“Mizmor (מִזְמוֹר): a psalm, a melody.”
For the first time on Forever Cursed, I’m introducing an interview with one of my current favorite bands from across the Ocean. I’m talking about Mizmor, and the man behind the project, A.L.N., who’s also behind other well-known projects such as heavyweight doomsters Hell and vicious black metal band Urzeit. Since day one, right after the release of the self-titled album and Untitled Winter EP, a very dedicated cult grew around Mizmor, and release after release, all Mizmor material sold out in days. So, what’s the secret for his success? Where and why did this band come about? I’ve traded some questions with A.L.N. for you to discover more about the band itself, the Dying God hoax, the new edition of Untitled Winter EP on vinyl and good news about what’s in the works. Check it out below.
Hi A.L.N. How and why the need to create Mizmor?
A.L.N.: I’m glad you phrased it this way, for Mizmor truly is music created out of need. I started playing instruments around age 8, writing songs with friends in bands only a year or two later. I have written and recorded my own music as a one-person entity since I was 12 years old. In younger years, it was more for fun, whereas in later years it was because of grief. But it’s not like 12 year old me was releasing music to the greater public. Most of those songs no one will ever hear, but I made them anyway. I have always felt the need to be creative and to get my emotions out. It is the sorrow in my heart and the musings in my mind that compel me to create Mizmor, the music I am making now.
The name Mizmor intrigues me. Is there any story behind why you chose that name?
A.L.N. : Yes, there is definitely a story that probably helps better answer your first question as well. The music of Mizmor was necessitated from a religious time in my life. I spent a serious amount of time seeking answers to the primal questions of life, and ultimately depending on a god I came to believe in. This time came to an end… a bitter end, and I turned my back on the beliefs I had cultivated. The sorrow, disillusionment, confusion, bitterness and disappointment were so intense that I honestly felt I could die. The rug had been torn from beneath my feet, revealing a different and truer world I had failed to see before. The best friend I came to love dearly turned to ash in my arms. I began to write songs in the black metal style to express this terror and save my sanity. After making a few songs, I realized I should name this thing. I decided upon a name that was close to the heart of the experience I was having.
Mizmor means psalm (as in song, poem, prayer), which is exactly what I was writing. Some may not realize this, but the Psalms of the Bible are hardly solely joyful. Many are filled with sorrow, questions and rage. It seemed the perfect name for these upward-directed cries I was writing. Also, if you look at the Hebrew characters closely (מזמור), it eerily resembles my name (Liam), a detail I later noticed that gave me chills and confirmed it as the project title. I know a lot of people cannot relate to the theistic element of this story, but I’ve come to find over the years that this resonates with many more than I thought (yes, even in the metal community). Nowadays, Mizmor is far from writing songs that specifically address god, as if on the stand with me as the prosecutor. But the sorrow I feel everyday over the conundrum of my own existence produces the same contemplative, questioning psalms.
Photo by M.Garcia
Ok, so keeping in mind what you’ve just said behind the concept of the name Mizmor, do you agree that it functions as an antithesis to the music we listen to, i.e. a balance between the sacred and the profane? Taking the present, and based on your past experiences, does religion continues to serve as your main inspiration?
A.L.N. : By “the music we listen to,” I assume you mean most metal. So, Mizmor: the antithesis to most metal? I would say hardly. I think the antithesis to metal would be… I dunno… Christian worship music, haha. Although religion served as an inspiration for my early work, Mizmor is the documentation of my journey AWAY from god (or at least my confusion over the matter), and in that sense, there is a certain irony to the name. And though religion can be credited for inspiration, it was never the point of the music. It is the sorrow and woe that drove me to score these lamentations; the feeling of having your heart broken and mind ripped to shreds, of which my beliefs at the time were the cause. Nowadays, I don’t write as much about the idea of god. I contemplate that still…I am even haunted by it still. But my own existence, depression, the human condition and the perplexing law of survival have inspired me most in my latest writing. I do feel Mizmor has differences to some metal that’s out there, however.
