Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mgła - With Hearts Toward None (2012)

Mgła - With Hearts Toward None

Since 2005, Mgła's unique sound has developed a cult following within the black metal underground. With their monumentally excellent EP Mdłości and its quality follow up Further Down the Nest, they refined a song-writing style centered on melodic leads, backed by thick rhythm guitar, varied drumming and deep growls. After four years of silence, they've finally hit us with With Hearts Toward None, the follow up to their 2008 debut album Groza, delivering everything fans have come to expect from the band.

To get my main problem with the album out of the way quickly, With Hearts Toward None follows the style they perfected on Mdłości and Further Down the Nest pretty closely. Mgła's style is unique, but I'd really love to see them expand upon what they do with it. I find it impossible not to compare it to their debut album, Groza, which had more adventurous song writing and a clever use of bass that is unfortunately rare in black metal. While I'm not going to claim that Groza revolutionized black metal, With Hearts Toward None is less exciting in the composition of its songs. This could have something to do with the song lengths; it has 7 songs averaging around 6 minutes, while Groza has 4 songs averaging around 9 minutes each. As such, the album provides less space within each song for variation, so I'm inclined to be forgiving.

Though that's certainly an issue I have with the album, the nuts and bolts of the songs are brilliant. It says a lot about Mgła's song writing that, even if it feels a bit less complicated than Groza's, With Hearts Toward None is still one of the most enjoyable black metal albums I've experienced in recent years. As usual, Mgła's ability to shift from riff to riff is reminiscent of the early works of Darkthrone and Burzum, with each switch feeling like a smooth, natural progression. Their leads provide memorable melodies, with “III” and “V” being some of my favorite in Mgła's catalog. The lead guitars contrast with and compliment the darker rhythm guitar, which make a strong showing. The bass is there, but is less audible and used to lesser effect than in Groza. The rhythm guitars steps in to provide interesting moments instead; they make dramatic showings in “I” and “IV”, and the riffs they play in “II” and “VI” are album highlights. “III” is a good example of the albums subtle strengths; the military snare roll that shows up during the bridge and the solo at the end of the song are stand out. The vocals are as usual excellent, their depth and strength being reminiscent of Mikko Aspa of Deathspell Omega and Clandestine Blaze fame. Their depth gives the songs a sense of invocation that compliments the Orthodox style of black metal they play, and you can even make out the lyrics! The 10 minute long ending track, “VII”, is particularly worth mentioning. As I said, the length of the songs in Groza are to its benefit, and the 10 minutes allotted to “VII” give it the room to breath that gives it a great deal of gravitas. While it may not be my favorite track on the album, it is a worthy finisher.

With Hearts Toward None isn't a step in any new direction for Mgła, but it's listenable in the extreme. Despite the fact that they developed this style expertly on Mdłości, and that Groza's song writing and bass work make it more structurally unique, songs like “III” and “V” prove how utterly enjoyable With Hearts Toward None is. Both old fans of Mgła and those new to them will find much to enjoy here, and Mgła have proved once again that an individual take on the traditional black metal sound can be as interesting and fresh as any experimentation.



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