Mournful Congregation – The Incubus Of Karma (2018) REVIEW

To say that the career of multi-instrumentalist Damon Good is a huge personal inspiration would be an understatement. Though he has made small waves in cult acts such as Martire, Cauldron Black Ram, and the mind-melting work of Misery’s Omen, it is his presence in StarGazer and Mournful Congregation that has reached the furthest outside of Adelaide. I didn’t personally discover either group until StarGazer released ‘The Scream That Tore the Sky’ in 2005. I was convinced to import ‘Monad of Creation’ after a friend recommended it as “that Evoken shit you like so much.” and by the same guys. Well, it’s no secret that ‘Antithesis of Light’ is my personal favorite album of that decade and while Mournful Congregation are up at the top of my all-time favorite funeral doom/death metal list I didn’t warm up to their second album until I’d dug into funeral doom a lot more. All of their compositions are so extended and so effectually morose that their discography can be demanding, and engaging, beyond the typically lifeless atmospherics of second-rate funeral doom. ‘The Incubus of Karma’ is perhaps the longest and most aggressively engaging composition from Mournful Congregation to date.

One of my greatest loves in the realm of slow-motion extreme doom metal permutations beyond the psychedelia of Esoteric and the death/doom metal of Evoken is the work of Morgion, particularly their ‘In Majestic Ruin’ album. Early Mournful Congregation demos had a lot of that same ethos of ‘Lost Paradise’ taken to it’s most sluggish before entirely losing the plot. ‘An Epic Dream of Desire’ was at least a step beyond what odd groups like Paramaecium were doing at the time but perhaps not as interesting as Unholy‘s ‘From the Shadows’. Once they’d become an actual band, the first full-length from Mournful Congregation was absolutely heavier and more melodic with all of it’s acoustic guitar interludes and slow-gothic guitar lines and I wouldn’t say the overall approach of the band has changed drastically since. The earlier efforts from the band represent a middle ground for me somewhere between the gothic death/doom of early My Dying Bride and the melodramatic keyboard-thick sound of Shape of Despair.

By the time ‘The June Frost’ came out in 2009 I’d entrenched myself so heavily into my own world of tracking down old school death, thrash, and doom records that I couldn’t be bothered with most modern music and I basically skipped over it until ‘The Book of Kings’ caught me by surprise in a record store in 2011. It wasn’t until that album released that I could fully appreciate not only ‘The Monad of Creation’ but how unique Good & Co.’s take on funeral doom metal is/was. As close as groups like Ahab, Fuoco Fatuo and Lycus come to moments resembling Mournful Congregation no modern funeral doom or death/doom band can replicate what the masters do in any satisfying variation. At any rate ‘The Book of Kings’ spoke to me on a different level, it was somehow more bleak and haunting than ever. So, the seven year wait for a follow-up in the form of ‘The Incubus of Karma’ gave breathing room for more mediocre groups to spring up and form identity. As a result I’ve received Mournful Congregation‘s return with a more desperate welcome from a funeral doom fan such as myself, who won’t settle for thoughtlessly slow trash if I can help it.

If it wasn’t for yet another brilliantly spacious and resounding cathedral-esque mastering job from Brad Boatright at Audiosiege, paired with carefully tuned recording/production from Damon Good and Mick Wordley, ‘The Incubus of Karma’ would closer resemble a stylistic sequel to ‘The Book of Kings’. In terms of structure and overall pace you’ll find a more aggressive-yet-progressive beast within, but they haven’t necessarily gone anywhere near pure death metal. The success of Mournful Congregation‘s strongest work is making long-winded and droning doom metal composition appear effortless and just engaging enough to string the listener along through it’s structural movement. You won’t always know where a riff is going but you’ll never be forced into frustration due to lack of progress because the compositions never drag the listener through needless dead space. That lushness is a sign of maturity that understands the music listener needs to be connected and not carelessly tossed between bland swathes of digital reverb for the sake of atmospheric aesthetics.

No matter how daunting an 80 minute album might seem across six tracks they’re largely only related in sound and melodic voicing. ‘The Incubus of Karma’ does feature some of the group’s most extended compositions, though, with the album’s conclusion “A Picture of the Devouring Gloom Devouring the Spheres of Being” nearly 23 minutes in length. As much as I wanted to dig through each song and wrestle out every mind-blowing moment within I’d rather speak to it’s successes beyond ‘The Book of Kings’. Lead guitar work, shared between Justin Hartwig and Good, is the best they’ve ever managed with soaring melodic leads carving out memorable channels across the 18 minute breadth of “The Indwelling Ascent” / “Whispering Spiritscapes” as well as the instrumental title track. The inherent pangs of atmospheric death metal within “The Rubiyat” and “Scripture of Exaltation and Punishment” were so harrowing I’d momentarily forgotten about all of the death metal I’m meant to review this month.

The entirety of the album feels like Mournful Congregation could push the boundaries of their sound forever and the limitless hallway their music reverberates within could handle more death, more progressive metal, more classic dual guitar leads, just generally more wouldn’t hurt. To even consider that they’ve practiced restraint across an 80 minute funeral doom album might sound trite, but what makes ‘The Incubus of Karma’ so captivating is that it feels like a bold new standard for the sub-genre. Funeral doom has never sounded either this big, this heavy or this engaging.

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Artist Mournful Congregation
Type Album
Released March 23, 2018
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