My music, and most heavy music that I like, is cathartic… something made out of necessity, an audible grieving process. There is much release involved. It could even be seen as healthy, in a way. Sure, it brings you down when you listen to it, but only to show the listener what I am feeling, which is often something they can relate to. There is another type of music that has the goal of destroying you. People who maybe started out making metal for release, but now just exploit the feeling of personal sorrow, seeking to bring others into a place of disgust for no purpose other than that – music that is unnecessarily negative because it’s funny, cool or the norm. Sorrow and depression make good music, there’s not doubt about that, but they aren’t things to be desired or sought after. It’s not a place to wallow. I mean… I’m plenty dark and depressed as it is, for heaven’s sake! I don’t need someone else breeding in my negativity. Maybe it’s to get a rise out of the listener; maybe they just want people to suffer with them. I’ve witnessed those who self-sustain their own depression and that filth, whether intentional or not, is contagious, and that’s not the type of music that resonates with me. Don’t get me wrong, as far as musical terms in the metal world go, I like my music to sound “filthy” and “crushing,” etc. And I don’t think metal needs to be redemptive or have a message. Fuck that. Urzeit is completely irreverent music.
But I’m sprinting in the other direction of religion for a reason that’s from experience, not because upside-down crosses and pentagrams look cool/intense and are traditional in metal. It’s a hard distinction, and I don’t have some definitive guide. I even like plenty of seemingly offensive, gross bands. There’s a bad feeling I’ve gotten from certain individuals/bands, though. I guess it’s more to do with motive and integrity. To use the words from your question, I see mourning as having a certain “sacred” place in an individual’s life (we who like heavy music can all commune over it in a certain way) and I don’t much appreciate that being turned into something “profane” because someone is too shallow a human to have their own real grief. I can’t explain it much better than that.
Initially, I felt as a listener, that in the two first releases, soundwise-speaking, Mizmor’s sound was almost a clone of Hell although splattered with some hints of black metal. And now listening to your latest, I feel that there is clearly an evolution that separates Mizmor from that initial shadow of Hell. Looking back, do you also feel that?
A.L.N: This is something I have come across before in the years of Mizmor. I will not say that there is no comparison to HELL, for that would be false. But I will say that if that is all you hear, or where your listening stops, you are gravely mistaken and missing the point. I created Mizmor entirely independent of HELL (which MSW created). I had moved to Germany to pursue my religion and wasn’t paying my old friends much mind. It was shortly after I returned that my heart changed and I began making Mizmor. This was all just in my bedroom in Portland, where most of my friends lived and made music in Salem (an hour south). It’s true that I provided some vocals on the first HELL album (prior to Germany), but we hardly knew what we were doing. MSW has made his own one-person music for the majority of his whole life as well, and one day he just invited me over to do vocals on a new song he had made. Pesanta Urfolk Records wasn’t part of the picture, the name HELL wasn’t even present. It was just buddies working on a song. A long time later, MSW gave me a HELL I record, reminding me of the songs I did and showing me how it had become something. I, being religious at the time, was actually quite appalled by it. It hardly spurred me to action in making my own, similar music.
But, MUCH has changed since then. I am happy to admit that MSW’s music (for as long as I’ve known him, not just with HELL) is some of the best music I’ve ever heard, and he has influenced my own music in many ways. After the religious veil was torn from my eyes and I sat down again with all three HELL albums. I was blown away. HELL became my favorite band. The best doom metal I’d ever heard. MSW and I have played in bands together since being 14 and 15 years old. We started getting into heavy music simultaneously, and our bands got heavier. I am not surprised that his fingerprints are on my music. I’m even proud of them. But Mizmor came from my own experiences and mind, just like HELL came from MSW’s, and they sound quite different to me. The first Mizmor album, the self-titled full-length, is played almost entirely in the black metal style. There are moments of doom and drone, but to me it’s a black metal album. I began writing in this style because it expressed so much sorrow and yet yearning and a certain kind of beauty. Also, it is a largely anti-Christian genre and, even though my music is much more agnostic in philosophy than anything Satanic or overtly atheistic, it is a lashing out against God nonetheless and it seemed to fit quite nicely.
The first HELL album, on the other hand, sounds like a Black Sabbath record on the wrong speed of your turntable. It’s a stoney, plodding, doom album. HELL rarely dips into black metal. There are a couple blast beats in the entire discography. I don’t think my early work as Mizmor shares much at all with HELL, other than the doomy-droney parts. MSW’s influence can be most clearly heard on Mizmor songs “VI” and “VII,” for he helped record “VI” with much of his own equipment, and entirely recorded “VII,” even providing vocals on it. These songs sound most like HELL to me. It’s funny to me that you compare the earlier Mizmor works to HELL when, if anything, I hear the comparison most in the middle of the project.
