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With a 25-year anniversary and their fifth full-length release this year, it seemed like a good time for Comrade Aleks to talk to Australian legends Mournful Congregation about the story so far.

Interview with Mournful Congregation.
"A new release from a band such as Mournful Congregation is always an event. Especially when the distance between full-lengths is seven years. Well, true, since 'The Book Of Kings' saw the light of day in 2011, the band have enriched their discography with the compilation 'Weeping/An Epic Dream Of Desire' (2012) and the EP 'Concrescence Of The Sophia' (2014), but you know - a full album is another thing. The band has existed for 25 years, and it seems that they decided to celebrate this date with a truly massive fifth full-length, 'The Incubus Of Karma'. Eighty minutes of profound, esoteric Funeral Doom is something we need sometimes, right? So why not discuss the album with Mournful Congregation's spiritual leader Damon Good?"

Talking to us today, Mournful Congregation's Damon Good. (Photo: Rodrigo Terc Fredes).

Hello Damon! How did the Mournful Congregation tour go? How far did you go this time?

We actually just performed a one off show at Netherlands Deathfest. A long trip for a short stay, but it was well worth it. A great fest with many great bands and a great show for us.

The band has existed since 1993, that's 25 years - a good run for sure. What do you think if we recall some events of Mournful Congregation's past? How was the band born?

It really was quite a slow and laborious ride until some time after "The Monad of Creation" came out in 2005. If we were not so single-mindedly dedicated to our art for so long, we may have given up long ago for lack of label support. We were strictly a studio band until 2009. And we had no label support or funding until Weird Truth signed us in the early 2000's. So everything we did up until then was off our own backs. However, they were good old underground days of tape trading, fanzines and letter writing. So we still had support from the underground scene.

Myself and the co-creator of the band, Ben Petch, had been playing together for years, since we were probably 12 years old or something silly. By 1993 when we were 16 years old, we decided to do something serious musically, and Mournful Congregation was the result.

The biggest turning point for the band was when we released "The June Frost" in 2009 and started playing live and did our first European tour. Since then, things have become more consistent and busy for the band. We have not stopped playing live since, and we now have some good labels behind us.

Live in the Netherlands, 2018. (Photo: Jostijn Ligtvoet Fotografie).

What did you want to express through the debut full-length 'Tears From A Grieving Heart'? The band's palette is rich with acoustic and atmospheric passages rather than with heavy guitars. I would say that material could be described as proto-Funeral Doom. How did you build this concept?

"Tears" was composed of three older songs we had written among the demo days of the band, and two or three songs I had written on my own after the demo period. It was the album we had envisioned as the next step after the second demo. At this point Petch left the band, so I was on my own. Had Petch continued in the band, this is the album we would have recorded. But we had no studio funds and no record deal. So when Adrian joined the band in 1996, we immediately got to work on this album, and began recording it over the course of 1997/ 1998. Being that we had sat on these songs for so long, I tended to keep adding to them and embellishing them where necessary, and now it is what it is. I simply wanted to get these songs down on tape, and it was the natural progression from the first two demo tapes' material. The concept came from the early 90's death doom influence, but being younger and perhaps more extreme-minded, we wanted to take things in a more ultra-doom extreme direction.

The size of your first album's tracks is impressive, does all this sonic space help to transfer all the ideas you want? What influenced your choice of such scale for your songs?

The sonic space and track lengths we utilize do allow a lot of room to layer, harmonize, experiment and fill out with ideas. But we try to tread the fine line between enhancing a certain section with multiple layers, and leaving others sparse and direct. This allows for dynamics and contrast to evolve and unfold within a song. At the basic level we are still a metal band - guitar, bass, drums. But we tend to begin writing all songs with just guitars, either a solid single guitar riff, or multiple harmonies spread between two or three guitar parts which only tend to sound good with all parts added. Then we build from there. Over time, once vocals are added etc. we decide whether certain parts need embellishment or not, either because it sounds boring to us, or because the flow of the song calls for it.

