Is it possible to appreciate a piece of music in terms of discrete packets of musical information while simultaneously dismissing it at the level of composition? Individual phrases are the products of raw, intuitive feeling in the moment whereas composition assumes an architectural character that, while not devoid of gut instinct, involves a more pronounced bird’s eye perspective and a greater use of the logical faculty. Great musical works always strike a consummate balance between intuition and logic, even though this logic, as it appears to the listener, might arise out of an unconscious channeling of intuition itself.
I like to think of composed music – composed metal – as being made of melodic units. A melodic unit of information and emotional content is a perfectly self-contained combination of note choices that conveys an entire world of meaning independent of similar adjacent units. What makes for great metal is how these individual units communicate with others of their kind to forge a greater meaning. This is the single quality that sets the old classics apart from the new crop, and also one that the most vehement defenders of evolution in metal tend to neglect.
Stepping into their shoes, one realizes just how easy it is to be lulled into an undemanding quiescence by the transient aspect present in music. This is the odd situation when the value of the individual melodic unit is so potent as to envelop and overwhelm the otherwise rickety construction of the song. There are instances of this littered across the metal landscape and present an interesting conundrum revolving around the things mentioned above. On the one hand is your intuitive grasp of music that can’t be and shouldn’t be denied its rightful due; on the other, however, is iron-clad reason that shines an unforgiving light on the missteps patent in what you’re hearing. Is there any hope then of reconciling the two?
I don’t believe that there is an ongoing moratorium on core inspiration in metal. People, at least the sincere ones, are still capable of fierce sparks of inspiration; the more sentient among our species remain as fascinated by the detours of the mind as ever, it’s only that these detours grow increasingly more obscured by the detritus of non-stop human transactions. What is found lacking is mastication, rumination, and introspection, not just as modes of a pathetic solipsism, but willed through an entity bound inextricably with its surrounding.
The new Mgla is a fine case study in such things. It is loaded with an intensely melodic subtext, especially melancholic but also stoic in nature, one that has the soft permeating glow of the late afternoon light. A reader on these pages likened the band’s lyrics to Emil Cioran’s essays, material that cuts too close to the bone for comfort, but a comparison that finds greater relevance on repeated listens. Yet another unrelated parallel was inadvertently discovered in a random Youtube video of unspeakably austere beauty and thought, entitled ‘Hermits Of Our Times‘ (listed below).
The common theme tying the three together is one of a heroic introversion and an internal remoteness incomprehensible to the wider world of men, yet one that, paradoxically, aims at bringing the subject out of the sphere of material trappings and closer to himself, and to the stuff of life, than ever before. Perhaps these are simply examples of my mind feeding on external insinuation and making analogies where none are to be made, but then again, is it a bad thing if distinct media have such a reciprocal effect on one another?
To that end, then, Exercises In Futility has become an encapsulation of a psychological state as function of time, deliberation, and setting. Certain segments are near-literary in their musical enunciation and will remain entrenched in memory, but as a whole, Mgla remain prone to almost all of the compositional failings attributed to new metal bands. As such, it should be valued as a private experience, if one is able to do so; lauding it as a paragon of black metal virtue, however, does the genre, and the album itself, disservice.