Funeral Doom Friday: Damon Good Speaks to MOURNFUL CONGREGATION's Legacy and New Album, The Incubus of Karma
Finally, the weekend is upon us. What better way to kick it off than with the latest installment of "Funeral Doom Friday". For those who are new to this column; each week features a new or classic album from the realm of extreme doom. Much of funeral/death doom's might comes from an oppressive emotional weight and the use of death or black metal motifs (played at a trudging pace, of course.) Pioneers like Mournful Congregation, Evoken, and Esoteric have mastered this blend of dirge and destruction. For 25 years, they have methodically built compositions that stretch for dozens of minutes all while keeping fans enthralled. Time has elapsed since the days of Thergothon and much like the world around us, the genre has evolved. Today's modern bands contort the very construct of the genre, breeding darkly refreshing new work. Their work thankfully gives this column plenty of material to share.
The masters returned and everyone took notice. The mighty Mournful Congregation emerged last week with their first new offering since 2014's Concrescence of the Sophia. Long seen as pioneers in the realm of funeral doom, the Australian force, led by Damon Good, eclipses the 25-year mark this year; a milestone many bands do not make. It seems the band chose to celebrate the momentous occasion with one of 2018's best releases—and arguably the band's greatest work to date.
The Incubus of Karma is yet another masterful offering from Mournful Congregation. The band seems to age like fine wine as the contents of their fifth full-length record suggest. It is filled to the brim with exquisite sorrow across two (relatively) terse tracks and four momentous dirges. The spoken word passages of "Withering Soundscapes;" the savvy guitar layers across the final third of "The Rubaiyat;" these are brief yet staggering instances of brilliance that Mournful Congregation has always been known for.
Much of this decision making comes from Good, the band's long-standing leader, vocalist, and guitarist. Good is the bedrock of the band—the cornerstone from which this funereal monolith formed. For years, he has surrounded himself with amazing talent. However, Mournful Congregation presently contains the strongest collection of musicians to surround Good yet. Justin Hartwig (guitars) has been a professional compass for the band since 1999. Ben Newsome (bass) came over from Cauldron Black Ram (another project featuring Good) in 2011. Most recently, Tim Call joined in 2015, taking over for the longtime drummer, Adrian Bickle. Call features prominently in bands like Aldebaran, Sempiternal Dusk, and Nightfell.
This combination of exceptional expertise and an unparalleled legacy firmly situates Mournful Congregation atop of the funereal realm. Of course, this didn't happen overnight. A lot has gone into the band and Damon Good has been there every step of the way. I was fortunate enough to ask Good some questions on Mournful Congregation's legacy as well as their masterful, new album and the current state of funeral doom. Read our in-depth exchange below and listen to The Incubus of Karma as well.
Interview with Damon Good of Mournful Congregation
Metal Injection: 2018 marks 25 years for Mournful Congregation if I’m correct. The Incubus of Karma is certainly one great way to celebrate this momentous occasion. When you started this journey a quarter century ago, did you ever imagine you’d still be here today as one of extreme doom’s most influential bands?
Damon Good: I thought we'd still be here, just because I always had conviction in what we were doing and knew I would write music until I died. I am not one for frivolous change, so I thought I would keep exploring this style of music as long as possible. As for being one of the most influential bands in extreme doom, no, I did not think that. I did think we were always doing something important and had something genuine to offer to this genre, but I guess it took a great many years for other people to agree with this sentiment.
Metal Injection: Your work is undoubtedly important. In reflecting a little more on your history, what were some of Mournful Congregation’s more pivotal moments—whether it be the albums themselves or outside of them? Are there special instances along the way that set you all up to be where you are today? Maybe it was a particular connection, a certain tour, or something along those lines?
Good: Looking back, when we recorded our first album Tears From a Grieving Heart in '97-'98, it was just me and Adrian [Bickle]; [Ben] Petch had left the band by then. So it was just a matter of trying to capture all the material as best we could in the studio, with no label support and no studio budget. So it was self- produced and self-recorded. We were still very steeped in the DIY underground way of doing things. So a pivotal moment in our history came when [Justin] Hartwig joined the band just after this period. He introduced a more professional and well-executed approach, especially regarding recording, which resulted in firstly The Epitome of Gods and Men Alike 7” and then The Monad of Creation album. This period set the standard for our future work.
The next pivotal moment was deciding to perform live in 2009. I was quite content with the band being strictly a studio band, but the idea kept cropping up, and we were lured out of obscurity into the live arena. It was a rewarding move, as it brought Petch back into the fold, who had not been with the band since '95, and it paved the way for where we are today. We cannot all be Bathorys or Darkthrones it seems.
Metal Injection: The Incubus of Karma showcases the band’s continued evolution and is, what I personally believe, your finest effort to date. At this point in your career, your sound is ubiquitous. However, it’s my understanding that each album explores different concepts or stories. What kind of background can you provide on the inspiration or narrative for The Incubus of Karma?
Good: Lyrics for me don't flow that easily or quickly, and particularly on this album, they came about even slower. There was a point where I was beginning to worry because I only had one and a half song's worth of lyrics, but the whole album was already written. I tend to write down bits and pieces over time, and eventually pick and choose what still resonates and discard the rest. So eventually a narrative appears. It is more like making order out of chaos and bringing a theme out of vague non-linguistic impressions floating around somewhere deep within. It is like I am channeling a narrative, but the entity I am channeling from only pays me a visit once every two months!
Anyway, all that aside, each album has its own conceptual character, which is defined by the art, layout, production, lyrics, and tone presented – immediately speaking. We do put a lot of importance on all these aspects and tailor it to this end. So, for the new album, the 11th-century poem, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, was a big influence for the song, “The Rubaiyat,” but also the general concept, art, and layout. The inspiration was all very introspective, but paradoxically, the more introspective you get, the further out in the universe you get.
Metal Injection: I was wondering if that track had any relation to Omar Khayyam. His work as a poet is well documented. He’s also very famous for his work in astronomy and mathematics as well. Something interesting did surface in my research of The Rubaiyat and that’s the Tamam Shud case in Adelaide many years ago. Does this unsolved case play into your concept of the album or is it more in the prose and philosophy within Omar Khayyam’s work?
Good: Well, the way I fell upon The Rubaiyat initially, is I was going through my Grandmother's library because she was moving into a nursing home. And while she did have a lot of interesting books, and also a lot of mundane books you might expect a 90-year-old woman to have, a small tome of The Rubaiyat caught my eye. So my interest was piqued. I have since found some nicely illustrated volumes of The Rubaiyat, plus found Yogananda's commentary on it. I was a fan of Yogananda to start with, so it all made sense. The obscure unsolved case in Adelaide of the dead body on the beach with a page of The Rubaiyat in his pocket did not factor into our inspiration, but it is intriguing and I have visited that very beach a few times and looked at the spot where he would have lain.
Metal Injection: The work that goes into Mournful Congregation’s music has always fascinated me. The attention to detail and the subtle nuances have always been present in your music. Funeral doom was a very new thing when you all began in 1993. My guess is that many of your influences came from early traditional and death doom. How do you take what bands like diSEMBOWELMENT, Cathedral, and Candlemass did and turn them into such intricate and complex compositions?
Good: I guess the simple answer is: you take all the best parts from those bands (or at least the parts that most appeal to you), hone it down, filter out the rest, add your own ideas, influences and capabilities, and then you have your own creation. Then you start adding the same analysis to your own music. That is the raw mechanics of it. It is much deeper than this of course, but anything deeper is hard to explain.
Metal Injection: I also wanted to ask you your opinions on another influential band in Thergothon. They were composing funeral doom for a few years when you began. Does Mournful Congregation have any sort of shared history with Thergothon or could you speak to any unique influence they had on you and your songwriting? I know you have done a cover of their song, “Elemental” in the past.
Good: Thergothon’s Stream from the Heavens is like the lotus in the mud pool, a gem amongst the rocks. It is so unique and stand-alone and otherworldly, even today looking back. We had already released our first demo when I heard this album, so it didn't influence our initial ideas, but it was more a feeling of: "this is what we've been looking for, this is what I knew could perhaps exist." So, it became a fast favorite and a big influence from thereon in.
Metal Injection: Where do you see the future of funeral doom heading? There are already some inklings of experimentation happening—as with any genre—where bands are trying out touches of metallic and non-metallic music like black metal or shoegaze.
Good: I feel funeral doom still has not been explored to the nth degree like most other sub-genres of metal have. I still feel a great, unique and effective approach to funeral doom could be created with the standard instruments of rock and metal—namely guitar, bass, and drums. But I have no problem with the Funeral Doom sentiments expanding through different instrumentation. I have felt utterly sorrowful music produced by other genres and artists like Tom Waits, Diamanda Galas, Portishead, and Dead Can Dance, for example. All of those totally varying styles of music, but they still have the same inspired feeling in some funeral doom. So, I guess what I'm saying is it's the sentiments behind the music that is important. Can you imagine Diamanda Galas backed by a funeral doom band? Fuck.
Metal Injection: I’d pay good money to hear Diamanda Galas front a funeral doom band. Who do we need to talk in order to make this possible?! Damon, thank you very much for your time and your answers. Thank you for your music as well. I don’t know if my Funeral Doom Friday column is possible without the influence your music has had on me. I can’t wait to see you guys again at Migration Fest!
Good: Thanks so much for the nice and in-depth interview. And glad to hear we offered some inspiration towards the Funeral Doom Friday column. Keep at it for 25 years and it will inspire others I am sure. And probably don't hold your breath for a Diamanda Galas collaboration. [laughs]