Mournful Congregation - _The Book of Kings_
(20 Buck Spin, 2011)
by: Dan Lake (8 out of 10)
These Aussie boys love their labels with gravitas. The band name alone paints a somber scene of stained glass, stone, and pews packed with downcast stares. They dubbed their 2005 crusher _Monad of Creation_; sure, I can rhyme it with Gonad Mutilation, but see? Far less gravitas! Does anybody outside a biology classroom actually even use the word "monad"? I suppose _The June Frost_ is less grandiose, but for most of us in the northern hemisphere, where God cranks out snow at the regular goddamn time (for Jesus' birthday), it still achieves a startling otherworldliness. And here we have _The Book of Kings_, a return to the four-monolith model achieved on _Monad_, accompanied by a smoky promo photo of longhairs carrying a scepter, keys, and a cool-looking lantern-thingy which might (or not) be an incense-burning thurible. At first glance, you're damn right the congregation will mourn: looks like mass is running long this week.

But by now, the Congregation is preaching to the suicide choir. The converts know the deal already -- we're all born-again death procession acolytes, died-in-the-wool mourners-on-command. And command they do. "The Catechism of Depression" bores trenches through your soul before your fingernails can reach your face; a trebly melody rises tentatively out of the early minutes of the song, to be redeemed in full voice nearly ten minutes later. "The Waterless Streams" contains enough menacing sorrow to flood its namesakes several times over with a chilly saline-blood solution. As always, fault-ripping roars dominate the vocals. In contrast, the near operatic clean vocals of MC's early recordings, now absent for quite some time, have been replaced by Agalloch-style whisper-chants, which work beautifully against the acoustic backdrop of "The Bitter Veils of Solemnity" (gravitas!). The closing half-hour title track finds that last bit of extra dreariness in dramatic guitar soloing and moments of calm near-silence.

It's true that _The Book of Kings_ offers little that surprises, but the faithful didn't really show up for that anyhow. Funeral doom services are meant to provide comfort: a suitable ambiance for morose contemplation, a perfect cathedral in which to worship.


(article published 1/11/2011)

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