Many thought ALN could only bare his soul so much....that is, until this exorcism of pain and nirvana entered our sphere of existence.
Since the dawn of time, man has asked and continues to ask the existential questions that plague us all: what is my purpose, why am I here and where am I going? Some find the answers wherever they can and cling to them as life rafts in an open ocean of despair. Yet, like a lone lighthouse one man has been able to withstand the incoming tides of melancholy and loss of faith, guiding others to tranquility through his own weathering of the storm. That man is ALN, one of the most revered figures in the underground metal scene and the mastermind behind the project MIZMOR. The name comes from the Hebrew translation of the word psalm and one might immediately come to the conclusion that the music may have something to do with Judeo-Christian beliefs, however, not in the way you may believe it to be.
To put it into a Cliff Note's version, ALN was raised devoutly Christian and was very much engaged in his belief system. However, after living this life for many years, he soon came to his own personal realization that everything he had been taught was untrue and he created MIZMOR as a way to express his feelings of rage, confusion and hatred towards Deity. With a self titled album released in 2012, the stage was set for what could be considered an underground masterpiece in the form of 2016's Yodh, which completely took the collective metal scene's breath away with stunning artwork and even more engaging musical performances. The album was seen as a colossal triumph in bridging the worlds of doom metal and black metal, as well as containing some of the most gut wrenchingly emotional lyrical content of the 2010's. If you aren't exactly prepared to be engulfed by the Big Sad, Yodh is not something you put on for the hell of it.
The music that ALN creates is not something that you put on for friends at a get together involving chips, salsa, drinks, $5 pizza and a corny horror movie. The baring of one's soul is what is ultimately on display here, pure unbridled emotion let out like one of his signature primal screams. As utterly devastating as the circumstances that surround the album are, many found solace and fellowship in ALN's lyrics. I personally found them deeply connected with some of my own personal life experiences and Yodh became a pillar to helping me understand that people around me are also experiencing hardship and struggles despite the face they put on everyday. With the Mishlei compilation and the Unabating Wakefulness EP released as stopgaps many, myself included, waited to see what ALN's next move would be with MIZMOR and now we have that with the four track monolith entitled Cairn.
To understand the album, one must understand what it's title implies. A cairn is a pile of stones that are usually used as a landmark or monument. This motif applies spectacularly with the two middle tracks as dedicated monuments to two enormous concepts: God and suicide. In many interviews for the announcement of the album, ALN offered insights into what the inspiration behind the concept was exactly. He mentions reading the works of Albert Camus, particularly the author's 1942 essay entitled The Myth of Sisyphus. For those who really enjoy digging into the lyrical and philosophical content of a record, it is worth researching and I'll explain in abbreviated form. Basically, Camus introduces the philosophy of absurdism which is essentially man's barren search for meaning in a world devoid of God and moral value. With Cairn, ALN strives to evoke that philosophy through the most earth shattering vocal performance of his career while singlehandedly performing 2019's most emotional guitar, drum and bass work. Everything falls into place while still sounding a bit unhinged, like a manic depressive in the throes of a panic attack attempting to recite Khayyam and not missing a beat. But where does this album differ from it's predecessor and what did ALN keep under wraps for three years?
Going into Cairn is very much a different experience from entering into the vast frigid halls of Yodh. Whereas the latter opens with ghostly moaning and chilling ambience, the former begins simply with an acoustic guitar plucking simple lines. It is a very stark contrast from ALN leading you in with a sense of dread before destroying your psyche with his signature wail (to this day I still can't believe he is able to pull that off unassisted), icy tremolo picking and hellish blast beats. However, the acoustic intro of Desert of Absurdity is not absurdly placed. It has warmth and a sense of feeling, yet you feel a sinister presence encroaching. Just when you start thinking, "Ah, this isn't gonna wreck me emotionally for the next week", ALN comes in with that massive guitar tone and ends that entire mindset. The blast beats lead into vocals that are much more clear and discernable than on Yodh, which leads to ALN sounding more tortured than ever. Seriously, the only tracks in his discography that compete are I from the S/T, Epistemological Rupture, Crestfallen Usurper and The Serpent Eats It's Tail. It's unnerving but still, you find yourself slowly turning that volume knob hard clockwise.
The middle point monoliths of Cairn to God and Cairn to Suicide capture ALN at his apex. Riffs crash and vocals soar as you fall into the crevices of a mind that wants you to truly understand. Mountainous emotions swell as you experience how ALN interprets his relationships with God and the ending of one's own life. It's a harrowing adventure into the realm of a harsh reality being heaped on your unwary husk of being, you feel that all is lost as you truly see his point of view. The channel disruption of black metal bands like WEAKLING, SILENCER and WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM collide with the enormity of doom giants like BURNING WITCH, WORMPHLEGM and most notably the German/French funeral doom monstrosity WORSHIP. When he doesn't sound like Jon Gossard with his inhuman screech, ALN bellows like "Mad" Max Varnier from WORSHIP and it's slightly interesting to see certain comparisons. Whereas Varnier had an intensely nihilistic outlook that produced some truly depressing music and lead to his untimely death in 2001, ALN takes the depressive elements that Varnier used to such masterful effect on Last Tape Before Doomsday and gives them the old scholastic spin. As an added plus, ALN isn't actively encouraging that you end your life. What also truly sticks out to me from a musical perspective is that every track ends with an acoustic outro without fail. It's a touch that really adds to the mystique that surrounds the MIZMOR legend, so to speak.
After wandering the desert and passing the cairns, ALN finally asks that you take The Narrowing Way. This track is without a doubt one of the greatest songs within the MIZMOR catalog. Upon finishing it, I let out an audible "holy shit" and couldn't truly believe what I had heard. And when I let out an audible expletive, you know it's good because that means that I've been truly impressed by the musical display. This track is what ASUNDER tried their entire careers to achieve. This is emotion that not many doom bands can illicit within a genre littered with bands attempting to pass off Z tier Electric Wizard worship as "doom". Imagine hearing Thergothon's Stream From the Heavens for the first time. Got it in your mind? Now take every emotional high and low you felt and amplify that by ten and that is what The Narrowing Way is.
ALN has said that Cairn is some of the best music he has released and I don't believe that is hyperbole. He has also stated that MIZMOR's music is rare simply because he doesn't just write it for the sake of writing it. He allows his emotions and ideas to bubble within until he finally can't let them fester any longer. That to me is the mark of an artist who truly understands when to express and linger back. Allow some breathing room to the people and give them time to digest your work and then when you feel the time is appropriate to ensnare their souls again, you leap as tiger from the tall grass. When that final acoustic chord is plucked, all you can do is sit there and contemplate just how thoroughly ALN trifled with your emotions.
At the end of Cairn you feel broken, yet renewed. It's something that truly burrows into your soul and demands that you confront your absurdity, imploring that you release it by whatever means necessary. ALN already cemented his legacy with Yodh but it is with Cairn that he ascends to a higher plane. Everything that you can feel in the context of a MIZMOR listening session is nothing short of experiencing theophany. What sets this theophany apart from any other is that ALN simply looks from his desert expanse after you've taken stock of the cairns to Deity and self harm and simply utters, "All is well, one must imagine Sisyphus happy."
Cairn is available September 6th via Gilead Media. Order yours HERE.