time I dedicate to that subject is what I imagine Mgła dedicating on crafting an album. I am definitely glad they've gotten away from releasing EP's in the interim and instead focused their skills on crafting a single cohesive effort. I will happily wait four years for albums of this caliber.

M's lyrical approach on this album is nothing less than spectacular. The majority of Black Metal bands don't have anything interesting to say, but once in a while we hear bands with lyrics that are interesting to read. Mgła does have some standard stuff like calling down apocalyptic devastation upon the Earth, but it is done in a far more artful manner than the standard form. Also we get very different lines like:

A monument is risen
To be seen from afar
Erected by thieves,
Financed by murderers
And secured by lawyers

This evokes an incredible image of what mankind is mostly concerned with. Other tracks call for another massive flood. Beseeching angels to come and set the Earth free from the flesh, for we have turned this place into a reeking cesspool and nothing should be allowed to live here. We are not to afforded such a privilege. In many levels I have to agree... given the fact that I spent last summer looking at climate change models and my recent studies of how arctic ice is being affected... it's pretty clear that we are not worthy. Despite what the back of "With Hearts Towards None" states, the only solace I take is that all we are doing is killing an environment that supports our form of life. Earth will still exist long after we're gone and life will likely exist as well, it just won't be human.

If I had to find a single fault in this album it would have to be the meter in which M casts his vocals. If you read along with the lyrics the vocals have more of a "spoken word" format. They are just being spoken over some music, rather than trying to fit into the meter to carry the rhythm section together. It's actually barely noticeable when you don't read along, but when you do it is pretty clear. I feel that on "Groza" M took more care to fit the vocals into the music more cohesively. Now when it comes to vocal presence and tone this is actually leagues ahead of "Groza". Whatever vocal tone M has figured out since his wonderful performances with Kriegsmaschines "Altered States of Divinity" has reached a serious crescendo with this album. His tone is nothing less than perfection. While his approach may not be as dynamic as earlier works, it works with the droning approach for much of this album and keeps the listener in a very particular state.

"With Hearts Toward None" is, hopefully, not Mgła's magnum opus. I only say this because I truly hope Mgła can somehow top this release. Even if they get into a veritable writing rut and just build on this I will be satisfied. Knowing that a band of Mgła's caliber exists and continues to release solid material gives me hope for the younger generation of Black Metal fans and future bands.

Mgła - Groza
Northern Heritage, 2008
Genre: Black Metal

1. Groza I
2. Groza II
3. Groza III
4. Groza IV

After "Further Down the Nest" I was really hoping for the best with "Groza." Luckily, after a year since that release I think M really nailed down the best ways to approach this project and still have it stand as a separate entity to Kriegsmaschine. I feel that Mgła have really locked down their productions issues from before. The guitar tone is just the right level of thickness to generate a nice layer of density for the listener, but it is not so thin that it cuts through their atmosphere in a jarring way.

Despite there only being four tracks we have nearly forty minutes of music to experience, and I do mean experience. Listening to "Groza" as a whole is almost a requirement, because the arrangements simply flow together so perfectly. "Groza I" kicks off with a slow and haunting guitar line, similar to "Further Down the Nest II", but where the latter track failed "Groza I" applies this in a far stronger fashion and builds to something much more meaningful. You also notice how well crafted the bass guitar is into their overall sound and this is maintained throughout the entire album. You'll really hear the bass guitar well crafted into almost every aspect of this album. Darkside's drum performance is simply perfect and I've realized that his drum arrangements are actually very interesting. I feel that without him behind the kit Mgła would be in danger of falling into monotony. However, Darkside seems to have a great intuitive sense on how to arrange and craft a drum sequence that truly compliments the atmosphere of Mgła.

Every song is quite dedicated to generating this incredible atmosphere and strangely I think some people may find the approach a little monotonous, but that's part of the transcendental nature of Mgła's music. It really puts the listener into a particular state and allows them to revel in each riff carefully. Only at this level can you truly hear all the subtle textures Mgła is evoking with their compositions in "Groza".

