While most bands take part in speed racing, these Aussie funeral doom merchants took the advice given by Saint Vitus and Thergothon to insanely slow the fuck down and captured the essence of heaviness. Their 2009 long-player, “The June Frost”, together with Evoken's “A Caress of the Void” and Esoteric's “The Maniacal Vale”, is the top effort in the doom business from the last five years. Drummer Adrian Bickle answers the questions.
You started the band in 1993. What took you so long to actually start playing some live gigs a little more often in 2009 and 2010?
Adrian: We’ve basically always operated as a two or three piece band in terms of the studio but we knew we’d require a five member line-up if we were going to transform Mournful Congregation into a live machine and authenticate the sounds. There was an attitude amongst us that we were only going to do this if there were significant incentives to play live. It just didn’t seem worth the time and effort training up two new members and developing a live set to only play some shows in Australia. However, by about 2008 it was obvious that there was a lot of interest in us playing abroad and some solid opportunities so we recruited Ben Newsome on bass and original Mournful Congregation member Ben Petch joined us on guitar and we just took it from there.
As you say „Doom is for those whose hearts beat slower”. While most metal bands pursue speed and blastbeat records, you are one big fuck off to all that. To all the trends, all the fashion, all the competition. Is doom metal a different state of mind? I love to look at it through the lyrics of the Saint Vitus song „Born too late”, which could be sort of an anthem or a doom manifesto. What do you think of that?
Adrian: There are so many people out there who measure heaviness simply through the speed of a blast beat or how fast the riff can be played whereas our focus has always been more on the heaviness conveyed in an emotional or atmospheric capacity. You’re correct, as a collective we are completely indifferent to whatever is fashionable and in vogue so I guess, to some extent, our indifference is in itself a negation of whatever trends surround us.
As far as doom metal being a different state of mind... I think that comes down to the individual, to whatever their impression of doom is and how that manifests within them. And yes, if there was to be a doom anthem then Saint Vitus, Candlemass... these are good places to look.
You came to Europe with Mourning Beloveth and Longing For Dawn in 2009. Bands from Ireland, Canada, and you from Australia. What an extraordinary tour! What could you say about the whole thing?
Adrian: We made some lifelong friends out of that tour – the guys from Mourning Beloveth and Longing For Dawn were just such awesome people to tour with so we really couldn’t have asked for anything more. We stayed in some crazy places, met plenty of crazy people… so there wasn’t a dull moment. I think when you travel through a different country every day you end up in an almost constant state of surprise and awe at the architecture, the environment, and everything that varies from what you’ve come to know as ‘normal’ in your homeland. Nothing was disappointing though, it was a brilliant experience.
You went to Japan in July 2010. Played three shows in Nagoya, Tokyo and Osaka with Corrupted. Most bands that go there say it's crazy, fans are out of their minds, etc. Can you confirm that?
Adrian: There’s definitely a lot of fanatics in Japan – they are passionate about the music they enjoy but also the most respectful people I’ve ever encountered. And Corrupted.. damn, that was one of the heaviest things I’ve witnessed!
Your label Weird Truth is Japanese. What made you to cooperate with them?
Adrian: We’ve had a cooperation going on with Makoto & Weird Truth for about ten years now. I believe originally they contacted us about re-releasing the first couple of demos on CD and that eventually became what is now “The Dawning of Mournful Hymns” double CD. Over the years Makoto has proven to be a completely reliable and dedicated guy so we were very happy to carry on the working relationship with Weird Truth.
Your lyrics are quite poetic and metaphoric. Could you mention the most important and main themes and thoughts of them?
Adrian: Damon has written the vast majority of the lyrics for the band throughout our history and the themes include depression, transcendental meditation, the occult, suicide, loss, nature and that which encompasses the pursuit of universal knowledge and mystery.
I really love “The June Frost” layout. Who is Pat Di Palo and what does the triple cross with serpent stand for?
