Sep 062019
 

 

(This is Andy Synn‘s review of the new album by Poland’s Mgła — and some personal reflections on controversies that have swirled about the band and how they have affected reactions to the music.)

Confirmation bias is a hell of a thing. We see what we want to see, we hear what we want to hear, we believe what we want to believe.

It’s possible to be aware of it, and to guard against it to an extent, but none of us are entirely immune to it.

It’s a very human thing after all, based on the availability of information, the heuristic shortcuts we use to analyse it, and an inescapable egotism which leads us to prioritise what we agree with/what agrees with us, over what runs contrary to our current worldview.

And nothing has crystallised this quite as much in recent times as the surprise release of the new Mgła album earlier this week.

 

 

Make no mistake about it, Age of Excuse is a good album. Occasionally a very good album.

Tracks I, III, and VI, in particular are easily the equal of the band’s very best (even if III does occasionally err more towards Kriegsmaschine in tone – not that that’s a bad thing).

But within mere minutes of the album hitting the internet I was already seeing people fawning all over it as “the best album of the year” without, as far as I could tell, having even listened to the entire thing in full, let alone given it any time to sink in properly.

And that, my friends, is confirmation bias at work. It’s being such a fan(atical devotee) of a band that you’ve already decided their new album is inevitably going to be amazing, and so you listen to it purely to confirm what you already believe.

Truth be told Age of Excuse isn’t quite as good as either With Hearts Towards None or Exercises in Futility, and it’s ok to acknowledge that. It’s still a hell of a ride, even if, overall, it doesn’t quite match the sheer mesmerising menace of its predecessors.

 

 

Now, if you only wanted to hear my vague thoughts on the album, feel free to stop reading here, as I’m about to get a little philosophical on you all.

 

 

I’ll admit, up front, that I was counselled by a few well-meaning friends of mine to reconsider covering this album here.

After all, it’s practically a lose-lose situation, where the more rabid, “Black Metal is supposed to be dangerous” crew are going to get upset if I even mention the band’s continued association with some very sketchy figures (oops), while the “holier than thou” crowd are going to see any form of coverage as an implicit endorsement of the band’s personal politics (which, while possibly questionable, are still uncertain/unconfirmed).

But simply ignoring its existence didn’t seem right to me, especially when the issue/question of how much confirmation bias has influenced so many of the early reactions just kept nagging away at my brain.

After all, the album’s very title, Age of Excuse, is prime for interpretation and analysis, and different people will read into it some very different things.

The edgier, more reactionary types – the ones who conflate listening to Black Metal with somehow being better/smarter than everyone else – will undoubtedly see the title as an implicit validation of their own world view, and I’ve already witnessed umpteen posts praising the band for (apparently) pushing back against the “snowflakes” and “pc culture”.

Whereas those who’ve already judged the band to be “guilty by association” due to the circles in which they move and the people they choose to hang out with (a position which I understand, to an extent) will equally see the title as tacit confirmation of their suspicions.

And, truth be told, these two perspectives aren’t exactly mutually exclusive.

But ambiguity and openness to interpretation have always been key features of art and, in this regard, Age of Excuse is no different.

For while the lyrics read, to me at least, more as an expression of pure nihilism than an endorsement of any sort of socio-political ethos (if anything, they seem actively contemptuous of such things), it’s their very ambiguity which leaves them open to such different interpretations and which allows different listeners to hear different things which only serve to confirm what they already believe.

That being said, I respect those with strongly held principles, and whether you’re a committed “separation of art and artist” type, or unwavering in your stance that “the personal is political”, especially in music, I can honour and appreciate your beliefs as long as they’re A) sincerely held, and B) open to discussion and evolution.

In fact, it would be hypocritical of me to do otherwise, especially considering that this is a dichotomy I still struggle with myself, to the point where I’ve been accused of being a “social justice warrior” and “part of the problem” in response to the same article before now.

The question of separating art and artist is often framed as one of possibility… which I think is a mistake. Of course it’s possible to separate the art from the artist. People have been doing so for hundreds of years, knowingly or not.

The real question should be – what does it mean to separate the art from the artist? After all, art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and our responses to it are shaped by so much more than what we see and hear in the moment.

A rose by any other name, as they say, would still smell as sweet… but if you found out it had been treated with industrial-strength pesticides you’d probably have some different thoughts about what you were breathing in.

