Reviewed By Michael O'Brien
Published 02 March, 2018
In the nearly 20 years since the release of their debut full-length album, Tears from a Grieving Heart, South Australia’s Mournful Congregation has been an exemplary example of funeral doom done right, and with the exception of the somewhat underwhelming Concrescence of the Sophia EP in 2014, they’ve always managed to amply deliver the goods for me.
Taking into account their incredibly strong track record and the rather staunch seven years since their last full-length album, The Book of Kings, it should go without saying that my anticipation for album number five, The Incubus of Karma, was suitably high. I’m sad to report, then, that much like Concrescence of the Sophia, The Incubus of Karma has failed to leave much of an impression on me.
There’s really only one major issue I have with Mournful Congregation’s latest album that’s worthy of mentioning here, though it’s a very important one, and it is simply that The Incubus of Karma is running dangerously (and surprisingly) low on interesting ideas and engaging moments.
When it comes to funeral doom, or anything that features extremely long songs for that matter, I don’t need to feel like I’m riding at the apex of the rollercoaster the whole time, and nor would I want to, but I expect the reward for my investment of time to be a series of high points across the album that I can look forward to (and yes, I realise I’ve just given a very long-winded description of a musical hook). This is something that Mournful Congregation has traditionally been very good at because of the way they approach their compositions, which are more like a narrative stream delivered through the use of different motifs with very little repetition of riffs or ideas throughout any given track. The big benefit of this approach has always been that it allows for a lot more variety within a song and, by extension, more freedom to introduce interesting ideas into the picture.
The Incubus of Karma doesn’t feature any obvious changes to Mournful Congregation’s basic approach to song craft, but this time around the hooks are much, much harder to come by. This is obviously a pretty serious problem when you’re dealing with an album that runs just shy of 80-minutes in length, and to be perfectly candid, I’ve found the listening experience to be a relatively uninteresting one for the most part. Or at least a rather uneventful one.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t moments that work really well - opening instrumental track "The Indwelling Ascent" with its vaguely June Frost feel is a high point, as are the closing minutes of "A Picture of the Devouring Gloom Devouring the Spheres of Being", to name just a couple - but overall The Incubus of Karma lacks that little extra something to elevate it above being just another good but not great doom album in a sea of said albums.
Though I clearly didn’t get anywhere near as much out of The Incubus of Karma as I wanted to, I’m not blind to the fact that my feelings towards it have probably been coloured, at least somewhat, by me having gone into it with such high expectations. I believe those high expectations are justified, though, both because Mournful Congregation have always managed to deliver on their promise and because there’s been such a long stretch of time since their last full-length album for them to turn out something amazing. With all of that being said, what we have in the end is a great band that has delivered an alright album, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, even if it does sting a bit.