Adrian: The triple cross is in fact the Tree of Life (Kabbalah) and the snake draped around it is the Kundalini Serpent. The concepts behind this symbology are quite detailed but we’d certainly encourage those inclined to explore the more esoteric aspects of life. As individuals we consider there to be more to the universe and to the purpose of our being than zoning out watching television and drinking beer whilst checking Facebook on a phone. Unfortunately, in our dumbed-down and consumption obsessed societies most people have lost the inclination to explore the real mysteries or expand their thinking to embrace greater truths.
Pat Di Palo is a great friend and an extremely gifted photographer and graphic designer. His skills can also be seen on recent related releases such as the new Cauldron Black Ram and StarGazer albums.
Where did you take “The June Frost” promo photos?
Adrian: The photos were taken on a property in the hills outside of Adelaide. The road from this region carries on to the Riverland which is the area from which the band first originated.
Adelaide is a pretty huge city. Do you actually live in the city? What's the vibe like?
Adrian: Yes, we all live in Adelaide although I wouldn’t exactly class it as a huge city. There’s about a million people here but it’s only about the fifth largest city in Australia. It’s quite a nice place and I’d say the people here are generally rather friendly. The vibe is pretty relaxed, definitely more relaxed than the larger Australian cities like Melbourne and Sydney.
You seem to be really aware of all the aspects of the band. The whole sound and song structure, the lyrics, album art. It's all perfected and so carefully worked out that it's not much of a surprise that it takes you five years to complete the record. You like to take your time, don't you?
Adrian: Yes, we tend to be fairly meticulous with all the details and we’d definitely prefer to take our time with the whole process and be very satisfied with a release than rush things and end up regretting one part or another. Having said that, the five years or so between “The Monad of Creation” and “The June Frost” was also partly due to our busy schedules with music and the other things going on in our lives. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into Mournful Congregation in the last few years and we are just about to enter the studio once more – so there will only be about two years between “The June Frost” and what will follow it in 2011.
Tell me about the new material.
Adrian: We’ll be in the studio by December 2010 and should have the next album out by mid 2011. I’m confident this will be the most bleak and epic release thus far.
Do you have a working title for the next album? Will you re-record any of the older songs for it?
Adrian: We have some ideas for the next album title but nothing is certain yet. There will be no re-recordings on it, all of the material is fresh.
Let's say metal in general is underground music. But taking a closer look, Mournful Congregation is an underground of that underground. Nine out of ten of Sepultura or Dimmu Borgir fans wouldn't possibly make it through your album. How narrow is what you are doing?
Adrian: One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that there are plenty of metal fans who simply don’t get where we’re coming from but there are also plenty of people who generally have zero interest in metal that really enjoy what we do – on some levels we’re not particularly genre specific. What we do may be narrow in some ways, especially in the context of the metal scene. We don’t write music for people to mosh to, it’s not aggressive in any conventional sense, and we’re not trying to be more evil than the clowns in the next village. This isn’t music designed for simple digestion – it will never be mainstream, it will never be compromised and if that means nine out of ten Sepultura fans never understand us… well, we’re absolutely fine with that.
How does Australia affect your music? I can imagine some vast landscapes, loads of space, an impression of loneliness, alienation, melancholy. Are you inspired by the nature, Australian soil much?
Adrian: I find it difficult to imagine growing up in a place as vast and epic as Australia and not being influenced by it or drawing any form of inspiration from all that surrounds us. This environment would inspire each of us in our own way and in the end that inspiration can find a musical voice. As you mentioned though, there is a sense of isolation that prevails when you live on an island at the end of the Earth and this isolation can lead to states of melancholy and detachment. It’s natural, we’re used to it.
All of you play in other bands as well. Are they your side bands or is rather Mournful Congregation something you only do from time to time?
Adrian: No, I think I can safely say that Mournful Congregation is as important to us as any other bands we’re involved with. It’s definitely not looked upon as a side project. We’ve put much time into it and it’s becoming increasingly demanding.