M's vocals are actually much stronger this time around too. He's really figured out a great way to blend the usual higher range approach with his lower tones. His voice really commands serious attention when it appears. Adding to that feel has to do with how the lyrics are written. They are short clipped sentences evoking as little as possible. But collected together we manage to have some well written and compelling material. I used to do lengthy analyses of lyrics when I was younger, but I just don't have time for that. However, I will say that Mgła's lyrical approach is much stronger this time around and ranks up there with the lyrics on Kriegsmaschine's "Altered States of Divinity". Mgła has always had fairly strong lyrics, for M is a great writer, but I think "Groza" really shows a level of maturity that was not as present in the earlier works.

Truly a stunning album. A clear top album for 2008 and Mgła is trending down a road that will put them in the top album every time they bother to release something new.

Mgła - Further Down the Nest
Todeskult, 2007
Genre: Black Metal

1. Further Down the Nest I
2. Further Down the Nest II

After an incredible performance on the "Mdłości" EP I was excited to hear what Mgła had in store for us next. Unfortunately, they only had another EP coming in the guise of "Further Down the Nest". I wish I could say it was better than "Mdłości", but I don't think that's the case.

"Further Down the Nest" actually opens with an excellent track. It's vicious intensity blended with their haunting approach makes for a very compelling song. It also has this ever present epic quality that just adds to the layer of interest. The production value of these recordings actually isn't as good as that found on "Mdłości" in my opinion. The guitars feel a bit more thin this time around and I think that might affect the atmosphere a little bit. On "Mdłości" the guitars were a lot thicker and the recordings had a much deeper presence. "Further Down the Nest I" is by far the track to hear on this EP, but the second installment is a little lackluster. I think Mgła are still experimenting with what works for this approach. Perhaps this is why a proper full-length hasn't seen the light of day. "Further Down the Nest II" sort of plods along at a very slow pace, which sort of works for the atmosphere they're trying to build, but I feel like something is lacking in the performance. The guitar line doesn't really go anywhere, so as a result, neither does the song. Part of the reason this might not work out so well is because of how strong the first track comes across and the second just can't compete with it's overall strength.

In the end, I still look forward to what Mgła has in store for the future. I really hope they can sort out some of the kinks in this style, because when they do it right, it is literally like listening to Black Metal perfection! It was only a matter of time before someone invented this approach. I haven't heard riffing this cold and dark in many years, so when Mgła nail this, it really conjures up some nostalgic feelings, but in a very new approach.

Mgła - Mdłości
Under the Sign of Garazel, 2006
Genre: Black Metal

1. Mdłości I
2. Mdłości II

Mgła has deigned to grace us with their presence a second time in 2006. Due to my general oversight of this incredible project, I did not get the original 7" release from Under the Sign of Garazel, despite owning many releases from this label and being a prolific collector over the years. I don't know if I'm willing to pay the current asking price, but luckily in 2007 this was released on CD with their second 7" "Further Down the Nest".

With this EP they further the haunting style developed on "Presence" and we really do need a full length from this project sooner rather than later. The opening track "Mdłości I" is nothing less than stunning. Actually both tracks are stunning. Their atmosphere is utter perfection and somehow Mgła manage to sound so much darker than a lot of the other Black Metal projects out there. For example, the interplay between the lead and rhythm guitars in "Mdłości I" are utterly perfect and I feel like it's somewhat an unorthodox approach. For the rhythm section is actually playing a fairly catchy riff, but the lead section is playing a really haunting passage, which makes for a really awe inspiring experience. Almost no one is playing Black Metal like this in 2006. Mgła have somehow stumbled onto the next phase of Black Metal transforming it into something slightly different and far more interesting than what many bands have been able to accomplish.

M.'s vocal approach has even shifted a little for this recording. He's favoring a sort of deeper vocal approach than the standard higher ranged vocals in Black Metal. The end results is something truly dark sounding and I would never compare this approach to a Death Metal growl, because the way he's approaching the vocals actually feels a lot more haunting. It marries with the guitar's atmosphere perfectly.

