by Niklas Göransson
Meet M of Polish black metal band Mgła- the faceless artist who explains why he wants all focus on the art itself, and how a cynical nihilist justifies taking the stage to preach to the masses a belief in nothing.
Note that a significantly extended version of this article is included in Bardo Methodology #1. From its inception in 2002, KRIEGSMASCHINE had been the duo’s main band – with MGŁA functioning as an occasional studio project. This arrangement lasted until 2012, when the mists absorbed the war wagon and the latter was reserved for recording activity while the former brought to the stage.
– Due to typical life stuff happening, people moving and so on, regular rehearsals were no longer possible with KRIEGSMASCHINE so we were unable to keep playing live.
Instead of exchanging the line-up, the two of them decided to have a go at MGŁA with a full band setting. Having recruited live members ShellShocked (bass) and Silencer (guitars) from MEDICO PESTE, they rehearsed for almost a full year before playing their first show.
– First year of live activity we played five shows, the year after it was nine shows, then sixteen and now it’s 40.
In our initial email exchange, M explained that the lack of interviews available is due to MGŁA best being experienced rather than studied. I find it strange how knowing more about the band would detract from the experience.
– MGŁA should be represented by what we do in the studio and on stage, at least in the context of core ideas. The band communicates in a much more focused and compressed way than I ever could, talking like this over a coffee – it takes hundreds if not thousands of hours to complete what you ultimately hear on a CD. MGŁA is a distilled form of our innermost thoughts and comments.
There is an additional reason why M feels he’d rather let the band represent itself.
– I’m not really a particularly interesting person – the compelling stuff is my music, not my self. I’m just a guy.
The desire for inhuman representation is mirrored by their stage attire, which is tailored to shift focus from the musicians to their music.
– We wear hoodies and leather jackets, effectively making us indistinguishable from 90 percent of the audience – the only difference is that our faces are draped. We seek uniformity to remove the ego of our person, leaving nothing but a vessel – a tool. On stage we’re not individuals, we are a unit.
M’s lyrics aren’t written in the genre-typical short bursts of attempted infernal poetry, they look more like a flowing social commentary divided up into paragraphs rather than verses.
– Linguistically, they’re not yet at the level I’d like them to be but I’m trying to accomplish something that can stand on its own merit and makes sense even without sound. They’re not simply complimentary rhythmic structures for the instruments; they are of equal value as the musical content so I dedicate significant time to them.
They come off as heavily laden with cynical nihilism; does this reflect your personality?
– To a large degree – yes, I’m afraid so. The easiest way this can be summed up is that there are men of faith and men of doubt; I am of the latter type.
Going by said lyrics, one might get the impression that he views his fellow humans as little more than breathing disappointments.
– Lessons of life in general, there have been lots and lots of incidents that contribute to my general worldview. Believe me, I’d love to be more optimistic but any such attempts tend to be disproven. I try to be a kind person and an easy-going guy but I have very limited trust. When talking to me, it takes quite a while to actually speak to me and not just my outer shell.
Isn’t it slightly contradictory though; travelling around the world and taking the stage to proclaim your disinterest in people and life in general?
– No, I don’t think so. That is not my purpose for doing this; it’s for the experience itself. I’m hardly ever angry, rarely happy – I don’t feel emotions the way I think most people do. The one moment I can repeatedly feel something is when playing music.
Emotions are precisely what he believes should govern and empower music.
– Concepts, themes, aesthetics and ideologies – all secondary; what lies at the very foundation of black metal music is the emotional content.
No matter the conceptual theme – as long as there is genuine passion invested in it, M believes it will shine through. Academic accuracy or poetic mastery means nothing if the voice conveying it lacks conviction.
– If someone is praying to the goat in his lyrics and actually means it – in the sense that they react with it somehow; interesting things can come out of this. Naming every single one of Shub Niggurath’s thousand young won’t make anything worthwhile – but a guy actually worshipping the fucking head of a goat, this could potentially generate something meaningful.
He ponders for a moment before adding:
– I think that might very well have been the most in-depth statement that’s been made by me in relation to MGŁA .
Despite claiming to be happiness resistant, I find it hard to believe that the band’s recent success doesn’t brighten his day.
– Of course, it helps. Basic things like music equipment for example – for the first time we don’t have to worry about affording new amps, cables, stands and other accessories. The album sales pay for our backline, we’re constantly improving it.
This almost makes it sound as if the happiness is logistical in origin, rather than satisfaction from having created something others enjoy.
– Not at all, feedback is much appreciated. I have a great deal of respect for people who take the time to listen to the music, read the lyrics and come up with comments and observations – basically react in any way. It’s always surprising to me that people appreciate our music since MGŁA is carefully moulded after our own preferences.
He’s not joking – the latest album “Exercises in Futility” (2015) was crafted entirely from conception to creation by M and Darkside, with literally no third party insight.
– The two of us did everything – composing, recording, performance, mixing, mastering, graphic design, lyrics, even releasing it to some point. At no time during the recording process did we play the songs for other people. Our idea was to form it purely after the vision we had, with no outside influence and I believe we succeeded in this.