As far as influences toward working and writing this way; there were certain albums and bands we heard in the early days that would have one epic song per album. And we realized the epic song was usually the best. So we just decided to write a whole album of epics instead of just one song.

Despite the album's clear title, its opening song 'Skyward Gaze, Earthward Touch' has profound lyrics and a number of exciting arrangements varying from the light of shimmering stars to the gloom of cosmic ocean fathoms. How did you work out the whole band's image? It isn't some "exercise in mourning", as it might seem from first glance.

Everything we have ever explored lyrically and image-wise with the band has been a direct result of what I have been interested in and explored myself at the time, or looking back has been a progression of my understandings and musings on such topics, and also what we thought relevant to represent the musical aspects of the band. We just naturally wanted to explore the sad emotions in man and simultaeneously the mystical emotions in man. They seem to inform each other in some weird way. The bottom of the pit to the top of the mountain. Even on the first demo tape, when a band really doesn't know what the fuck they are doing, we had lyrics exploring depression (Fading Light...) and lyrics exploring mystical astral journeys and enlightenment (Astralic Dreams....). So the blue print was there from the start.

Mournful Congregation - 'Scripture Of Exaltation And Punishment' (Official):

There are always delicate acoustic passages in your songs, reminiscent of elegies or some minstrels' tunes. Where did you learn to play in this classic manner? What role did it play in Mournful Congregation?

Acoustic songs, mellow songs and ballads have been part of metal bands since day one. So it was never questioned among us why we wanted to write acoustic passages, or full acoustic songs. It just seemed natural. A big aim of all of our riffs and songs has been to create certain emotions... or to just excite emotion in general. Acoustic music is very effective towards this means, and it creates the contrast to the heavy stuff we ourselves crave.

'The Monad Of Creation' demonstrates your interest in esoteric teachings, what was your transition point when you took the decision to approach to these topics?

Perhaps it was from acquiring and reading The Secret Doctrine by H.P. Blavatsky. I felt certain parts of this book were worthy of inspiration and worthy of filtering into our music and lyrics, and I still do. It is an important work. Once again, it was a natural progression from earlier interests in esoteric topics. I always had an interest in spiritual topics, and the mysterious and the mystical. Why? I do not know. Before I started Mournful I was massively into Cannibal Corpse and Carcass and gore lyrics etc. But they just didn't seem to fit our music!

What do you remember of the recording sessions for 'The Monad Of Creation'? What were your ways of working in the studio back then? Have they differed over time?

Adrian and myself hit the studio to lay down guitar and drums. We had been working on these songs for quite a few years beforehand. After this Justin recorded his guitar parts on top. It was all recorded on 2" analogue tape. The old way. Then mixed on ProTools. The new way. To be honest, we still pretty much work this way. Drums and guitar go down first to tape, and then we add eveything else from there. To younger bands out there, I would suggest at least recording your drums to tape.

Current line-up: Damon Good (vocals, bass, guitars, keyboards), Tim Call (drums), Ben Newsome (bass), Justin Hartwig (guitars). (Photo: Pat Di Palo).

How would you sum up Mournful Congregation's central message? How was it embodied lyric-wise in 'June Frost'?

I cannot possibly sum up a central message. I do not think we have one. It is just an exploration of ideas. A theme, a vibe, an overall feeling. Obvious and subtle, esoteric and exoteric, macrocosmic and microcosmic.

'June Frost' was released four years after 'The Monad Of Creation', how did you spend this period?

Good question. I do not really remember. Not in the way of Black Sabbath not remembering some of their recordings, just in the way of time moving ever onward and the sand slipping between your fingers. I guess we spent it writing the next album?!

The next album, 'The Book Of Kings', provided the same profound meditative material that Mournful Congregation always bring: it sounds slightly different but the core remains untouched. How do you see the band's development on this album?

One notable difference was that we had just come off of tour as a live band, and proceeded to continue rehearsing weekly as a full live band whilst we got this material together. So when we hit the studio it was more of a live band effort rather than just Adrian and myself doing the ground work. I think some of that live energy transferred itself onto this album. But the core writing method was the same as ever, and it felt like the natural continuation from "The June Frost" for us. We really want all of our albums to have their own unique feeling and production, which I think we have so far managed to achieve.

