Mournful Congregation have been a low-profile, but constant force in the doom metal underground since 1994. Very slow, depressing guitar harmonies, now and then mixed with acoustic guitar are their trademark sound. But there's more to them than meets the eye (or ear?). Even a casual glance at a MC booklet will reveal that there is always a profound spiritual theme underlying their excellent music. Their latest album, 'The Monad of Creation' was released this year through Painiac Records and Weird Truth records, and became an instant classic for yours truly. Eleven years, two EP's, two albums and two 7-inches is a heck of a long time. Time for doom-metal.com to start asking some questions.
Greetings. Thank you very much for doing this interview with me.
First of all, could you give me brief biography of the Mournful Congregation, for those who are not familiar with it? When did it start? What developments were there in the line-up?
Mournful Congregation was birthed in the late eve of 1993. The angels of death (namely the Dhyani Chohans) had put forth the name in the aethers, and made it's meaning known to me, forcing me to carry forth this prophetic ceremony, the blood of which would scar the psyche of mankind with certain morbidity for an undefined aeon. The membership has diminished, expanded and diminished again, and is really of no consequence. The music must transcend the persona.
On your first release, 'Weeping' from 1994, the sound and style was very reminiscent of the works of other great names from the early nineties. You yourself have stated Thergothon and Cathedral as influences. How do you feel about the doom metal from the eighties, such as Candlemass and Trouble? How big do you think is the influence of such bands on 'modern' doom metal?
Since hearing Candlemass's 'Epicus Doomicus Metallicus' in the late 1980's, I have been smitten with Doom Metal. I remember when the Candlemass album got around the town where I grew up, there were rumours of people listening to it and almost killing themselves and the like. It really stood out as classic and unique to me. Then from Cathedral's 'Forest of Equilibrium' in 1990 to 1993 when we became, there were a slew of great Doom and Death bands that inspired me. So my respect lies greatly in this era (as far as Doom Metal goes). However, there is a treasure trove of doomy, dark and sad songs throughout the 60's and 70's and 80's, in fact in every genre, in every country and in every decade stretching to the dawn of music itself! It is really a royal lineage of music realized through thousands of souls every day. Whether we hear it or not, the dark side of man's psyche is portrayed through the grand form of music constantly. There seems to be a whole new era of 'funeral doom' which frankly hasn't proved it's greatness to me yet, though admittedly I probably have not heard enough of the bands. I think I can tell the ones who have older influences and the ones who have newer influences. All I can say is respect your elders. And then strive to outdo them.
The guitar melodies are the core of your music, as far as I can tell. Was it a conscious choice of form to keep the focus on the guitar as the main medium - instead of the addition of much keyboard work, for example - or is that just the way it turned out as you went along?
It was mainly unconscious... the hymns just simply came forth through a guitar. We have utilized keyboards where necessary, as we are big admirers of the emotive qualities of ALL stringed instruments, and as we have never gotten around to hiring a session orchestra, or hiring the authentic instruments, one must opt for keyboard versions. As you say though, guitar melodies are the core of our style. Two or more instruments playing different intervals and chords create a much more expressive sound as opposed to playing exactly the same thing. And when they do play the same thing it is then heightened alongside more melodic passages. I always loved the twin guitar attack, from Judas Priest and Iron Maiden onwards. I find it boring to always be playing 'power chords'. It does feel cool, but there's no challenge in the process of composition then. And obviously we utilize acoustic guitars where necessary.
The material for 'The Monad of Creation' was written between 1994 and 2003, so it goes all the way back to the days when the Congregation was just coming together. Were the ideas part of a concept that was not finished until now, or were some of them just loose ends lying around from that time?
Being on such long abscences between recordings, we had ample time to consider what would make for the most complete album. It seemed best to incorporate material spanning many years rather than all newer material or otherwise. Besides, our songs usually span many years whilst in the making. But it must be made known that this selection and order of songs, even before completion, was I think decided upon in about 1999. So we had been brewing over this album for too many years. We still have two unrecorded songs or so from around 1995/1996, but whether they ever make it to an album I am not sure at this stage.
'A Slow March to the Burial' sounded very different from the older material and the songs on the new album. I personally expected the new album to sound a lot like that song, but obviously, that was not the case. Was the song written at a later stage, and is it in any way representative of the future sound of Mournful Congregation?
This song was a lightning bolt of Doom Metal inspiration, written purely to, in some morbid way, replicate the vibe of our first demo, with the structure, vocal patterns and so on. I realise it is quite different, and that's the exact reason it was used for a 7". It is a unique track and a great Mournful song from my point. Though we have strict guidelines of what is Mournful and what is not Mournful, we still aim to vary the songs, as there is a high risk of being repetitive in this style. It is a good thing that it threw people off as to what to expect from the album. But it was written after 'The Monad of Creation' songs.