In the end, as always, the choice, and responsibility, lies with the listener themselves. As do the consequences of that choice. Not just with regards to this album, but all of them.

And it’s only by being self-aware and willing to take a long hard look at our motivations, that we can truly make the right decision for ourselves – whatever that might be.

If you’re the type of person who gets angry when someone suggests that a band you love might not be the best people… maybe ask yourself why this upsets you so much?

Similarly, if you’re the sort of person who judges others as being somehow inferior to yourself – morally or otherwise – simply because of what they do or do not listen to, perhaps it’s worth considering how that reflects upon you as a person in return?

It’s not a simple issue. It never has been, and it never will be.

As a good friend of mine once said, “listening to Burzum won’t turn you into a racist” but, equally, the background and context surrounding the band definitely attracts a certain type of person looking for art that, from their perspective at least, confirms, and conforms to, what they already believe.

I don’t have a clean or clear answer to this. Some people do, obviously, and that’s good for them. But I’m NOT them. So I need to find my own answer. I think we all do.

And the only way to do this is to keep looking. To keep asking questions – not just about the bands but about yourself.

Learn more. Make up your own mind. Confront what you already know, and what you think you know, so that when challenged as to why you choose to listen to (or boycott) a certain artist or album you can answer with both honesty and conviction.

Oh, and don’t worry, if you’re at all concerned that this site is going to change the way it works or who it chooses to cover, you shouldn’t. While there are always going to be artists who we, as a group, have agreed we just don’t want to address, we won’t refrain from covering controversial or divisive bands just because we’re afraid there’ll be a backlash.

As a matter of fact, on Monday I’m going to be writing about a band who are unafraid to wear their politics right out on their sleeves, as a major part of both their musical and personal identity, so stay tuned for more potential controversy then!

 

  31 Responses to “MGŁA: “AGE OF EXCUSE””

  1. Yeah, but what do you think about the new album?

    • Yeah, how about an actual opinion on the music rather than standing on your dumbass soapbox

    • Actually, you can listen to the album, on YT or BC for example, and form your own opinion; you don’t need anybody else’s opinion to validate your taste or persuade you to buy/stay away from the album.

  2. I think I’m a little higher on the album than you, quality-wise. To me it is equal to their past work.

    I feel similarly to you with regards to the other noise surrounding the group. I sympathize with both of the viewpoints others express when these uncomfortable issues arise, but I can’t endorse either one. I just try to take each individual artist on a case by case basis. The important element for me is what the music is expressing. Personally, I’ve read Mgla’s lyrics and think, as you said, that the main theme is nihilism, and wrestling with our violent nature as humans. Those aren’t inherently racist themes. Now, would it be particularly difficult for them to disavow racism, fascism, and nationalism? Probably not. But I don’t think that kind of public test of purity is what we should be requiring of people.

    People are allowed to have shitty ideas and make great music, and as fans we have to decide how we feel about that.

    • After listening to it a few times on repeat I feel it’s on par with their other work. It doesn’t have as many catchy riffs as Exercises but it’s not inferior. In saying people are quick to overrate it, you could go the other direction and say you’re underselling it after one listen because you had high expectations.

  3. Great review and refreshingly well thought out points and conclusions.

  4. I’m not the only one!

  5. The conversation of viewing art differently based on the artist is a topic I have thought about and discussed many times (I am a metal head after all) and I developed a rather same outlook to yours, I especially agree with the idea of respecting both sides of the argument, choosing to separate or combine, and appreciating their input as long as their integrity remains sound. My personal feelings on the matter is to rarely (if never) discredit the art itself based on the creator, however, I may specifically choose not to support such an artist, be it buy the album or merch.

    This, at least to me, is one of those questions that have no definite answer. How can I judge a Burzum fan who listens to them for purely how they sound while I am a fan of Destroyer 666 for no other reason than I like blackened thrash?

    I could talk about this for hours, so I’ll stop now.

  6. Perhaps MGLA were aware of the ambiguity and chose to go that route intentionally.

    As to “The real question should be – what does it mean to separate the art from the artist? After all, art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and our responses to it are shaped by so much more than what we see and hear in the moment.”

    Ask the guys who used a song from “The Who” as the opening theme for CSI Miami. Recognising art as separate from the entity that created it allows for that art to be (potentially) turned into something positive.