My main point is that Mizmor and HELL have no necessary innate comparison, being created by two different individuals for different reasons at different times virtually unbeknownst to one another. But there is overlap due to a long friendship of music making and respect.
I’m tired of reading reviews of my music that are quick to compare it to HELL and stop short of saying much else, especially when there are other groups of musicians out there who incestuously play in each other’s horde of bands, and are praised for their similar but barely different esthetic and work.
Photo by Josh Martines
Where do you feel Mizmor stands in the actual metal scene in the USA?
A.L.N. : That’s a good question… what, again, are the stands one can have in the metal scene? Haha. If you mean popularity/fame/renown, I think Mizmor will always be limited and slightly under the radar due to my utter lack of live performance and touring. I think that I have gained a name for myself, however small it may be, over the years of creating the music of Mizmor, and I’m very happy about that. My intention was never to climb a ladder and reach a certain place, but rather to simply create out of necessity, like I’ve always done. The fact that I now have vinyl out and a label to release my music from blows my mind. I see the project gain more momentum each year that goes by, but if it goes nowhere else, I’m still totally satisfied. To have your dark journal of sorts, a thing you were going to make anyway, be used for a purpose, inspiring others and coming back to you with more reason to keep going… I think that’s so cool. What more could you want? I don’t know if I answered your question, haha. Where does Mizmor stand in the metal scene? I guess it’s more for others to decide.
How was the initial feedback from people in the beginning?
A.L.N. : The feedback from people in the beginning was encouraging. I made the self-titled full-length with no intention for it. Literally none. I was going to pocket it like all the other one-man recordings I had done over the years. A buddy of mine told me this was stupid. “You aren’t even going to put it online?” he asked. I remember showing MSW the first couple songs and being really excited. “Yep, that’s heavy man. I can tell you were really feeling something, you know, going through some shit. I feel it.” He encouraged me to use my initials, ALN, because he had credited me that way on HELL I and thought people may have fun finding it and connecting the dots. So I put the four original Mizmor songs online, still with nothing further planned. After a while, someone contacted me from Greece inquiring about the album. He claimed he literally MUST have a physical copy of this album. I told him digital would have to do, that there was no physical copy. He replied in similar fashion to his first message, saying he was a collector and MUST have a hard copy. I thought, “Fuck it, why not?” I found some art in a couple old books I had, and went about crafting him a CD. I decided I would make 10, so I (and a couple friends) could have one too. Over the next couple months, I received similar requests for CDs. I would hand make them, one by one, as the orders came in.
Originally, there was no “edition of” or release information. I just made a CD if someone wanted one. Eventually I joined HELL’s live band to do drums/vocals, and we started touring. I decided to give the CD a little more justice by making up 50 of them to take on our first weeklong tour with the new lineup. In total, there were 73 CDs made and because of this experience, I was inspired to make more music for the project. That’s been the formula for Mizmor. It’s very much fan necessitated. I put something out there, and ever since I am filling this apparent need that certain people have for more of my music, while myself filling my own need to make it. I’m very thankful for everyone who likes my music, for if they didn’t exist, there wouldn’t have been another Mizmor release for the public to hear.
Tell me a bit about what occurred with the Dying God Records episode? How do you feel about someone using your work as a magnet to draw people and then rip them off?
A.L.N. : Fuck. I feel rage, man. I feel so awful about being taken advantage of, having my fans be taken advantage of, and having it all be associated with my name. I met Joseph Martinez (he would like you to believe his last name is Merrick, but it ain’t) at a HELL show in Atlanta, GA. Prior to meeting him, he had purchased a chunk of tapes from me to sell on his label’s site, “Dying God.” I was excited to put a face to the name I had communicated with, and the dude drove 8 or 9 hours up from Miami to see the show. He bought tons of HELL and Mizmor merchandise, and it was genuinely nice to meet him. He told me this, “Let me know when you guys are ready. You know, for vinyl. I’d love to put it out.” I explained to him how HELL is Pesanta Urfolk exclusive, but that Mizmor has yet to receive an LP pressing. I pursued him when we returned home and we decided upon my 2013 tape, Untitled Winter EP, to be the album he would press. I had no reason to be suspicious of him. He had now done more than one successful business transaction with both HELL and Mizmor, and his website looked legit and seemed to be doing well. Eventually, he started a preorder for the record (it ran for a whole year). His updates got less frequent and customers began to talk on the Internet. Still, every once and a while he would get back to me with an update, and I’d have no choice but to defend him and keep waiting.