The production on the album has a much higher quality than on previous releases. Did you pay more attention to it this time? Did you have a new studio available?
We paid more of everything towards the production this time - money, time, effort. At this stage in our history, we now know what we want and need in a production. We used the same engineer as with 'The Epitome of Gods and Men Alike' track, but a new studio. It is closer to the visionary sound I have harboured for years.
What are your experiences with Painiac and Weird Truth? They have covered practically all official releases by the Congregation. Are you content with the way things have gone so far?
They are two masterful and deeply respected labels with the ultimate underground mentality who share our vision. I expect we will remain in connexion for many cycles to come. My experience of working with them, and this goes for both of them, is that they work fast (even though we don't!), they do what they say they will do, and put what's best for the band first. They are underground after all and don't have masses of money at their disposal, but the music comes first. I mean, Fred from Painiac spent a small fortune to press 300 double LP's of the new album simply because he thought it worthy to appear on vinyl. No other reason. He is a maniac, producing releases for maniacs.
What is it like to live in Australia? Do you like living there? How does it compare to other countries you have visited?
It would seem to me, that in this age, most Western countries now have similair living standards, with industry etc. determining how humans generally live. Each country has certain aspects that are unique to that country alone, but with multi-culturalism added in, ways of life in any country can vary massively. Or they can be massively the same. Perhaps living here can be more relaxed, laid back. Perhaps it is easier to build up riches and own houses and cars at a younger age, perhaps you can get away more with wearing thongs and shorts in shopping malls, perhaps you can get worse blisters from sun burn, or perhaps not. Despite the differing flora and fauna, differing architecture and differing accents than any other country, the life you live is how you make it, so it is impossible to generalise how it is to live here, because my next door neighbour probably lives differently. Before the first white settlers and the most interesting convict era, thousands upon thousands of years before aboriginal people trod foot on this soil, the Australian land mass was part of the Atlanto-Lemurian lands. Deep, deep below the blackened Australian earth, deep below the crystallic sands of the surrounding oceans, lies the remnants of these Lemuro-Atlantean races. This is the part of Australia with which I feel most in the heart.
How important is a musical scene for you? Do you draw support from the underground doom scene? In what way do you think the internet changed the way underground people can communicate?
The underground scene is extremely important, and though I may get disillusioned with certain aspects of it from time to time, I still retain a great passion for it. It is the only way for a band such as Mournful to exist. The support we get from the scene is very inspiring. The internet means people rarely write long letters anymore, people rarely do flyers anymore, people rarely do proper fanzines anymore, people don't recycle stamps as much anymore(!)... I miss receiving envelopes smeared with glue, with tattered stamps almost illegible, and wondering in bewildered amazement, "How did that make it through the postal system?".
How are your other musical endeavours, Martire and Stargazer, coming along? Could you describe both bands for me?
Stargazer - a new full length CD/ LP out on Agonia Records. Martire - a new full length album sitting on a shelf in the studio incomplete.
How was your contact with Max Varnier of Worship? Did you exchange many ideas and did you have similar views on underground music?
Yes and no. We shared certain views, but not all. I am not a nihilistic person, he was. I think we shared many of the same ideas about Doom Metal and what it should be, but he always liked the rawer "Fukked Up" aspects than I seemed to. However I never knew him as closely as I would have liked, his last few letters became more and more elusive!
I would like you to tell me some of the associations you get from the following few concepts that have great significance in all cultures and religions:
Sun - Even doth the sun itself seem so pallid
Moon - Pale, tranquil, distant... and further
Water - The great sea may she riseth
Earth - Every crevice is filled with the memories of depression
Life - The mountains that tower heavenwards, they know the secrets of life
Death - Yet with strange aeons, even death may die
Nature - Our kingdom of cold stone
Mankind - This pain is felt by man alone
Good/Evil - Crafted by the blackest hand of matter
Creation - Who am I? That created creation
Destruction - Behold the nirvanic temple
What are your most important spiritual influences?
I am or have been very inspired by the words of great Indian and Tibetan masters such as Yogananda, Muktananda, Ramana Maharshi, Lobsang Rampa among other more anonymous writers... both Eastern and Western. From there I have learnt means with which to develop myself. Everything begins within, not without. I have learned that reading and hearing is just that, an influence. The real work must be carried out practically, over lifetimes.
How does spirituality influence your daily life?
It keeps my inspiration to play and write music flowing. Or perhaps my inspiration to play and write music keeps my spirituality flowing? It really could be either way.
