Mournful Congregation ‒ The Exuviae Of Gods – Part I Review

In his intro of our Devil’s Dozen of My Dying Bride, Dan Obstkrieg describes the UK greats’ overwhelming commitment to sadness, and I would go even farther and anoint MDB the all-time lords of heavy metal sadness. But theirs has always been more of a personal sadness, due in large part to anguish communicated through Aaron Stainthorpe’s voice. Even with the lordly riffs of Andrew Craighan, there is always a feeling that Stainethorpe is suffering alone.

Release date: May 27, 2022. Label: Osmose Productions / 20 Buck Spin.
Mournful Congregation, on the other hand, communicates sadness as a universe. If you’ll excuse a little on-the-nose what’s-in-a-name-ing, they inhabit a space of pure bereavement (the mournful part) that encapsulates all of us (the congregation). Even at the band’s most beautiful moments ‒ and over their nearly 30 year existence they have crafted a bounty of beauty ‒ there is nary a sense of recovery, rejuvenation, or healing. The only comfort comes through miserable commiseration and solidarity. It is, to a certain type of listener, a truly wonderful form of music.

The Exuviae of Gods – Part I is the first in a two-part EP series the band has planned for our despondent souls, and it does nothing to hurt the band’s record as champions of abject sadness. Like their past works, they shift this sadness from something personal into more of a cosmic constant in part due to the prevalence of inhuman growled vocals (or subdued whispers), but also due to their ability to stretch a single, somber melody over an entire minute (or 5, or 30). One could argue that this tendency to prolong the misery and resist nearly all temptations to hasten the end is the most defining aspect of funeral doom, and Mournful Congregation is among the best executors of this ideal.

The EP is a combination of old and new, with the new including opener “Mountainous Shadows, Cast Through Time” and the title track. The former may as well be a template for writing funeral doom: a church organ intro, an instant feeling that the grieving has already been happening for hours (we call it funeral doom, after all), vocals that sound like death itself, subdued hits that nonetheless make a big impact (slicing leads), and dynamic trickeries (they aren’t changing the tempo, merely adding space between the riffs). That Mournful Congregation can take that feeling of finality and shape a compelling, gorgeous, and tragic track out of it is why they’re a lot better at this than other bands that might try to copy their template.

The title track similarly shows their ability to craft a scene of immense dolor using only a few disparate ideas, but here they use only acoustic guitars, simple leads, and other bright string plucks. It would likely be considered an interlude if contained within a much longer release, but here it stands on its own and serves as a chance to reflect on the first song while also enjoying a less all-consuming form of Mournful Congregation’s elegance. It also serves as a bridge to a stunning rerecording of the title track from the band’s 1995 demo An Epic Dream of Desire (this would be the old part mentioned earlier). The aid of a more fully-fleshed lineup, not to mention decades of production growth, has done wonders for what was already a gorgeous song. What they did not change, however, is the soft, maudlin vocals, which help to not only bring it back to its original era but also tie them to sad sack buddies My Dying Bride.

Due to its relative brevity (this “EP” is “only” 37 minutes long), The Exuviae of Gods – Part I can’t quite create the kind of extended mope session as say, The Monad of Creation, but hey, we’ll be getting the sequel at some point, and they have plenty of other material if you want to keep the tears flowing. Most importantly, this EP reaffirms Mournful Congregation’s status (for about the 10th time) as one of the all-time purveyors of heavy metal sadness, which ironically ought to bring sheer joy to their fans.

Posted by Zach Duvall

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; Obnoxious overuser of baseball metaphors.

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