Originally written by Rae Amitay
Mournful Congregation has been a staple in funeral doom for years, and my expectations were admittedly pretty high when I signed on to review The Book of Kings. What I didn’t anticipate was that the album would become one of my favorite releases of the entire year, but that is precisely what transpired. Consisting of four long tracks that serve as explorations of the well-worn and woeful paths of intense anguish, this record is among one of the absolute finest in its genre. Encountering this album by candlelight on a rainy night left me feeling brutalized, as the atmosphere is effortlessly set by the music alone. Unlike a great deal of work in this style, Mournful Congregation builds a broken home of melancholy without any external assistance. The album is an intricately bittersweet and all-encompassing experience on its own, from the first tortured bellow of “The Catechism of Depression” to the last buzzing organ chord at the conclusion of the eponymous track.
As someone who has studied the theory behind music for over a decade, I often find myself using the inflated and self-important language I’ve come to loathe in my peers to describe many of the albums that have crossed my path. Discussions of minor-key tonality, tensions, and chord voicings have become all too familiar, and I’ve found myself using such terminology in my writing. Not so with this album, which has left me “speechless” for nearly a month now. Every time I’ve sat down to write about this monolithic masterpiece, I’ve been left dry-mouthed and contemplative, but with no words to show for it. In order to describe The Book of Kings, academic writing must be set aside, because the album is such an emotive and sensory experience.
It takes a unique and brilliantly sincere album to establish such a somber mood without stagnating into commercial-sounding suffering, and The Book of Kings is a shining example of this genius. Five minutes into “The Catechism of Depression”, when the heartbreakingly simple and gut-wrenchingly beautiful melodic line comes in, I felt the full sonic extent of tearing devastation that Mournful Congregation has mastered throughout their extensive discography. Each elegant and emotional composition has rich layers of texture and depth without sounding crowded or formulaic. The vocals are sparse and perfectly placed, ranging from disconsolate cries to worn out whispers.
This album is not crushing in a conventional sense, and while there are many apocalyptic riffs and heavy layers throughout the record’s thoughtful soundscapes, there are also warm and delicate folk sections that ease the heartache brought about by the album’s material. “The Bitter Veils of Solemnity” is the strongest example of this, and the piece functions as a brief reprieve from distortion and darkness. The acoustic guitar work is a spectacular amalgamation of technicality and tasteful composition, and the influences behind this performance extend far past the realm of metal.
The Book of Kings is an astonishing record that will undoubtedly top many lists in 2011. Mournful Congregation has confidently captured the essence of grief, and composed a monumental soundtrack that entombs the soul. Beneath each stratum of sadness, there is a glimmer of hope, and there is a fragile warmth which emanates from the embers of the album’s exquisite aural pyre.