Mournful Congregation – The Incubus of Karma

Only a few times a year (if that) do I find myself utterly enamored by a work of art. Most consumers of art and culture know this situation well: An experience where the outside world recedes into a distant corner of one’s consciousness as the sights/sounds/words being engaged with consume and devour all that surrounds them. These experiences are revelatory, transformative, and unfortunately few and far between. Listening to Mournful Congregation’s magisterial fifth record The Incubus of Karma for the first time was my most recent such moment, and what a moment it was. So lush, heavy, and magnificent were the compositions contained within that after that initial spin I let the record sit for days, basking in the glow of that delightful experience. But like most things that we experience in a heightened state of emotional ecstasy, that singular moment of immense feeling eventually recedes into nothing but a memory, leaving the distinct edge of intense satisfaction first experienced as distant as the entirety of existence felt on that first encounter. For myself, what follows this descent from those rarified heights is the ultimate test of art’s lasting impact. Survive second exposure, and you just may become a classic. The Incubus of Karma has thus far brought on a new sense of awe and wonder in each of my dozen listens and is, I can safely assert, a truly special record.

For any who are somehow unfamiliar, the Australian juggernaut that is Mournful Congregation have been releasing ethereal and funereal doom metal for over two decades. Comparisons to Skepticism, Esoteric, Loss, and Bell Witch are thrown about frequently and for the most part are apt. But Mournful Congregation separates itself from the funeral doom pack through songwriting that incorporates effervescent and dark melody, majestic arpeggios, and stacked guitar harmonies that fill these songs to the brim with a sense of abject heaviness and stark beauty. No funeral doom band plays music quite like Mournful Congregation, and their pre-eminent skill-set is on full display throughout The Incubus of Karma. This is the band’s best record, and one of the best that this subgenre has offered up in a good while (with Bell Witch’s mesmerizing Mirror Reaper being a notable exception).

And there is plenty offered up here. Clocking in at just under eighty-minutes in length, this album is a doozy. Given the world of short attention spans (yours truly included) in which we currently reside, making an album of this length is a statement in and of itself. But for those who like their compositions extensive and filled with purpose, it is hard to go wrong anywhere in The Incubus of Karma. The album kicks off with one of its two shorter arrangements, “The Indwelling Ascent”, which does much to establish the band’s sonic direction throughout the record. Damon Good and Justin Hartwig’s guitars harmonize and crescendo in a slow-building wave of emotional tension that climbs to melodic heights rarely reached by this dreariest of doom manifestations. The repeating, almost mantra-like nature of the track creates a sonic space with cosmic levels of expansiveness, which can be found again in various sections of the record. Follow-up track and genuine behemoth “Whispering Spiritscapes” offers listeners a fifteen-minute-plus foray into everything funeral doom can and should be, with guitar and bass work (the latter of which being provided ably throughout the record by Ben Newsome) that is clean, heavy, and thoroughly interesting. The album’s four longest tracks (none of which clock in at under ten minutes) are so utterly stuffed with fantastic riffs and sensational melodic passages that each track could honestly get its own review. Album stand-out “The Rubaiyat” features a glorious opening section that transforms into a melancholic masterclass of harmonic guitar work, complemented by Tim Call’s incredibly patient and controlled drum work. The acoustic stylings of the title track are a welcome change of pace after two monstrous tracks, but this delightful reprieve is fleeting, as the cosmic atmospherics of “Scripture of Exaltation and Punishment” soon carry us swiftly back to Good’s wretched vocals and crushing riffage. Finale “A Picture of the Devouring Gloom Devouring the Spheres of Being” is as good and epic a closer as one could wish for an album this grand, cramming an album’s worth of good ideas and fantastic progressions into nearly twenty-five minutes of incredible funeral doom. It’s a perfect ending to a nearly perfect record.

With the hyperbole machine being what it is, it’s hard to decipher what albums are truly worthy of your time. Not every album can be the greatest ever, and such labeling is bandied about far too frequently in the metal blogosphere. With The Incubus of Karma, I can safely say that the ridiculous level of hype this record has engendered is completely deserved. I have not heard another record this year in any of metal’s subgenres that compares to its majesty, control, and willingness to take good ideas to their logical extremes. This is one of the very best examples of the funeral doom style in recent years, and is an absolute must-listen for anyone even faintly interested in this subgenre. This is an album that will transfix, transport, and fully absorb those willing to delve deeply into its riches, and is more than worthy of your time. A masterpiece from a band that deserves every ounce of praise and recognition they have received. Most heartily and enthusiastically recommended.

The Incubus of Karma is out now via 20 Buck Spin and is available for purchase at the band’s Bandcamp page.