There has been a stirring of fresh life, a kindling of new creative vistas in the underground black metal realm since the last decade or so. This renaissance was glorified by various luminaries who were trying to exasperate the aesthetic and macabre aura which pervaded the genre. Art exists as a metaphysical pursuit of man to contemplate the mysteries which surround his existence, and hence it is essential for its pursuers to venture outside the corporeal domain and strive to explore newer vistas. Black metal, as an art form should do nothing less. It must toil hard to achieve an opulence which would be pertinent with the macabre visions manifested by its practitioners.
There have been few visionaries who have embarked on such gallant paths as a means to achieve artistic transcendence and the Polish duo Mgła are one of them. Their name is pronounced as ”mgwah” which means ”fog” in Polish, and their first venture into the underground was the ‘Crushing the Holy Trinity (Holy Spirit)’ split which was released by Northern Heritage Records in 2005. The subsequent years saw back to back releases like ”Presence”, ”Mdłości” and ”Further Down the Nest” which brought immense appreciation for the band’s unique sound which was a fresh take on the genre, even after being rooted firmly in the Scandinavian black metal of the 90’s. The reason being that unlike other bands, they did not emulate their influences but took further inspiration from them to create their own sound.
The year 2008 welcomed the release of their debut full length album ”Groza” with which they attained a cult status in the underground. It was a fresh take on the genre which enabled the band to accomplish a well crafted spectacle of grotesque, blackened art. Now, almost four years after this beast was unleashed, the year 2012 saw the release of their sophomore album ”With Hearts Toward None”. My expectations from this album grew increasingly high when I was exposed to the two promo tracks available on their label’s page during late 2011. I was thoroughly impressed with the samples, and they used to be on constant rotation until I was finally able to lend my ears to the entire opus.
Patience bears a sweet fruit, they say. However, my patience bore a wretched fruit which was a filthy embodiment of trailblazing sonic chaos which was unlike anything I had experienced before. With Hearts Toward None is a conceptual album like Mgła’s earlier efforts and is divided in seven chapters (I-VII).
The very moment I had prepared myself for the first listen, I was taken aback with the sheer brilliance possessed by the album.
Yes, the sounds are certainly recognizable with what the band has achieved in the past. Mikołaj’s trademark, hypnotic tremolo picked guitar leads are still predominant throughout the album but their execution has been more profound and phantasmagoric than ever before. Heavy, almost sludge-like power chords are suavely and intelligently juxtaposed with the leads, especially on tracks ”II” and ”IV”. The production on the album sounds distinct with a stellar prominence on bass-enriched heaviness, something which is often attributed to the ”Orthodox” black metal sound. It reminds me of the duo’s previous effort on Kriegsmaschine’s ”Transfigurations” although still carrying an aura of uniqueness around it. One could notice the meticulously carved architecture of the music after paying rapt attention to the layers of sound prevailing on the album. Their emphasis on detail, especially the twin guitar laden harmonies are worthy of creating a sense of awe among the patrons and purveyors of black metal. It is a winning formula whose seeds were sown with their very first release but brought to flawless perfection only with this album. A gradual and vicious progression, indeed.
Darkside is definitely one of the finest and criminally underrated drummers in the entire black metal genre and he has demonstrated his prowess on the kit, yet again through this album. He is a prolific musician who has also served for other intense Polish bands such as Massemord and Kriegsmaschine. I am extremely fond of the drum production which sounds crisp and organic and has been instrumental in enriching the string oriented craftsmanship of M. His cymbal accents are a delight to listen to, especially on track ”VI” and the final track ”VII” where he complements the guitar leads largely with an abundant cymbal work. On the more mid paced, groovier tracks like ”IV” and ”VI”, there is an abundance of skank beats, both slow and fast paced. The way he has utilized the toms is also praiseworthy. All tracks are occupied with interesting rolls and fills which give them a sense of completeness.
These are the elements which are quintessential for keeping the listeners glued to the edge of their seats, from start to finish without giving a feeling of dread and monotony. Mgła’s focused approach on harnessing intense dynamism within their song structure sets them apart from many others. A deft emphasis has been laid upon melancholic yet spiritually uplifting melodies, piled upon layers of sound to create intricate patterns, which sound extremely memorable and enchanting. More importantly, there is a sense of truthfulness and honesty which is evident in their music. It could become a soul enriching balm for you, if you are able to establish a connection with these aural emanations.
When we speak of imagination and feeling as predominating in black metal, we must also stress on the importance of lyrical concepts as a constant characteristic of the genre. The full significance of lyrics as an interpretation of life through imagination and feeling will be made apparent when we come, presently, to deal with the relations of music and poetry. Mgła seems to understand this harmony very well as they have executed some interesting lyrical themes on With Hearts Toward None. Whilst Groza’s lyrical themes were rich with allegorical themes expanding on the necessity of man’s dependence on ‘Satan’ for salvation, WHTN deals predominantly with themes of decadence and nihilism. The title itself is purely suggestive of the nihilistic implications present on the album. A thorough assessment of the lyrical theme is a must, if one wants to appreciate the magnum opus truly. They are, of course, open to interpretation and could provide different meanings to different individuals.
While reading them, and listening to M.’s guttural annunciations of the same, I am reminded of the grand failures of humanity, our futile efforts to gain redemption and hope and the struggles and horrors which encompass the mortal realm.
”From the midst of cold ash
comes the voice of the living god
to the roots of withered pillars
Through the scorched ground
And you shall know perdition
And it will set you free
Grey ash prayer
Severed from the unconscious
With hearts toward none”
Truly a masterpiece of the genre which would stand tall as one of the finest classics ever released in black metal. Grab a copy before you could only find them getting sold for hundreds of dollars on eBay.
01) With Hearts Toward None I
02) With Hearts Toward None II
03) With Hearts Toward None III
04) With Hearts Toward None IV
05) With Hearts Toward None V
06) With Hearts Toward None VI
07) With Hearts Toward None VII