Mgla has taken the metal underground by storm in recent years, and it’s easy to see why. Melodic black metal is a genre that’s rather well worn at this point, but these two dudes from Poland managed to make it sound fresh and new again by simply crafting hooks on par with the catchiest of anybody in the scene. I hate to be lazy and compare them to other bands from their motherland, but Poland, in general, has been something of a hotspot lately, so it’s hard to avoid the obvious comparisons to heavyweights like Furia, Plaga, and Batushka. But their ear for melody seamlessly intertwined with top tier riffs and desperate intensity also call to mind legends from across the globe like Sargeist, Inquisition, and Taake.
Most bands can’t pull off three incredible releases in a row, but Mgla has managed to surpass that with Age of Excuse – their fourth stunner in as many albums, handily cementing them as modern legends who will be remembered fondly in years to come no matter what happens next. I’ve always found myself struggling to elucidate precisely why I think they’re so damn good, but I think this album is finally what made the X factor fall into place for me, and that’s Darkside’s drumming. M handles all of the stringed instruments and the vocals, and he’s great at what he does, but Darkside’s drumming is the true secret weapon separating Mgla from the rest of the pack when it comes to meloblack. There’s an almost playful danciness to the way his arms operate. If I’m going to split a drummer in half, I can tell you that his feet are pummeling away at the bass drums as well as any BM drummer can reasonably be expected to play, but his arms seem to be possessed by Durgha. His cymbal work is absolutely out of this world, and he takes what 95% of bands would use as a simple blasting section to smash the ride or hi-hat as fast as possible and instead flips it on its head, skipping around like Neil Peart in a dynamic whirlwind of off-kilter rhythms and cacophonous splashiness.
For as chaotic and dizzying as the percussion is, it’s the riffs themselves that keep this from careening off the track into Deathspell Omega-esque anarchy. Age of Excuse is chaotic, but these melodies help ground the mania in something coherent thanks entirely to how simple and energetic they are. The staccato squeals in “III” would usually signify the exact moment that a band is about to come apart at the seams, but it’s delivered in such a palatable way that it sounds like there’s no other way it ever could’ve logically been performed. The ascending tremolos that populate “I” and “IV” are the exact same types of riffs you’ve heard a hundred times before from a hundred different Dissection clones already, but the interplay between the simple and, dare I say, cliche meloblack riffs and the off-the-wall percussive whizbang coalesces into a nuclear bomb of hellfire and bone dust.
Going back a few albums, I think what separates their last two albums from their first two is simply the fact that the songwriting has gotten deceptively intricate. There was a more primal fury on With Hearts Towards None than there was on the triumphant Exercises in Futility, and that trend continues on Age of Excuse here. I know I just talked about how simple it is but that’s precisely the beauty of it all. It’s like watching somebody build the Arc de Triomphe entirely out of Lincoln Logs. Hundreds of identical, simple pieces constructed together to create something extravagant and monumental. Mgla takes a handful of theoretically basic riffs and then creates something larger than life out of them. “IV” is an everlasting testament to this skill of theirs, because it’s basically just nine minutes of tremolo and blasting, but the atmosphere it evokes is so eldritch and mystifying that it sounds like something forbidden. It’s the perfect blend of arcane oddity and furious rage, and it comes together to create something magical.
With only six tracks averaging about seven minutes each, there’s a surprising amount of content packed into each. They all contain gorgeously arcane meloblack riffs and psychotically active percussion, and the interplay between the two main elements create a splendorous hallmark of modern BM. I didn’t want to love this; I honestly didn’t. Mgla has gotten so popular (as far as the underground goes at least) that it just seems cliche to call their new album one of the best of the year so far, but goddammit it’s true. They’re on a roll right now, and this hype train isn’t stopping yet. Each new album is this big event, and Age of Excuse just keeps it going. Every track is good, but if you want highlights, “III” and “VI” are the best, without question.