Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mournful Congregation - The June Frost (2009)

In the months leading up to this release, I quickly grew to have strong doubts about its quality due to small samples uploaded by the band. Essentially showing off tired doom riffs isolated from the cohesive entirety of the full songs, these early tastes gave the appearance that Mournful Congregation had succumbed to the uninspired tropes of the genre that they had skirted for so long. Thankfully, this isn't the case at all with The June Frost.

Interestingly enough, Mournful Congregation somehow decided to pick the absolute worst parts of the album as their teaser material. Perhaps their songs do not work as excerpts, but they really could have chosen better. As it turns out, The June Frost is a pretty damn good downer of a time. "White Cold Wrath Burnt Frozen Blood" and "Suicide Choir" make up the despondent meat of the album, fulfilling the requisite epic song length quota through their purposeful wandering through dusty passages and sleepy alcoves. The unique Mournful Congregation style is most definitely still going strong - the spacious, warm sound; the notes drawn to quavering exhaustion; the whispered reverence of the vocals - a formula that should be instantly familiar to those who heard The Monad of Creation. The June Frost introduces a new element in the heightened focus on guitar leads that wend their way plaintively throughout the songs, which proves to be an excellent choice in every instance. This is best illustrated by the title track, a guitar-only instrumental ballad juxtaposing a four-minute-long electric solo with acoustic picking to create a beautiful reprieve in the middle of the album. On that note, The June Frost is interesting in that it shows off an excellent selection of short, atmospheric tracks that serve to break up the typical density of funeral doom albums. The aforementioned title track is also joined by "Solemn Strikes the Funeral Chime," a bold intro resplendent in ominous organwork and the toll of its namesake, "The Februar Winds," a slightly industrial slice of dark ambiance, and "The Wreath," a compact eulogy that sends the album out with all due gravity. All four of these are tasty on their own, but as a whole really help instill a sense of variety into the album and feel nothing like filler.

On a less positive note, The June Frost isn't all doom and giggles. "Descent of the Flames" is a hit-or-miss song whose base riff gets a bit more mileage than it deserves, although it works well when the other elements in the song pick up. Similarly, "A Slow March to the Burial" rides out a rather tedious tune, reminding me of far more mundane bands due to a distinct lack of embellishment or progression. While the former piece had a fair amount of material that I enjoyed, both tracks stand out as definite low-points on the album. This certainly isn't something to be lightly shrugged off, as these two constitute a quarter of the material on hand, but the album isn't excessively diminished by them.

Serene, peaceful, and spiritual, Mournful Congregation create a sound that, more than the large majority of bands currently playing this style, captures the feel of early funeral doom. This genre walks a fine line, striving to uphold the most sluggish of paces while still managing to keep the listener's attention; yet, when it succeeds, it captures the lethargic calm of depression in a way that no other music does, and Mournful Congregation understand this. Will The June Frost titillate those who are averse to the slow and low? I highly doubt it, but it certainly reaffirms what I have always liked about the band, and stands as a strong new step in their career.

Verdict: Win [4/5]

No comments: