PICK OF THE WEEK: Murky sorrow marks Mournful Congregation’s towering ‘The Incubus of Karma’

Imagine a cavern of sadness and despair so deep that falling into it means a lifetime there, trapped until your body finally gives way. The sorrow and pain one would suffer would be immeasurable, as the only thing that would give comfort is the end coming soon. Or eventually. Yet, could there be a sort of morbid beauty to that all as well?

That fate is what kept coming back to me with every visit to Mournful Congregation’s landmark fifth record “The Incubus of Karma,” a six track, nearly 80-minute beast that is the best work this mostly Australian-based band ever has committed to permanent record. The songs are mostly mammoth epics, tracks that seem like they would have a goddamn intermission in the middle, though you don’t want to take your eyes and ears away from the drama. These songs bleed into the earth and create glistening tributaries that crawl at a deadly slow pace as they also carve their way into your damaged psyche. The band—vocalist/guitarist/keyboard player Damon Good, guitarist Justin Hartwig, bassist Ben Newsome, and drummer Tim Call (the lone non-Australian in the band)—masters what they’re been creating the past 25 years on this album, perfecting their mission and creating a timeless record that will have people wallowing in the dark for decades to come.

“The Indwelling Ascent” is an instrumental opener that cracks the door and lets the first chilling breezes in. Slow-moving, sorrowful riffs, the type that soak this record, unfurl, delivering an atmospheric pall and settling into 15:42 “Whispering Spiritscapes.” There, guitars rumble and sludge, riffs glimmer, and Good’s earthy growl reverberates through the crust, with the track later going chilly and foreboding, and ghostly speaking sliding behind the wall of doom. We shift again, as guitars flood the ground, the growls pull you under the surface, and an elegant warmth falls over you in the final fourth before more hammers are dropped. Growls overwhelm, the guitars cry out, and a robotic monologue, uttered earlier in the track, delivers the final warning. “The Rubaiyat” runs a generous 18:07, the second-longest cut on this record, and the opening simmers in synth bath, with creaky speaking joining the fray, and the song slowly unloading. The guitars drip while the growls carve the pace, and then more keys wash in and pull the song into the stratosphere. Soloing washes over your numbed senses, and then you’re feeling around in a foggy, mystical corner, seeking a light to show you the way. Guitars keep spilling and bringing steaming power, and the song ends in a lonely pool.

The title cut is a heart-heavy instrumental that starts with acoustic lines before the electrics heat up, and the leads begin to blaze a path. From there, the riffs soar into the sky, while quiet chimes bring the song to an end and tip toward “Scripture of Exaltation and Punishment” that’s a few ticks under 15 minutes. The mystics continue into the front end, as weirdness is afoot, and engorging growls spill into rivers of mud. The leads shine over the top, always a reflective charge in an otherwise dour environment, and out of that, the song bleeds pain. Warbled speaking and guitars that feel like sunrays cut into the night, while the heavily emotive playing flushes your heart and lungs, and the track slowly drips into the deepest of your dreams. Closer “A Picture of the Devouring Gloom Devouring the Spheres of Being” is the mammoth here, a 22:05 journey that tests your will. It’s slow and murky at the start, as the song unravels past its opening and then gushes with grim beauty. The growls crush, while the band leans in heavily, and about eight minutes in, things go clean and eventually feel nautical. Of course, the track blasts apart again, with the song moving in waves, soloing scorching, and a deeply sorrowful stretch gets into your bloodstream. A wordless chorus swells, as their playing continues to spread their emotions over every corner of the earth, and the track’s initial riff returns and carries the song off into the cloudy distance.

It’s been seven long years since we got a full-length record from Mournful Congregation, and while they were away, they obviously had their heads deep in the earth’s crust, as well as in their bruised psyches. “The Incubus of Karma” is a major high point for a band that has a ton of stellar documents in their archive, and in this early year, it’s already a candidate for the best record of 2018. You’ll be forced to confront the pain and damage inside you, as the band lets you simmer in your own dark juices.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/mournfulcongregation

To buy the album (North America), go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/search?type=product&q=karma

Or here (Europe): http://www.osmoseproductions.com/index.cfm

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

And here: http://www.osmoseproductions.com/