Save the bone-drying ‘classic’ methods of the formative ‘Presence’ (2006) EP fresh off of the exposure granted by their involvement in the lauded ‘Crushing the Holy Trinity’ split, the greater blood supply of ever-grandiose Polish semi-melodic black metal act Mgła has traditionally hemorrhaged open within the heart of each album. Nihilistic, and to the greater public anonymously so, this Krakow based masked entity are as known for their grimly scribed rejection of humanity as they are for their potently accessible form of straight-forward atmospheric (yet often highly melodious) black metal. This has long been a pleasurable point of disconnect between music that clearly lives, breathes and feels a deeply sensitive connection with black metal performance yet slits the throat of all meaning in devotion to the genre and the truest forms of its elite culture. Polish black metal itself has an imposing host of personalities and deeply innovative historical importance so, to have made a name in this ruthlessly brutal environment does eventually account for that perceived conflict feeling versus duty. The angered and rescinded narrative of Mgła‘s fourth full-length, ‘Age of Excuse’, arrives by surprise release here in the late summer months striking like lightning intended for foes rather than at the hearts of those thirstily seeking catharsis these last four years. The hand is no longer extended to be held in the dark but, pulled back with bolt in hand and still bleeding from poisoned bite marks on the other. This amount of poise can only produce scars among the deepest divided.
To gnash like a horde of vicious animal while mistreating music artists around the globe is perhaps the easiest, most cowardly action in the hands of the most recent 1-2 generations who’d been taught to devalue every bit of independent culture for the sake of inadvertently empowering corporations. Without delving into the politics of basic freedoms afforded by idealistic ‘just’ societies it becomes a bitter potion of irony to see large groups perpetually policing the creative lives of others for sport. Acting as the Orwellian eye of Ingsoc, enforcers of this ‘big brother’ internet lifestyle is against every tenet of black metal, and so it seems all are guilty under the umbrella of ‘black metal’. What does this have to do with Mgła? Little. Guilt by association allows not only the damnation of the artist but the fandom as well, and this can only lead to further ailing health for outsider music. Art is more often than not a shelter intended to bestow power to the alternative, the singular, the insular, and the outsider who’d be (or have been) crushed by the majority otherwise. Again, the point? I believe the awkward attempts to silence black metal artists who are suspected ‘right-wing’ political proponents (even if only in private) only serve to fuel their greatest works. It is a point of thought, but this is not a political column, and I have no alliance with either side of conflict. From my perspective the black metal artist is traditionally weakened by consensus and strengthened by isolation [by damnation] and to be sure, a quick-acting/slow-thinking consensus is plainly visible after a handful of years: Persecution of the artist can only solidify their resolve to craft, they’ve been given no other option than to press on since all but their very fingertips and throats are slashed away. There the actual point lies: ‘Age of Excuse’ is a steeling of Mgła‘s already powerful resolve and the result is a contemporary bout of somewhat intellectually demanding prose set atop a very appropriate follow-up to one of the bands most celebrated works to date, ‘Exercises in Futility’ (2015).
The sound of teeth gnawing on bone, or perhaps wood, that kicks off “Age of Excuse I” was truly horrendous and affecting no matter if it were the fifth or the twentieth listen. At some point in my time with ‘Age of Excuse’ I’d found myself anticipating this moment and fast-forwarding past it just to avoid the visceral reaction it’d create… until I began to feel like this moment of agony is the perfect way to convey the unsettling tone of the record. Beyond that point much of the production sound, technique, and general movement that follows sources the atmospheric strengths of ‘Exercises in Futility’, expanding upon that musical language into a variety of variations on a theme where parts I and II more or less set the bandwidth of the experience and later pieces (IV, VI) expand in some less expected directions. This comes without the scope of the record necessarily going ‘out on a limb’ like we’d seen in comparable records from Misþyrming or Barshasketh. It appears Mgła‘s intent is to show strength, to focus on established constructs and put forth the best version of the project without changing drastically. The well indoctrinated fan of this band won’t be surprised by any one moment on the record but I do believe the intrepid fandom will recognize the well-guarded, fortified tone of the performances here. There is a flatly expressed anger, not frustration or desperation, providing a stoic teeth-clenching bark upon the impudence of the modern day follower. I admire this attitude in terms of representing true black metal in spirit while maintaining the gentler melodic black metal values characteristic of Mgła‘s past discography but, I won’t say that I was thrilled by the prospect of the easily felt rigidity of ‘Age of Excuse’.
