MOURNFUL CONGREGATION  The June Frost  CD   (Weird Truth)   11.98

After forming in the early 90s, Australia's Mournful Congregation released a couple of demos that were instrumental in

defining the burgeoning 'funeral doom' sound, and would place this band in the pantheon of funereal pioneers alongside the

likes of Thergothon, Funeral, Evoken and Skepticism. Made up of members of several other noteworthy Aussie metal bands

(Portal, Chalice, Stargazer, Cauldron Black Ram), Mournful Congregation mastered the art of matching an atmosphere of utter

despair to an array of incredible melodies and dreamlike crush With their combination of achingly mournful melodies, glacial

tempos, dark burial-rite ambience and monstrous slow-motion riffs, making their music absolutely essential to anyone

interested in this particular realm of extreme doom. For years though the Mournful Congregation albums were hard to come by

here in the Us having been released exclusively on small overseas labels, but now we've got both a number of the Japanese

import releases of their older discs in stock as well as the recent spate of excellent Cd reissues that 20 Buck Spin just put

out at the end of 2012; I've been listening to these albums constantly since we got them in, and I really can't recommend

this stuff enough to fans of massive, miserablist metal.

Album number three from the masters of atmospheric funeral doom, The June Frost has gone in and out of print since its release, briefly appearing on Cd via the ill-fated Enucleation label along with a Japanese release on Weird Truth; we've got both that Japanese edition as well as the newest American version on 20 Buck Spin, though the two versions are essentially identical in terms of music and album art.

One of the main things that sets this band apart from the droves of funeral doom bands slogging across the earth is the fantastic guitarwork that makes Mournful Congregation's music so stirring, with solos and melodic leads that soar like the best arena rock, but which remain tethered to their supremely heavy riffs and slow-mo tempos. The June Frost is filled with this stuff as well as a heavy helping of the bands trademark funereal ambience, opening with the tolling bells, strings and pipe organ of "Solemn Strikes The Funeral Chime", a gorgeously grim funereal hymn that establishes the somber mood immediately. Those mournful lead guitar harmonies drift in after a few minutes, setting up the sorrowful feel for the epic second song, the seventeen minute "White Cold Wrath Burnt Frozen Blood"; this glacial deathmarch of soaring sorrow- wracked guitar harmonies, deep, guttural death metal vocals and deep baritone muttering, and crushing slow drums is one of the heaviest songs on the disc, but it also breaks into brief interludes of gorgeous acoustic strum and choral drift as it moves through a series of different passages, long ascending riffs and gleaming slide guitar slowly climbs skyward into swathes of black gothic beauty that almost sound like a doom metal Fields Of The Nephilim, and punishing doomdeath crush that rises up at just the right moments, making this one of the highlights of the album.

Nearly twenty years on, Mournful Congregation remain one of the best songwriting outfits in the field of funereal doom, each and every song rife with deeply affecting melodies and skillfully arranged music that concentrates on atmosphere without sacrificing any of their bone-crushing heaviness. You hear it in the slow-motion deathcrawl of "Descent Of The Flames" brings in piano and lush acoustic strings amid the crushing doom, and in the title track that appears in the middle of the album as a beautiful proggy interlude with more of that soaring virtuosic lead guitar winding around more delicate, doleful acoustic strum. Elsewhere, they add other instrumental interludes of creepy psychedelic ambience, clouds of guitar noise and graveyard mist, electronic drones snaking through a black fog of reverb, amp drone and dungeon-drift.

It's hard to pick a favorite out of all of Mournful Congregation's albums as they're all pretty consistent in quality, but June Frost definitely stands out as one of the discs that I've found myself returning to over and over since its release. One of the best funeral doom albums that we've carried here, and highly recommended to fans of the form.

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