2011 was a big year for Australian funeral doom masters Mournful Congregation. After releasing a collection of long out of print songs and what is easily their best full-length album, Mournful Congregation embarked on their first United States tour, leading up to the controversial (but, from what I've heard, oddly successful) Rites of Darkness III festival. In the grand scheme of things, a "best of" collection, a new album, and a US tour doesn't seem all that grand, but in the chilled molasses paced funeral doom sphere, this is as big as performing at Live 8, and it is well-deserved. It was an honor to chat with Damon (Adrian and Justin make appearances but, in the interest of time, Damon provides most of the answers) and hopefully one day the MC crew will find their way to the midwest. I can dream, right?
It looks like you'll be heading over to the US of A in a few days. Are you excited? What are your thoughts on the current Rites of Darkness III lineup?
Damon: Yes, quite excited now that everything has fallen into place. There are a lot of friends/ fans/ bands I look forward to meeting in the US. The line-up for ROD fest seems to be rather amazing, so I’m expecting it to be great.
Why did you wait so long into your career to play live for the first time (in 2009)? Was this intentional or were there no feasible opportunities until then?
Damon: It wasn’t exactly intentional to wait this long, and it was definitely never planned either. However, in the past we never had a full live line-up for the band, and we never cared too much for it. We were always content being a studio band. But it seems at the time the climate was right, and metal fans perhaps seek a new live experience, because everything else has almost been done to death within the metal genres. But the atmosphere created by Funeral Doom is still somewhat fresh I think, so we are now here to deliver that atmosphere the best way we can. It is also a new experience for us to play this music live, and ultimately it has been very rewarding so far. It’s like transcendental meditation with volume.
You've used a bit of religious imagery in your work, whether it be song titles ("The Catechism of Depression"), merchandise (the Mary statuette on the "Suicide Choir" shirt), or even your name, as Congregation is normally associated with a religious gathering. Is the concept of religion an important aspect to Mournful Congregation?
Damon: Whenever I have chosen artwork, or I have written lyrics, or chosen anything to do with the band, it has always been on an intuitive level. I’ve never consciously seeked out religious iconography. But I have noticed myself lately how we have infused this into our conceptions somehow. I was forced to go to church as a youngster, and while I don’t remember ever giving a fuck about the sermons, I do remember the cool sound reverberations within the church, the epic structure of the church itself, the epic pipe organ and the striking symbolism associated within it. I think I have used those influences to tailor it into my own mould, since really, that vibe and style transcend religion to me.
With such long, dense compositions, how do you approach the songwriting process? Is it more linear process with harmonies added afterwards, or do you compose in a more vertical, wall-like fashion, with all harmonies and counter-melodies added as the song progresses?
Damon: Generally speaking, most harmonies are written together in the same sitting. Oftentimes the basics of a riff or chord structure will sound average to me, but once I have added all the harmonised parts it comes to life. Other times, if a riff seems strong enough on its own, I will leave it at that place, and perhaps a harmony will be added later if it is decided it is needed. So really we work in both ways, depending on what is initially delivered.
With funeral doom still in its early, EARLY stages on the other side of the world, what drove you to start making slow, depressing music back in 1993? Did you think the style would catch on like it did? More importantly, did you envision the project would still be active almost twenty years later?
Damon: I must put my mind back to those days to remember, haha. Well I guess in those days Doom wasn’t so unpopular….in fact Doom was big, with bands like Cathedral, My Dying Bride, Anathema etc. sitting alongside Cannibal Corpse and Deicide etc. But at the same time we were influenced by the total underground scene, buying demos and tape trading, so we heard everything that was on offer back then, not only the CD’s available in stores. But I seriously think my craving for writing Doom music came alot earlier. I always had a fascination with slow brooding music and the way it could alter ones mood somehow. So it was quite natural for me to start writing in this style. I don’t even know if the style has caught on more than it did back then, but all I know is that I have been, and AM dedicated to writing in this vein regardless of what happens around it.
This one's geared more towards Damon - Since you are in so many bands (Cauldron Black Ram, StarGazer, and Misery's Omen, to name just a few), in what standing do you consider Mournful Congregation? Do you treat it more as your main project, a side project, or are all your bands of equal importance?
Damon: It comes down more to the fact that within each band our roles are different. With Stargazer, I play bass guitar, and The Serpent Inquisitor writes all the guitar riffs/ songs first, which I then work on for bass. With CBR, we both write riffs/ songs as they come. With Mournful I can write and craft the songs as I need to. So it all comes down to what mood/ inspirations are happening at the time as to what I work on. But to me, Stargazer, Cauldron Black Ram and Mournful Congregation are all my main working bands. Anything else can be considered as not my main bands.
The obligatory equipment question: what does everyone's gear rig consist of? Feel free to list just about anything you can think of.
Damon: Nowadays and on the new album; Jackson Kelly guitar through a Bogner amp. I like to keep it simple. Natural valve distortion on the recording. Live I use a Boss Turbo Distortion pedal if no good valve amp is available. I have also used this pedal on most of the older recordings.
Adrian: Mapex - 2 x 22" bass drums, 10" and 12" rack toms, floating 14" tom, 16" floor tom. Sabian cymbals, mostly the AAX range. 16", 17" and 18" crashes, 16" China, 14" hats, 20" ride, 10" splash, Remo Spoke. DW pedals. Pearl hardware.
Justin: Gibson Flying V 1967 Re-Issue
Jackson Professional (w/Seymour Duncans)
Jackson Warrior (w/EMGs)
Marshall JVM 100w Head & Marshall 1960 A + B Quads
Dunlop Crybaby 535Q Wah Pedal
Boss DD7 Digital Delay
Were there any goals you wished to meet with The Book of Kings? Do you feel you met them? Is there anything you would change about the album?
Damon: There were of course goals to meet in the sound. Things we feel lacked on previous recordings that we wanted to improve on this one. We met a lot of them, but already I am hearing things I wish to be improved upon for the next recording. So yes, there are things I would change. We spent 8 months recording and mixing, so we had to stop tweaking it at some point I guess.
As far as writing the songs themselves, I try to let them flow naturally and not let my ‘analytical’ part of the brain interfere so much with the ‘intuitive’ part. So there aren’t really set goals in what I write.
Justin: We reached a level of complexity and emotion that we have been working at for years on The Book of Kings. Compositionally we arrived at something unique and visceral that can only be realized with a complete understanding of the music we write. Everything is in place and we can only hope that is received likewise.
I find it rather interesting (and enjoyable) that you chose to include a full "soft" song on the new album. Was this a new experience as a full band? Would you feel recording doing more material in this style?
Damon: As I have stated a lot of times in previous interviews, we have written and recorded clean/ acoustic/ soft songs since the first demo. So it is not a new experience, it is just part of what the band has always done from the start.
With twenty years looming just around the next corner, where do you see Mournful Congregation in the future?
Damon: I am trying to work that out myself right now. But my scrying technique is refusing to bear results.
Any closing thoughts?
Damon: Nothing is particularly coming to mind. But thank you for the interview and the ongoing underground support. Hails.