Poland is a country that can seemingly be relied upon year after year to produce some of the best metal the underground has to offer. I’m not sure if it’s a case of that old cliché of there being “something in the water,” or if the country’s devoutly religious social/political climate only serves to turn a portion of its citizens into equally devout practitioners of the dark musical arts, but there is definitely something about Poland that seems to guarantee a steady stream of highly impressive bands. Krakow’s Mgla are certainly no exception to the rule, and their second album, the magnificently crafted With Hearts Toward None, is one of the best black metal albums you’re likely to hear in 2012 and beyond.
Divided into seven tracks titled simply “With Hearts Toward None I-VII,” With Hearts Toward None can be seen as a musical suite documenting mankind’s slow march into total oblivion. It is a stunning example of blackened orthodoxy; while listening, one can imagine blue skies being suffocated by clouds of sulfur from which no light can escape, while rivers become black blood, and the feeble masses look to their God for salvation, only to have their prayers become lost amidst the terrifying silence of the end. In Mgla’s world, God is Satan, Satan is God, and he does not give a fuck about your suffering. In fact, he might very well be the cause of it.
Consisting of vocalist/guitarist/bassist M and drummer Darkside, Mgla set themselves apart from the black metal masses by employing a largely mid-paced approach, rather than going for the all-out scathing speed that characterizes so much of today’s black metal. Allowing the songs to breathe makes them more impactful, and it is largely because of this that With Hearts Toward None will continue to haunt you long after the album has stopped playing. The riffs sink into your skull rather than whiz past, the distorted black buzz burrows deep into your psyche, and M’s subhuman vocals are completely intelligible, rendering his misanthropic revelations that much more unsettling.
Of course, misanthropy and Satanism are integral parts of black metal, but most contemporary bands in the genre are so thoroughly unconvincing that these ethos have lost much of their meaning. Not so with Mgla; the band’s hatred for the disease called man and devotion to the Great Adversary are both palpable throughout With Hearts Toward None, to the point where it practically overwhelms the listener. Much of the album’s lyrical content refers to the downfall of humanity at the hands of the heavenly; think of it as a sort of inverted divine intervention. Of all the black metal bands espousing beliefs based in Theistic Satanism, Mgla are among the most convincing along with the likes of Deathspell Omega and Katharsis. Their commitment is total, their malice pure and unshakeable.
People will probably be calling the men in white coats on me when they read this, but the more I listen to With Hearts Toward None, the more convinced I become that it is one of the most beautiful albums I’ve ever heard, both musically and thematically. Nietzsche once wrote: “To be sure I am a forest and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.” I can think of no better way to describe this masterpiece of religious art.