There is such weight to the melodic escort that M.‘s (Kriegsmaschine) guitar work brings that it still works beautifully as a 65% majority showcase for the band since the ‘Mdłości’ EP in 2006. Extra layering of the guitars create separate melodic arcs in certain songs (“Age of Excuse IV”, in particular) that begin to sway with the confidence only recognizable as a composer at the suggested peak of their own black metallic ideation. That’d been my concern from the start, as stunning and ‘classic Mgła‘ as “Age of Excuse II” was it’d be fair to worry that this was as far as M. would ever push his collaboration with drummer Darkside (Kriegsmaschine, ex-Massemord). The application of a ‘three act’ experience would eventually dawn upon me and in viewing ‘Age of Excuse’ as one larger piece sliced into digestible-at-your-leisure movements the bigger picture unveiled the greater musical statement. Though track II is the golden child as an introduction to the Sacramentum-esque melodic pouring that we know Mgła are capable of, it was the final movement (“Age of Excuse VI”) that provided sustenance and lifesblood to me, the sort of fan who’d discovered this project through the celebrated ‘With Hearts Towards None’. This comes paired with a reiteration of the general swinging of the prose therein, “And the assassins in rose tinted glasses / At the wrong end of the tunnel of light / Practitioners of paramount scorn / And those who’d rig moral compass rather than bridges.” it becomes clear that this is the heart’s explosion we vampires thirsted for all along and it’d take the very last minutes of ‘Age of Excuse’ for the blood to flow. The section of melodic guitar work from roughly ~2:45-3:45 minutes into that final song is one of the finest moments from the band to date and a golden-glowing light at the end of this tunnel of an album; It pushes on with decreasing waves of beauteous riff ’til the end.
Whatever may cloud your vision of modern black metal today, be it your own hand or otherwise, it becomes more important to consider the emotions and ideologies that have always driven the music– The nature of black metal is nihilistic. The only regretful aspect of an album like ‘Age of Excuse’ is that it gives in at all to the din of distraction with descriptions of the absurdity of our times; In remarking repeatedly that history won’t be kind to fools, fuel is added to an obnoxious firestorm. The traditional mockery of the absurd notion of ‘existence with purpose’ is intact, though, and much of the material here maintains this outlook. Coming off of the most recent Serpent Column record nearby there is no doubt a similar thread of Heidegger‘s existentialism within “Age of Excuse I” at the very least, though from a differently dire perspective.
For my own taste I’ve primarily picked up Mgła releases with the expectation of grand melodic pieces, treating them as ‘guitar albums’ just as I would an old melodic black record from the mid-90’s but with updates that were modern in their atmosphere (see: Uada, Sargeist, Forteresse etc.) In this sense ‘Age of Excuse’ delivers that but does not provide their most immediately gratifying listen because of the stone-faced turmoil it resounds within. With some concerted focus and some closer looks at the lyric sheet I see a ‘tunnel vision’-like bout of iteration that doesn’t feel like enough of an ‘event’. This could be largely confounded by the four year wait between albums. In every sense ‘Age of Excuse’ is unapologetically a follow-up (not a recreation, as some have stated) of ‘Exercises in Futility’. Temper your own expectations accordingly but at least allow the greater subtleties of the work to sink in through whatever immersion can be managed. Moderately high recommendation. For preview purposes I’d suggest starting with “Age of Excuse II” and “Age of Excuse VI” if you’re here for the melodic/memorable side of the project and “Age of Excuse I” if seeking the main seed for the piece expanded upon throughout.
Forever uphill atop the remains. 4.0/5.0
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