What particular records made Mournful Congregation what it is? Who is responsible for the doom metal genre?
Adrian: In the beginning the members were inspired by records such as “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus” by Candlemass, “Forest of Equilibrium” by Cathedral, “Stream From the Heavens” by Thergothon etc. We were influenced by these types of albums but wanted to take it all to a more extreme, darker place. As for the origins of doom metal – to me it goes back to Black Sabbath, although that’s just my opinion.
Damon played with Portal – one bloody disturbing metal commando from Brisbane. It's one of those bands that is almost unlistenable. Are those guys total necro death-obsessed freaks?
Adrian: Aha, Damon assisted the Portal demons a few years ago now. Your description of them is fairly accurate although they’re more extreme than that.
Is your drumming style influenced by any other drummer? Did you ever hear anyone drumming as slow before yourself?
Adrian: If we’re talking about my drumming in Mournful Congregation then I’d have to say no, I didn’t base any of my playing on anyone else. I just tried to develop a trademark but minimalistic approach that would complement the feel of the music. I actually find it more difficult to play this extreme doom than most other styles because you have to try and make it powerful but insanely slow and tight at the same time. Generally speaking, the drummers that influenced me most were guys like Sean Reinert of Cynic, Terry Bozzio of UK, Virgil Donati – to name a few.
There were definitely guys playing ultra slow before me – Thergothon is just one example.
You have done a cover song of Thergothon for the "Rising Of Yog-Sothoth" tribute album. Are you considering doing any other covers in the future?
Adrian: It’s not something we ever really discuss. In all these years that is the only cover we’ve ever done so unless there was a really good reason it’s difficult to imagine doing another one.
What was the set-list of your last gig?
Adrian: That was in Tokyo: “Descent of the Flames” – “Suicide Choir” – “The Epitome of Gods & Men Alike” – “A Slow March to the Burial” – “Mother-Water, The Great Sea Wept” – “Suffer the Storms”.
One of your other bands, Chalice, is no more, but there is Tzun Tzu. You seem to like Japanese history and culture. Did it start with Kurosawa movies?
Adrian: Chalice disbanded quite a while ago but several of the members still play together in Black Orchid, including Justin from Mournful Congregation. I don’t actually play in Tzun Tzu, I just did some session drums on a couple of tracks in the studio and live when they performed with Dismember. Tzun Tzu is really the brainchild of Don Taylor who’s a death metal legend here in Australia and so even though I do possess a deep respect and interest in Japanese culture that band is in fact a reflection of the interest of Don in the Asian cultures.
What albums have impressed you so far in 2010?
Adrian: Burzum “Belus”, Watain “Lawless Darkness” and StarGazer “A Great Work Of Ages”. There’s probably a bunch of others, I just can’t think of them right now!
The Australian scene isn't too well-known in Europe. Well, there is AC/DC, but I mean more underground. Could you name some significant bands in the history of Aussie metal?
Adrian: When I was growing up there were bands like Sadistik Exekution that were taking things to a pretty extreme level. Nowadays there is a lot of talent and diversity within the metal scene here – sadly, our isolated location means that only a handful of the talent here gets seen abroad. If I was going to recommend some quality bands I’d probably say Psycroptic, StarGazer, Neath, Virgin Black, Nazxul, Tzun Tzu, Black Orchid, Portal, Altars, Austere, Cauldron Black Ram. That’d be a solid start.
I cannot resist asking this one. Chopper – legendary man. A few books, a great movie and loads of myths. How much of a public person is he in Australia and do Aussies actually give a toss about him?
Adrian: Haha, yeah, Chop Chop is a real cult legend in Australia. Some people love him, some loathe him – but everyone knows who Chopper is! He has quite a solid place in Australian folklore because he managed to take humour and intelligence and cleverly reflect on a life as a career criminal.