The lyrics for 'When The Weeping Dawn Beheld Its Mortal Thirst' reveal a deep and profound reverence for a higher being, the Transcendental. Would you agree that many of man's cultural and spiritual endeavours are based on a desire to attain things unattainable within the bounds of our human identity (i.e. unity with God, ultimate knowledge)?
Humanity is but one cycle of being among the whole hierarchical order of beings, and there is only certain awareness of the whole self that may be reached in the human body. True 'spiritual' seekers, true occultists, discover this at some point and this sets them apart from the masses of blind faith followers who are perhaps too ignorant to search deeper and put in any real work towards self discovery. These blind faith followers call themselves anything they fancy, Christians, Satanists, Occultists, Quabbalists, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists; no religion/ belief system is safe. But there is no religion higher than truth.
You have said that self-mastery and self-knowledge should be any human's priority. How do you bring this into practice in your own life? Does self-mastery include mastery of the body for you; do you practice martial arts, for example?
Ideally speaking, mastery over the physical senses and escape from the enslavement of the mind is the highest ideal possible at this human stage. This naturally will lead to mastery over the body. Martial arts incorporate certain paths toward this, as does raja yoga and meditation. I do not claim to possess mastery over the senses by any means, yet I know that there can be no higher ideal than this. I am inclined toward yogic practices and certain forms of meditation over anything else in my quest toward this. For those who cannot bring themselves to meditate, you can sit and focus on music. Doom metal is a very introspective style and demands relaxation and focus... almost a living, breathing meditation in the ancient form of music.
What does "pure doom" mean to you?
Slow and depressing. Simple.
Is the music you play the ultimate expression of doom for you at this moment?
How would you explain the unique property music has to be able to evoke certain feelings and images in the minds of man? You said during your interview with (Fucked Up Mad) Max that while music is merely a physical phenomenon (vibrating particles), you are "compelled to say that music in its entirety is far beyond mere physical creation". What would you say is the relation between the physical phenomenon (sound) and the true inner spirit within us? Do they together create what we call music?
It has been related that life itself began with sound. The eastern word Aum or Om is the physical representation of that sound. Every atom is vibrating energy, which MUST produce sound, as sound is vibration. Therefore humans themselves are made up of vibrating energy. Certain frequencies, and combination of frequencies, in union with rhythm (each frequency is actually produced/defined by it's speed of vibration/oscillation, therefore also producing a rhythm) must harmonically relate to emotion, and excite certain emotive qualities in the mind of man. I am yet a novice on the esoteric aspects of sound, but somewhere along the line, it all connects. Words produce individual sound/energy, symbols produce individual sound/energy, colours produce individual sound/energy. Mournful Congregation are here to discover just such frequencies and rhythms, and to utilize this symbology which are in fact living sigils.
Do you believe art can function as a bridge between the physical world and the 'unseen', non-illusory world?
It is one means toward it yes, definitely. It can be inspired consciously or unconsciously from those 'unseen' realms, and then re-inspire toward those same realms. Don't ask me where the hell does inspiration for the crap concrete buildings, crap modern art movements, crap modern music, and any other modern crap has come from. I'm still trying to figure out where that all fits in the grand scheme of things myself. A further testimony to mans descent into eternal darkness I am guessing.
Do you enjoy watching films? If so, what kind?
What is that beautiful illustration you are using on the Mournful Congregation website, the one with the figure beneath a double moon?
Once again, an inspiration from the east. This to me represents the heavens, the earths, and the whole order of creation. I have since discovered that certain gods and goddesses who have certain attributes were always depicted with the sun and moon above their heads. I don't know any more details of this particular representation, but it instantly struck me as perfectly harmonious with Mournful Congregation. Testament to our ongoing goddess worship as you can see in a lot of our artwork.
What is one thing you would like to do before you depart from this life?
There are obviously many ventures intended, but (I often think about this so I have a ready answer) I always hope that I can just finish the new piece of music I'm working on at the time before I greet death. I guess it's inevitable that there will be unfinished music though. I just hope that someone will discover it so it won't be lost for all eternity.
Would you like to play live someday, in Australia or elsewhere?
If anyone wishes to offer us some form of touring deal for Europe or the U.S., we will do it. Otherwise I am happy with it being a recording outlet.
What is your name? What is your quest? What is your favourite colour? What is the capital of Assyria? What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
My name is Mournful Congregation, my quest is Doom, my favourite colour is death and the capital of Assyria is Thergothon. The air speed velocity of an unladen swallow... there is a fellow named Dr Karl on Australian radio who answers just such questions as these. Give him a call...
Visit the Mournful Congregation bandpage.