From its inception, all of MGŁA’s music has been recorded in their own studio – No Solace.
– It’s basically a rehearsal space that’s been worked into a studio, it has all equipment we need. It’s constantly being upgraded, as are my skills as a recording engineer.
Besides his own work, he’s also worked as a studio engineer and producer for bands such as fellow countrymen INFERNAL WAR and CULTES DES GHOULES.
– It’s great because I get to work with friends and leave my prints on albums I think are extraordinary. It’s also a learning process for me, because everything I do in regard to recording and mixing is then experience collected – knowledge I can channel into my own work.
All of MGŁA’s albums have been co-released by their own label – also called No Solace, and Finland’s Northern Heritage Records.
Are you going to stick with them or are you entertaining other offers?
– We get them all the time but releasing our work in cooperation with Northern Heritage is perfect. I think this is the way it’s going to stay as it gives us complete control over everything. We don’t have to schedule interviews or do any PR; most importantly we don’t have to do any sort of meet-and-greet shit or other things you’d expect at some point when working with a bigger label.
Their choice of label has not been entirely without complication. Even though no one is accusing MGŁA of political extremism they have recently been targeted by ‘anti-fascists’, which led to the lone German date of their upcoming September tour with BEHEMOTH being cancelled. From what I could ascertain by running online discussions through Google Translate, the outrage stems from Northern Heritage having previously collaborated with a Finnish black metal band that are deemed controversial.
– Yes, he confirms while shaking his head, that was the problem. The venue is managed by some kind of left wing youth organisation so when the show was announced they had their local antifa perform background checks on the bands.
Having discovered their dubious associations, the venue demanded that MGŁA issue a statement denouncing their label.
– Obviously, from the moment you receive this type of email, you know you’re not going to play there. We simply told the truth – we are a black metal band and we release our music on black metal labels. We haven’t signed our deal for political reasons but we support Northern Heritage one hundred percent – if someone has a problem with that then so be it.
One can’t help but notice how many media outlets who were aghast when BELPHEGOR were beset by Christians and then banned by the authorities in Russia, never seem to object to this kind of censorship.
– I recently did an interview for a German magazine and there were of course a couple of questions on politics and black metal. I explained that I’m not interested at all; if you want to separate politics from art, don’t ask the artists about politics in the first place.
M’s views on most things material are readily available in the lyrics but spirituality appears to be a theme left mostly unexplored.
– Not entirely; there is metaphysics in MGŁA, just not from the usual angles. It’s more mysticism than magic – no ceremonial accessories, no candles, robes or any of the usual esoteric attire. It’s not so much a visual element as it is conceptual; finite man versus the infinite something.
He speculates that being drawn to the aesthetic side of things is human nature, behaviour that seems to enjoy prevalence regardless of theological outlook.
– The whole idea of ritual, no matter if it’s the Roman Catholic mass or rites from the Order of Nine Angles, is that there are predefined sets of movements and words – then incense, sounds, specific clothes and so on. I’d be inclined to say that a lot of focus is being put… well, wasted if you ask me, on the aesthetics rather than the actual core. My interest in spirituality is to the highest possible extent devoid of this aspect.
M has self-diagnosed himself as ‘spiritually challenged’.
– Look at the latest album cover artwork, it shows a blind man reaching for something but gripping nothing. If you add the pieces together – the spiritual outlook that’s been reflected in MGŁA, you’ll find that we genuinely would like to connect to something – to relate to something metaphysical, yet all we grasp is black void.
The cover artwork in question goes rather well with the lyrical theme, which is why I first assumed it was commissioned artwork.
– No, he clarifies, we have stolen it – it was made by the nineteenth century French illustrator Marcel Roux. When working on the layout for “Enemy of Man” (KRIEGSMASCHINE, 2014), we were looking through various pictures I’d accumulated.
Suddenly, they found themselves staring at the motif that ended up as the visual representation of the “Exercises in Futility”.
– At the very first glance we knew it was perfect, with the blind man…
The one referenced in the lyrics?
– Yes. The funny part is that the lyrics were written only after we found the cover image, so it ended up leaving an imprint on the music too.
There’s something about the rigid posture of a proper, authentic blind. As if extended arms reached to pass his blindness onto others.
These lyrics are in turn influenced by French-Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran.
– We find inspiration in many things – art, philosophy and literature; then the two of us act as filter to select what we see most fitting and it ends up as MGŁA.
A new album is in the works, their first after the so-called commercial breakthrough. It should be interesting to see how this affects the relative musical consistency that has characterised their 16-year lifespan thus far.
– MGŁA started out as my revelation and at some point it became the shared vision of two people. Darkside is not only the drummer, he’s one hundred percent involved in the band and everything related to it. We have a vision that needs to be realised – I doubt there’ll be any drastic changes as we still have a lot of work remaining in this aspect. I have no idea what the future holds for us, it’s a path being paved as we walk it – but as long as our work is fuelled by emotions, we’ll continue doing it.