Let’s get the rotting pink elephant carcass out of the way right now; funeral doom is not for the faint of heart nor the shortest of attention spans. That last part needs to be addressed by yours truly, as there has been both some healthy debate and misconception about my dislike of long songs. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as it’s not the length of the tune that drives me into a fit of boredom, but whether or not the song truly goes somewhere of note, or if the journey to that destination is worth it in the end. Australia’s Mournful Congregation are the litmus test by which I judge that criteria by, with songs teeming with morose melodies, densely-layered guitar harmonies, and Yngwie-esque sweep arpeggios, the band… whoa up, sweep arpeggios? IN FUNERAL DOOM?!
Yepper! On their fifth full-length, the Australian quartet decided to branch just a little bit into neo-classical “more is more!” territory. But before we go there, how does the rest of the album fair? Quite well, actually. In fact, the template created by 2005’s landmark The Monad of Creation remains largely intact, with guitarists Damon Good and Justin Hartwig layering riff after morose rift, with “Whispering Spiritscapes” and monolithic 22-minute closer “A Picture of the Devouring Gloom Devouring the Spheres of Being” standing out as classic examples of funeral doom being both gripping displays of sheer emotional heft and exercises in the legitimacy of long songs becoming personal journeys with a worthwhile payoff. Also, Good’s growls and screams appear to have gotten stronger, as his cavernous growls seem even more pained and downtrodden than before, and his screams, few as they are, stand out more than before.
Also standing out is the short-but-interesting instrumental title track, which has been drawing comparison to everyone’s favorite Viking Who Saw The Light Tonight. Although I must admit that it threw me off on the first listen, the beautiful lead work by Good and Hartwig fits in with the band’s overall scope like a trusty pair of gloves. Between this track and opener “The Indwelling Ascent,” which also features some incredible guitar melodies, the two instrumentals, despite the former’s flash and the latter’s comparative simplicity, paint just as much a bleak picture as the four that make up the remainder of the album. Not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, especially considering that instrumental tracks, as a collective whole, usually just serve as a stop-gap for other songs or, at their worst, become the musical equivalent of a paper-weight.
The production works in the band’s favor once again. The Wall o’ Guitars makes its welcome return, crafting a fog of sadness and mourning that many have imitated, but few can successfully replicate. The bass might not be as prevalent as in prior albums, but it can still be felt. If a complaint could be had, it’s that I wish Good and Hartwig would explore more of their shredding capabilities. I was worried when I heard the leads on the title track, but after a few listens, they are so tastefully and respectfully intertwined with the feel of the band’s scope that I can only imagine just how emotionally devastating an album with more of them could be. It’s not often that a band with 25 years under their belts can push their chosen genre even further, and that’s exactly what Mournful Congregation are doing here.
Like My Dying Bride before them, Mournful Congregation took a landmark sound, and journeyed to lands undiscovered with The Incubus of Karma. With the introduction of some stellar leadwork, Incubus not only is 79 minutes well-spent, but it shines with the hints that the next album will be even more intriguing. I haven’t said that nearly often enough these days. Lose yourself in the mire for a while.