A review of ‘Exercises In Futility’ by Mgła
“Dreams don’t come true
For people like us”
- Exercises In Futility VI
A sensation of futility, a sense of helplessness Mgła’s third album, Exercises In Futility, is based on this concept. The title track is a contemplation on mortality and how it impacts all of us. The album, inspired by Emil Cioran’s ideas, analyses how our lives are ultimately useless and that there is no point in living them at all. It’s a depressing concept, but one that music may help to explore.
The album’s songs all share the same title, Exercises in Futility, and differ solely in their numbering. This naming method was intended to demonstrate the record’s oneness, as each individual track is part of a bigger whole. This is in keeping with Mgła’s legacy of conceptual albums, which are designed to be listened to in a linear fashion. The lack of variation in the names also contributes to the album’s mood: life is repetitive and cyclical. Each song segues into the next, with the next song beginning where the previous one ended.
The tracks are lengthy, and it would be impractical to discuss the events of each song in such depth (I’ve already written more than most reviewers do for whole albums). However, I can state that the music is lovely and that there is much to be said about it. The sense of futility is constant, but it never becomes monotonous.
The first track begins with a rough and abrasive breathing sounds. The listener is immediately plunged in a life of futility, as the atmosphere created by this breathing sound is one of worry and oppression. The drone continues as the mournful yet melodic riff begins, completing the listener’s immersion in the song. The vocals begin to intone a melody of grief and sorrow, murmured but excruciating. Following that, the listener is greeted with the memetic line:
“The great truth is there isn’t one
And it only gets worse since that conclusion
The irony of being an extension to nothing
And the force of inertia is now a vital factor”
This sentence is particularly significant since it encapsulates the futility of existing. This album exhibits existentialism in its most rational and dismal form.
Many of the phrases on this album are incredibly lyrical and help to immerse the listener in this mindset, but the true brilliance of this album is how it manages to be so gloomy and bleak while also being sonically uplifting at times.
The song concludes with the phrase:
“There is something about the rigid posture of a proper, authentic blind As if extended arms reached to pass his blindness onto others”
An apparent tribute to the quote by the legendary pessimist Emil Cioran in ‘The Trouble With Being Born’:
“A blind man, authentically blind for once, held out his hand: in his posture, his rigidity, there was something that caught you, that made you hold your breath. He was handing you his blindness.”
The statement is emphasised by the album cover art “l’aveugle” (The Blind) by Marcel Roux, which depicts a blind man with outstretched arms, feeling for those around him. His demeanour is one of despair. He can’t pass on his blindness, and he can’t get the gift of sight. It’s an impossible task.
This rigid posture epitomises this album, and it is this unavoidable fate that contributes to the album’s everlasting anguish.
The following tune, ‘Exercises In Futility II,’ begins with a torrent of drum fills delivered masterfully by Darkside. The discordant riff that follows is equally as impressive before slowing down to a beautiful, palm-muted guitar line. This section of the song exemplifies the great use of dynamics, transitioning from a haunting theme to a catchy refrain and then back to the foreboding riff.
The vocals on this track are also worth mentioning. M’s desperate, shouting, piercing voice contributes significantly to the song’s atmosphere. It’s a clear emphasis that adds to the tension and introduces a sense of dread.
The following track, ‘Exercises In Futility III,’ opens with an unusual riff. This piece is more straightforward than the previous two, yet it once again demonstrates great use of dynamics. The song begins with an unusual riff, then transitions into blast beats from Darkside over the next few bars. Elements of progressive metal can be observed here, particularly in the distinctive drum beats. This section, in particular, has an unusual time signature; 5/4, if I’m not mistaken.
The buildup of ‘Exercises In Futility IV’ follows the track. Darkside demonstrates his talent on the drums once more, this time with inventive usage of the ride cymbals and snare. The song then transitions into a catchy and memorable riff, and once again, the innovative use of dynamics is crucial. The song then transitions into a dramatic, mournful riff that is guaranteed to become a fan favourite in the future. Lyrically, this may be the most political music on the album, as it appears to be about how pointless our political pursuits are.