What's about the cyclopic title song? How did you work out such a huge composition?

Rarely do we intend a song to be so long, but with "The Book of Kings", we did have the vision of it being a long epic beforehand. The first 15 minutes or so all flowed quite naturally as far as writing goes, but it was a challenge to bring it to its full fruition.

Live in Hobart, 2017.

'The Book Of Kings' is the name of Hebrew texts, but in this songs you appeal rather to Hindu images. What's your message in this song? Why did you choose to mix these two concepts in one place?

I don't think we used any Hindu imagery on this album or in this song did we? Or maybe you mean in certain ideas presented in the lyrics? Anyway, I would say I care less for where something comes from, and more for what it is saying. And if you trace things back far enough, I feel there is probably a universal wisdom tradition that resonates through spiritual writings of all cultures albeit with varying shades of the original truth. With everything we do with Mournful, we like to transcend not only mundane human reality, but if possible all human boundaries. Or at least human made boundaries.

Damon, on the EP 'Concrescence Of The Sophia' you quote 'The Book Of Dzyan'. How do you see the connection of this writing with Mournful Congregation's deep and crushing essence?

Once again, hearkening back to the idea of a basic universal wisdom traditions, if you believe Blavatsky and the Secret Doctrine, "The Book of Dzyan" is one of the oldest existing books resonating these understandings and traditions. And once again, I care not for the arguments for or against the truth of this, but the poetic nature and deep ideas put forth in this text resonate with me, and the more archaic and obscure, the more it nicely connects with what we wish to portray in Mournful. What could be more deep and crushing than archaic tomes that speak of primordial chaos and the creative forces that brought into being all forms?

There are almost twenty years between 'Tears From A Grieving Heart' and new album 'The Incubus of Karma'. How do you see the core changes between these two points in the band's history?

We now have way more grasp of our instruments, our writing methods and our studio abilities. Other than that, we are still the same blind idiots stabbing away in the dark trying to bring forth our creative urges into the physical realm.

Mournful Congregation - Live at Freiburg, 2013:

How did this recording session go? How much time did you spend in the studio, and did you discover any new methods of working with Mournful Congregation?

We spent 3 days in Mixmasters Studio laying down drums and some guitars. This is the same studio we recorded "The Monad of Creation" album at, and is a great studio for the fact it has tons of old analogue equipment. So we recorded all this to tape, then transferred it all to the digital realm and recorded the rest at my home studio. This spanned over the course of the next year. So really it is impossible to know the countless hours that we spent on it, but having your album to work on in your home studio means you do not care how long it takes. The result is what matters. We used some new and some old equipment, and tried different methods where necessary, but in general, we stuck to our tried and tested methods I would say.

What's the concept behind the album's title? What does 'The Incubus of Karma' represent? And there are two vajras on the album artwork, symbols of the Hindu god Indra. Are they connected with this concept?

We thought the double vajra was a visually stunning symbol, plus represented perfectly the four cardinal points of the universe, the vast cycle of time, and the immense energetic force of karma itself. The idea was filtered through the mind of our artist for this album, David D'Andrea, and he realized this piece perfectly. The rest of the inner album layout was also realized by David, and was mostly influenced by ideas from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

The actual phrase " The Incubus of Karma" was lifted from an old Theosophical text, and to me, while a poetic phrase in itself, holds the immensity of human suffering within it. It is at once the bane of existence, but also the means to transcendance. It is a universal law that has its tendrils extending through every aspect of existence in the cosmos.

How do you see the prospects of Mournful Congregation's further evolution? How would you see the point that the band will reach in 2019?

We already have a decent amount of new material written and being worked on now, of which we are excited about. So we have no dilemmas arising about where to go next or how to top the last album. So in light of that, I think our immediate future will be quite solidly paved. Karmic law may have something different in store though?!

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Interviewed on 2018-04-22 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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