Are the placid waters of a large lake best disrupted by a deluge, or by singular drops upon its surface? Sit near any calm body of water as dark clouds approach, and you’ll probably experience the sensation of both. As individual drops of rain begin to fall, the ripples grow wider and wider, sometimes spanning tens if not hundreds of feet outward in all directions. As calming or soothing as the introductory droplets of a howling storm might be, they are easily noticed on a flat surface. Walk out to a lake in the middle of a perfect storm, however, and everything just seems a bit chaotic. Yet, an illusion of calmness is facilitated by the hundreds of thousands of raindrops spanning the entire body of water, thus making it impossible to focus on only one ripple. While the question of which visual sensation is more impactful is meant to be philosophical and not scientific, let us then attach the philosophical question to a metaphor. Consider your emotions, the flat lake; The individual drops of rain, harmonious guitar melodies; The blowing of the wind on the lake’s surface; The bending of strings; And the eventual deluge, the drenching force that is funeral doom.
If the purpose of the metaphor at hand is to describe South Australia’s Mournful Congregation, then let’s begin by stating there isn’t another storm like this in the sky. While Mournful Congregation has always stayed within the strict confines of funeral doom’s core, the group has managed to do so while still maintaining a style that’s easily recognizable yet seemingly impossible to duplicate. The Incubus of Karma is the band’s fifth full-length to date, and it tugs persistently at the heartstrings – much like the most memorable moments of its predecessors – for a full 80 minutes. If there was ever any doubt as to whether or not strong emotions could swell within singular notes on the fretboard, one peek inside Mournful Congregation’s ever expanding playbook would reveal feelings that dwarf any verbal description. This very traditional yet unique style of funeral doom is for guitar lovers first and foremost, as every other instrument follows suit behind a sorrowful, elegant display of emotion through 12 humbling strings.
Label: 20 Buck Spin.
While Damon Good has always used vocals as a leading effect that enhances his songs’ overall sound, rare occurrences of spoken passages have always been a key component of where the listener sees him or herself in relation to the music. Speaking the way a creator would to one of its creations, Good’s approach to addressing his listeners would almost seem patronizing if it wasn’t for the gargantuan display of power in the way his message is delivered:
My child, you are receiving the primal matter. Understand the blindness and the dejection of your first condition.
If there was ever a divine spark hidden in the subconscious realms of human nature, this fine example of funeral doom has always been on the brink of bringing that to light in the realms of its listeners’ minds. If the “primal matter” is meant to serve as substance in the unconscious mind that is needed for the incarnation of a deity, then perhaps we humans will always be blind. Perhaps this very album is meant to signify the primal matter? Perhaps we are dejected because of primal matter? (Thank God I only have the time and ability to write about the music.)
While one of the genre defining instruments of Mournful Congregation’s contemporaries such as Skepticism and Thergothon has always been the organ (it is funeral doom, after all), the Australians have always used the sacred pipes somewhat sparingly, which is why the album’s third track “The Rubiyat” will come as a nice surprise for lovers of the genre’s earliest traditions. Even so, the “funeral” effect on The Incubus of Karma is still delivered most effectively through the stunning guitar leads played by both Damon Good and Justin Hartwig, as the unusually short title track emits a display of crippling emotion that serves as an interlude for the album’s true brightest – and darkest – moments.
If grieving or mourning are obligatory in the process of turning feelings of loss and sorrow into selfless compassion, then the album at hand has certainly painted us a perfect road map for the process of doing so. The album’s second to last track, “Scripture of Exaltation and Punishment,” contains The Incubus of Karma’s finest moment of cathartic brilliance, and follows a formula similar to “The Monad of Creation,” “White Cold Wrath Burnt Frozen Blood,” and “The Catechism of Depression.” Just as dark storm clouds will eventually bombard all that stand beneath them with a torrential downpour, carefully timed solos and soaring, interwoven guitar melodies allow anticipation to slowly build until the walls can no longer hold and the all emotions let loose upon the waters of the grieving heart. When the drums eventually quicken into a faster march, the storm’s face will finally demonstrate its full potential, leaving watery eyes and broken heartstrings in its wake. If the aforementioned songs from other albums were the pinnacles of epiphany on their respective albums, then “Scripture of Exaltation and Punishment” is the fifth album’s precipice. Oh, but keep holding on tight, because one song containing 22 more minutes of beautiful sadness still remains.
If there was ever a question of whether or not Mournful Congregation would deliver exactly what fans of the project have always craved, one listen will remove all doubt. The Incubus of Karma builds upon all of the painstakingly careful and patient steps the band has taken to construct the feelings of some heavy metal deity taking over the souls of its fans. This resonates far beyond the duration of the album, as repeated listens will only bring to mind the notes that we will again crave when sitting in absolute silence. Mournful Congregation is indeed a vast storm, and one that will bring both comfort and sorrow with each drop… with each ripple… with each gust of wind… with each deluge upon the vast waters of our aching hearts.