“It is an unlikely alliance of assorted failures
Various degrees of deceit, doomsday prophets
The clenched teeth, the vinegar down the veins
A stylish pit right next to Judas, Brutus and Cassius”
The music is bitter, but not in an overpowering way. It’s more meditative than anything else, and one can’t help but be impressed with the riff work and Darkside’s performance on the song.
The following track, ‘Exercises In Futility V,’ is catchy and energetic. The song is mid-paced, with Darkside’s blast beats and double bass backing up the riff work. M’s vocal delivery is likewise significantly less aggressive, with a chant-like quality to it.
The song satirises the biblical “blessed be” expressions associated with Christianity, using them in a sarcastic manner to represent the band’s gloomy view of religion in general. The song has a lot of hooks, and not a single second of it is wasted.
“Blessed be the stone cutters
It took a quarry to bury the dreams
Blessed be the misery, the filth, the discord and the horror
Blessed be the lies, the guilt, the fear, the woe and the betrayal
For these ones didn’t need any outside source For these ones come from within”
The line “it needed a quarry to bury the hopes” definitely hits home for me. The song’s dejected attitude, combined with Darkside’s performance, elevates it to a high point on the album for me.
Finally, ‘Exercises In Futility Part IV’ is possibly my all-time favourite black metal song. It starts with a simple, melodic acoustic guitar intro, followed by M.’s voice mumbling, “As if you didn’t know how it feels to lose, As if you didn’t know how it feels to lose at dice with fate,” as the rest of the band builds up behind him. The song explodes into a riff-work masterpiece, with Darkside’s snare drum holding time and M.’s vocals becoming more aggressive while remaining melodic.
“Exercises In Futility Part IV” has the right combination of melody and ferocity, and it manages to be both crushingly violent and approachable. However, the song’s oppressive tone is exacerbated by the lyrics’ dismal and depressing nature, which is only alleviated by the music itself. Despite this, I find the guitar riff to be upbeat, almost in spite of the lyrics. Darkside’s cymbal work throughout the song is really excellent, with a shimmering quality complementing the song’s somber tone. M.’s vocals are flawless throughout, perfectly complementing the music. The music expertly builds and releases tension.
M screams in desperation at the end of the song:
“As if all this was something more
Than another footnote on a postcard from nowhere
Another chapter in the handbook for exercises in futility…”
It’s a fitting conclusion to an excellent album. Every time I hear that howl, it sends shivers down my spine. The rest of the music fades out in a sudden, dramatic end, leaving the listener with one final, lingering note to ponder.
I feel like I haven’t done the album justice, but words can’t convey this masterpiece; it has to be heard. It is a respectable addition to metal’s tradition and an inspiration for what hard music may achieve. It was a life-changing experience for me. This isn’t “simply music,” in my opinion. The production is immaculate, the musicianship showcased is remarkable, and it is, above all, art.
This album is a gloomy anthem of pain and desperation, from its poetry lyrics to its superb musicianship. Mgla have exceeded themselves, producing a dismal soundtrack that transports the listener to the deepest recesses of the human psyche.
The themes of hopelessness are evident here, with M.’s agonising and despairing howls punctuating most of the music. While many bands aim to generate a sense of hopelessness, Mgła accomplishes this with uncanny ease. The album is very cohesive, with a slow-burning opening that builds to an emotional conflagration by the finale. The chords are melancholy but crisp, ebbing and flowing but never losing their feeling of urgency. The drumming is a highlight, fusing blast rhythms with calmer moments to capture the balance between chaos and order.
To close this review on a personal note, I’d like to say that this is my favourite album. Since its release, it has engulfed my life, and I can’t get enough of it. Mgła is one of the few bands that has actually moved me and will continue to do so in the future.
This record should not go unnoticed by any fan of extreme metal.