Aussie Funeral Doom Band Shares Stage with Fellow Cast From Rites of Darkness III Festival
Aussie doom merchants, Mournful Congregation have filled U.S. households with feelings of bereavement, loss and forlorn for nearly twenty years. However, this is the first time the funeral doom act brought its musical misery to North American stages. Doom, especially the extremely slow pace of funeral doom, doesn’t always translate so well under lime lights. Mosh-hungry concert goers might find its slothful pace paralytic to their limbs or these bands just don’t tour often due to one reason or another. Either way, seeing one of the greats in this field on their first North American tour was nearly as monumental as the group’s music.
After sharing the stage with Mournful Congregation just a day or two prior at Rites of Darkness III in San Antonio, Anhedonist, Ritual Necromancy, Pallbearer and Cruciamentum came together for one of best extreme metal bills featuring bands you’ve never heard of. Considering this show fell on a Monday (late Monday night) and included bands without a large following (the crowd seemed most aware of Mournful Congregation), fans squeezed into the tiny space in front of Mohawk’s indoor stage.
Mohawk’s inside stage constitutes the smallest venue I’ve been to in Austin. Headhunters is the only venue that rivals Mohawk’s inside stage in terms of small numbers inserted into the length-times-width equation. Sardines would feel uncomfortably close. This lack of space came as a surprise because my sole other experience at this venue involved the outdoor stage during a rare performance by stoner/doom legends Sleep. Sleep’s performance packed in significantly more people than the ensuing night of death and doom.
The inside featured a cosmology and décor that was both fitting and ironically out of place. The lack of lighting seemed ideal for the nefarious tones and nocturnal beast-like vocal emissions that emanated from the tiny stage. A multilevel staircase wound past the side of the stage, resulting in great side-view photographs. The bar area, separated by a semi-wall with a window to catch glimpses of limbs and instrument parts, features a humorous array of decorations. As Mohawk states on their Web site, the venue gets its name from the Native American tribe, not the haircut, so much of the decorations are frontier-themed. Beer cans decorate a small Christmas tree placed to the left of a fireplace. The light from the tree and the fire instill a warm, inviting vibe, while humor erupts from the beer-can decorations and the Santa hats adorning a stuffed black bear and deer-head mount.
Arkansas natives, Pallbearer invoked the idea of the dark stage being such an excellent pair with their sound. Not only did the band take the stage first, but their depressive brand of traditional doom really put this concept into fruition. I could tell their singer maintained a clean vocal approach, but I couldn’t make a clear outline of his voice due to it being low in the mix. Possibly, his YOB t-shirt planted the suggestion that the group shares a similar style, but after listening to a few tracks on the Inter Webs, I see the error of my ways. Musically and vocally the group adheres to a traditional, even epic, form of doom. Vocally, Brett Campbell falls somewhere between Wino and Messiah from Candlemass. Pallbearer put on a good show. Expect to hear more from these guys.
I felt the floor rumble beneath my feet like tectonic plates shifting when Seattle’s Anhedonist hit its first vibrating chords. At the time, I was up stairs in the quasi-green room hanging out with members of Ancient VVisdom and JF—the bassist and vocalist of Ritual Necromancy. We all agreed we should make our way downstairs. JF, whose band had joined Anhedonist on tour a couple of days prior, suggested watching them, especially if our tastes were towards Disembowelment. The group definitely had the death/doom thing going, making monolithic tempo shifts. The vocals unfolded agonizingly slow. The guitarist on the left of the stage, K.H. was a stone-faced female. Even though she exuded a sort of sinister sexiness, her obdurate expressions weren’t too inviting. Regardless of sex appeal, she created the perfect wall of sound with the bass of D.F. and the guitars of V.B.
Besides a stylistic connection, many of the bands on the bill shared the Parasitic/Nuclear Winter Records imprint. Anhedonist, Cruciamentum and Ritual Necromancy are all part of this label/distro network and were set to tour after this show. Ritual Necromancy joined Cruciamentum as the pace pushers of the night. The Portland group played loud and fast, but also tempered this pace with slimy slowdowns. The murky tones proved a better match for hearing each note compared to their faster parts. Earlier, JF told us his group would play “The Tree of Life and Death,” a cover by funeral doom progenitors Disembowelment, and their style worked well with this classic. Once again, I found myself upstairs during Ritual Necromancy’s opening song. My feet detected guitars containing the amp-blaring, ears-bleeding qualities of Dismember. Ritual Necromancy played harsh death metal not meant for velvet-lined ears.
The three previous bands all impressed, but now it was time to see the band I came out for, Mournful Congregation. Few bands are able to create a sound as massive as these Aussies. Although the band is not as varied as a classical orchestra, their use of three guitars creates a big sound like a symphony production. The band’s closing number,” Suicide Choirs,” from their 2009 full-length recording “The June Frost” lived up to its name and featured a choir of voices. The vocalists from both of Mournful Congregation’s touring mates, Tim from Aldebaran and Vince (V.B.) from Anhedonist, joined Damon Good during the most epic moment of the band’s set.
As stated before, Mournful Congregation couldn’t duplicate the exact sounds of the studio; some songs require as much as four guitarists to play, so we’ll never hear those unless they play a special show. Still, those in attendance went away feeling satisfied with the drawn-out, multifarious voice of Damon Good, the colossal heaviness of their guitar trinity and pure emotion the band related. Acoustic guitar parts are always an area of grave content when playing living, but their pedal-changes resulted in lush, clean guitar parts. Because Mournful Congregation plays songs a bit on the long side, I wondered what their set would look like. They played four, epic-length tracks that clocked in around forty-five minutes. Their set list included “Mother-Water, The Great Sea Wept,” “Epitome of Gods and Men Alike,” “Slow March to the Burial,” and “Suicide Choirs.”
Mournful Congregation was all about atmosphere—letting the emotional roller coaster soak into your pores. Besides a slow head bang, they weren’t the type of band to get the crowd moving. Although United Kingdom bashers Cruciamentum played its far share of crawling doom, the group also played with lightning quickness. They were the first band to get a pit going, and people banged their heads and pumped their fists with extreme aggression. Touring in support of their “Engulfed in Desolation” EP, Cruciamentum stormed through a set of old style (not the beer) death metal adhering to the god fathers of death metal.
With the exception of Incantation, which the band seemed to follow during both fast and slow segments, the group forged pieces of classic death metal bands into their sounds. At times the churning, muffled guitar would open in a catchy fashion like Unleashed or settle in a mid-pace stride along the lines of Bolt Thrower. One could equate their doomy parts to Grave, Autopsy, Asphyx, while other mid-tempos and speedy blitzkriegs were akin to Morbid Angel. Their use of whammy bar solos definitely brought to mind Trey of Morbid Angel. The sewer-slime murky guitar production found memorable change ups that put the crowd into an absolute frenzy. Cruciamentum is only four-years old and doesn’t even have a full-length recording to their name, but expect this band to become one of the faces of the new breed or death metal.
The prospect of seeing a lineup of unknown death metal bands is a lukewarm proposition because most of the time one ends up seeing a bunch of crappy, Cannibal Corpse wannabes. That was not the case tonight. The five bands mentioned above all made a great impression on attendees at Rites of Darkness. While Mournful Congregation began its trek toward the Land Down Under, Ritual Necromancy, Cruciamentum and Anhedonist continue to spread their aural plague across America. Visit Ritual Necromancy’s Facebook page to see if they’re coming your way.
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