  7. What about the music? A sterile review full of nothing and blablablabla…

  8. asking Mr Walmsley to do the review was a mistake

  9. In my humble opinion “Age of Excuse” is a worthy successor of “Exercises in Futility” and shows how a captivating “Black Metal” album should be, cold, obscure and covered with doleful melodies. It’s hard to keep an organic sound and not being recurring with seven notes only and be creative all the times. Any song has a similar style but the structure makes the listening experience something with no desire of interruption. No filler found in here and the apparent simplicity of the cadence is deceptive. The rate of virulence is a little bit lower but this promotes a major emotive research, often, the guitars are stratified and very hypnotic with lithesome mid-tempo. The drumming has fluency with abundant and multifaceted solutions on cymbals. From any point of view “Mgla” is a band who are becoming more aware of his ability and they gave us another memorable album. I read their lyrics and I don’t perceive something scary about their view of the world but something deep and true, nihilism is the result of reality in which we are living, an idea, a metaphorical wraith within ourselves and not approachable to some shitty political faction.

    • I think their lyrics are, and have been, amazing. I look forward to reading them with each new release almost as much as I look forward to hearing the music.

      • I feel the same and thank you for what you do, I’m pretty new to NCS but often I don’t share my thoughts because your reviews are so well written that I don’t feel the need to add something but I want to let you know about new songs by Cattle Decapitation and Hideous Divinity which are…well, I’ll let you find out!

        • Thank you — I had those on my list for a planned round-up today, along with about half a dozen others, but after finishing today’s two premieres I’m out of time. Hopefully, I’ll have a selection from the flood of new songs this weekend.

  10. For what its worthI don’t really see how their could be a parallel between fascist ideology and nihilism..
    Im not a huge fan of the band, so Im not really here to go to bat for them, they can do that for themselves if they ever cared… I just can’t see parallels.

  11. I’m sorry to say it, but this post was thoroughly disappointing. It is presented as a review, but it is actually an opinion piece about politics and confirmation bias in music. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with an opinion piece like that – it can certainly be an interesting read – but please don’t disguise it as an album review (or anything else for that matter).

    I would still love to read an actual review of the album here on NCS.

  12. This might be a bit snarky, but I don’t mean it in an angry or mean way- but I agree with other comments here.

    For all the talk about not ignoring reviewing controversial bands’ albums- it seems this post is lacking that very thing- a review of the album- it’s barely talked about at all?

    • As a longer-time supporter of this site–I post comments regularly–what struck me, aside from very little details that add up to a review, unfortunately—is that even if the confirmation bias (in either direction) here is used to point out Mgla’s national-socialism/fascism/racist associations, that are sort of documented (right?), racism is only mentioned in relation to Burzum, created by a person whom we unequivocally know to be a racist a-hole.

      As for Mgla, it is suggested here they only have possibly unsavoury ideas or ties to unsavoury ideas and people.

      Now, I know about the dangers of unfounded labelling, but surely we all know what, exactly, Mgla’s been accused of over the last months or more.

      So I feel that at least this specific part, i.e. what, exactly, the association entails, could have been directly named, as opposed to, let’s say, only by proxy.

      Aaanyway, the people over at Noclean are good people, and it is easy for me to comment–after all, one interpretation may be that the jury’s still out on this band, so I can see why this has been written the way it has.

      • Yeah, I just was hoping for more focus on the music, since it was stated that this was a “review” of the album. It turned into more of a review of a band and a philosophical tangent, which is fine and all… but either deserves its own post, or should have ALSO contained an actual review of the music/art in the first place.

        That said, nothing against Andy or the NoClean dudes, I’m a regular (lurker mostly) and this is one of my top places for finding good stuff, just felt it was necessary to comment that I thought this post was really missing something.

        I’ve had to really think for a long time about how to approach Mgla. I totally get that some people don’t care about associations and all that shit, and they can separate the art completely from the artist, but I don’t dismiss people that can’t separate them. I can sort-of see it from both angles.

        Mgla has been so tough for me because I think their album (Exercises, in particular) is some of the best black metal of the modern era. However, the associations with Clandestine Blaze / Mikko / etc. really bother me.

        I don’t know whether to keep listening to Mgla and Deathspell or to just cut them off completely out of my library. *sigh*

        • My friend and I’s arguments always fall down to the simple fact that there is so much god damn music that its really quite easy to find a band with a similar sound that isn’t connected to whatever undesirable thing detracts from the music..

          Some bands leave a question mark hanging over your head. Sometimes its the very thing that makes us like something, but sometimes its just an extra buzz in the ear, and mostly I’d rather listen to music that doesn’t have me thinking outside of the musics intent.

          Sometimes that means ditching on a band that the jury is still out on, but again, theres so much music I actually have a hard time keeping up with all the stuff I like anyway, so I don’t feel too concerned about wasting my time sorting out my feelings on what band A thinks or who band B hangs out with. Just move on to something that doesn’t have that dissonance.

          • It’s funny, after debating it more and discussing with others, we kinda arrived at a similar conclusion- that there’s enough music out there without these associations, that it’s just fine to move on and listen to other things.

            Each person can of course approach this their own way- but I just thought it interesting that we separately landed on the same ending conclusion.

            I have since culled my library, as much as it temporarily is annoying to lose some good art.

  13. This is a very interesting topic.

    I have a hard time being tolerant towards one side of the argument here, the one that states “you should not interact with bad peoples’ art”. The reason is that for me the ideal is very very clear; you should be able to see that within people who are ugly in one way, beauty also resides. Simply because that is the truth. And if one wants to internalise, I mean really understand, humanitarian values, I think it’s necesseary to engage with this principle one way or another. (I’ve actually heard a person or two utter the sentence “I don’t really consider bigots to be humans anymore”, which is an absolutely horrendeously dishonest way of thinking).

    On the other hand, how can I judge other people when I am myself avoiding certain literature because I know I have a tendency to struggle hard when met with a depsondent world wiev!? ( A danger that is not there with music for me).

    And talking about literature, I cannot deny that there are cases of great books, which I have found very interesting and illuminating in certain ways, that I would be very, very careful about recommending to a woman, simply because of the combination of how women are depicted in that particular novel and the great quality of writing.

    So it’s hard. But I DO know, that I’m at my very best when I see beauty in the really dark places of mind.

  14. First of all thank you for even covering this album. It’s silly to ignore what is one of the most anticipated records of 2019 because of some perceived sin against polite culture.

    Second, I do think this may be their best record, both musically and lyrically, but it takes a lot of listens to sink in and unfold, like all great records.

    Third, I find it ironic that bands like Mgla and Deathspell Omega have released albums this year that have been boycotted by the left and embraced by the right, when both albums are a fist through both sides, and exactly what we need in this black/white left/right divide that has beset metal.

    Mgla is, in someways, the ultimate political/apolitical band, because they recognize the absolute delusions and excesses of both sides and flay them both in their lyrics. This sort of thing is sorely needed and couldn’t be more on point in 2019.

  15. Its a pretty average album I must say. Its good, but it isn’t mind blowing by any stretch. Some good riffs and motifs here and there but nothing to keep me coming back. Each song blends into one. Which I guess is the idea, but I prefer records where songs have individual identities, even holistic “concept” albums. As an example, Taake’s Hordalands Doedskvad album, with no song titles other than I, II, III etc, has songs with more individual identity than this record. Exercises in Futility was better than this release, and that album whilst very strong is still highly overrated in my opinion. This is more of the same only a little less strong, a little more boring.

  16. White peoples problems

  17. Thanks for covering this, Andy. It’s an interesting and challenging subject for which there are no easy answers. I (and I’m sure many others) feel the same ambivalence.

  18. I’ve only listened to it once, but my first impression is that it’s pretty awesome. I’ll see how it holds up after a couple more listens.

  19. I can’t understand why there are objections with bands like Mgla or Marduk about ideology when there is no problem with more mainstream bands and the violence for example they incite

  20. Seriously great article my friend. So measured in approach and reasonable. Too much discussion these days paints things in black and white, good and evil, and that rarely is the case. It’s very heartening to know that there are people who can see through dogma.

    On the record, I agree, I’m not crazy into it. I loved Exercises in Futility, loved it. This one, seems like it’s mostly a retread, which can be fine, but it doesn’t burn as hot as that record for me and tends to fade into the background after a couple listens. I don’t think that I would include it on my personal “best of” for the year.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

(required)

(required)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.