I truly feel like I missed out on something by not getting this in 2006. I think this was around when I started backing off on paying close attention to the scene though. I think when you engage in something that closely for so many years, you need to back off once in a while... I just wish this hadn't been a casualty of that. In any event, the music is at least readily available on CD's now and I highly recommend people make it a point to purchase this. The historical value to the genre is immense.

Mgła - Presence
Northern Heritage, 2006
Genre: Black Metal

1. I
2. II
3. III

Mgła return with "Presence" a short EP of only three songs and that's really the worst part of this release. I would have much preferred a full length of this material. After their work on the split, I wasn't sure what direction Mgła would go, but whatever they decided to do with "Presence" was absolutely the right idea!

Mgła have truly improved on their sound. The songs are so much more rich than the prior material. I feel like their ability to craft songs with cohesive atmosphere has suddenly appeared. I feel like M has sort of stumbled upon this ability all of a sudden, because with Kriegsmaschine's "Altered States of Divinity" we get a similar level of high caliber Black Metal. Not only do the tracks generate a wonderful atmosphere, they are also epic in quality as well. This is a huge difference from "Power and Will", which didn't really have an epic feeling at all with respect to general composition. Even the vocal presence is far more varied and commanding than ever before. So Mgła have basically provided improvements all around and I really can't wait to hear what they have in store for us next.

For me, this is where the Mgła discography would truly begin. This is where they begin wandering down the path that would ultimately read to their magnum opus in 2012. You can hear early foundations being built and later we hear them become very strengthened. I remember not being terribly impressed when "Presence" was released, but I realize now it's probably because I never really gave it the deep consideration it really deserved. I regret this greatly, because I didn't Mgła was really heading anywhere at this point, but I see now that even back then they were onto something major.

Various Artist - Crushing the Holy Trinity
Northern Heritage, 2005
Genre: Black Metal

Disc 1: Father
Deathspell Omega:
1. Diabolus Absconditus
Stabat Mater:
2. Above Him

Disc 2: Son
Musta Surma:
1. Kalpeina Helvetin Tulessa
2. Ruton Ruhtinas
3. Hän On Pimeys
4. Valkeuden Hauras Tuhka
Clandestine Blaze:
5. Untitled
6. Destroyer of the Nations
7. Trophy
8. Behind the Faith

Disc 3: Holy Spirit
1. Power and Will I
2. Power and Will II
3. Power and Will III
4. Power and Will IV
5. Ei Toivottu Vieras (Intro) / Tyrannia Martyrum
6. Craving Vehemence
7. Unevangel

Side Deathspell Omega: here
Side Stabat Mater: ...coming eventually...
Side Musta Surma: ...coming eventually...
Side Clandestine Blaze: ...coming eventually...
Side Exordium: ...coming eventually...

Side Mgła:

I remember when this split came out and it was quite the release. Everyone wanted a copy and even today it is probably very highly sought after. I really picked this up solely because of Deathspell Omega's contribution, but I wound up discovering some very good Black Metal from the other projects featured on here. I was aware that Kriegsmaschine was around when this was released, so the idea that it's members would be presenting us with a new project called Mgła I was pretty interested in hearing it.

The Mgła portion being called "Power and Will" is some pretty good stuff. In some respects I couldn't guess they would ever morph into what they eventually did in the future, but you can hear some foundation being laid here that trended in that direction. The first song starts with traditional fast and vicious Black Metal recorded in a relatively raw fashion. I remember initially dismissing the band as performing material I've heard quite often and that's probably still true today. This perception would eventually lead me to the grotesque error of never paying attention to their vinyl releases and thus missing out on some of their high quality transitional material. Much of the music here has been done many times and Mgła aren't doing it any differently, so there are only some parts that stand out quite a lot. I really like "Power and Will III" because a lot of the riffing reminds me of early Deathspell Omega... and judging by the track featured on here, we'll never hear that again. "Power and Will IV" has some ruminations of Mgła's future and even some of Kriegsmaschine's styling.

In the end Mgła's first effort is solid. It's not fresh, but it takes time for bands to develop that level of caliber now. Mgła are a clearly talented band, but even back then I felt they could do more. We'll just have to wait and see what the future holds for this project.

1 comment:

  1. Agree with almost everything you wrote hear about Mgła... excellent band!