Finally, I started seeing comments pop up about him having behaved suspiciously in the past with a label, Tycho Magnetic Anomalies. Someone had tracked him, pieced it together, and was ready to accuse him of being a con artist. This is when his communication with me ground to a halt. I was very conflicted. It was easy to pass off his reasons for delays as excuses and lies, but he had also mailed me test pressings of the record, so I knew not EVERYTHING was total bullshit. Maybe he was a con artist, maybe just a flaky guy who was genuinely trying but lacked the constitution to follow through when life’s storms hit. I began to feel less entitled about my record, and more sad for the person he was. I tried to find him: multiple email addresses, Facebook, telephone, even letters to his PO box and relative’s house where he once told me he was staying. I contacted his band from Florida who reported that Joseph receded from them as well, and they all felt very weirdly about it. He could be in jail or dead for all I knew. The message I was trying to get him was an ultimatum stating that if he did not give me an update and provide me with proof of the record by a certain date, I would consider it a total abandonment of the project and start my own production, officially ending Dying God records. Well, as you know, that’s what happened. I started group emails with Pirate’s Press and Joseph.
They confirmed the project, saying that Joseph had even approved the test pressings, but then went out of contact months ago. I worked with them to fix art issues and get the record set for final production, but the fact still remained that we needed Joseph’s approval on it because he paid the deposit. Finally he replied, from a new email, saying he had been “away for personal reasons,” and would pay extra for this and that, how he was writing a lengthy email of explanation to me and the fans, etc…. That never happened and Pirate’s Press got to witness his lies first hand. They agreed to switch the project entirely over to me (though I had to start over financially), enabling me to finish the record and disabling Joseph from ever finishing it. I have sent Joseph a final statement, forbidding him to ever use my music in any way, shape, or form again. I have not heard from him.
Are you going to bring that guy to justice? Considering the damage he has made to all the people who bought from him?
A.L.N. : The way in which I am bringing justice to this situation is by pressing my own record that ripped-off fans can receive for free. I am happy to report that after over a year of this bullshit, Untitled Winter EP will be available to the public June 1st, 2015 on my website – mizmor.virb.com. Anyone who can provide me with a receipt of their purchase from Dying God is entitled to a free record from me. I have already received many of these, but if you are reading this now and this is news to you, please email me and I will get you one! Both Pirate’s Press and Bandcamp were notified of his theft, Pirate’s Press transferring the project to me, and Bandcamp taking my record down from Dying God’s page. I wish it were easier to bring legal action against Joseph. My partner studies law and explained to me that it can be difficult to bring charges against someone across state lines, especially when he is nowhere to be found, and successfully avoided PayPal claims through exceeding the time applicable frame due to the preorder nature of his shenanigans.
I wish I could say that bad things don’t happen to good people, and good things don’t happen to bad people, but that is simply not the case. I would encourage any band that has been wronged by Joseph to take similar actions against him like I have. Dying God certainly will not proceed, but may we all be on our guard for his next name change and heist. I may not be able to bring him down, but I can right the situation with my fans, which is what I am doing with this new record. I want my fans to trust my name and feel safe being my customer. I regret working with, even meeting, this guy, and promise this will NEVER happen again.
I vow to only work with trusted labels run by my personal friends, or release things independently in the future. I’m sorry it turned out this way, but excited for the new record and all who get to receive one, whether for free because they were wronged, or for purchase as part of the general public. Joseph: You’re a piece of shit.
What are your future plans for Mizmor?
A.L.N: Up next, Pesanta Urfolk will be releasing the self-titled full-length from 2012 on cassette tape. There will also be vinyl pressings of both the Mania/Mizmor and Mizmor/Dross splits later this year. I think the answer you are more digging for is this: I am currently finishing the recording process of Mizmor full-length number 2, and that’s all I will say about that for now. There is another yet unheard/unannounced Mizmor release coming soon too, but I cannot say more.
Photo by M.Garcia
Would you consider doing another completely different project? Like something non-metal related, for example?
A.L.N.: Yes I would consider doing a completely different project, though at this point in my life, the music I’m making simply isn’t non-metal (perhaps non-metal will come again someday). Though I have HELL, Mizmor and Urzeit taking up my energy and creativity, as HELL’s activity slows down, the opportunity for more music creation opens up a little more. There’s nothing set in stone right now, but another project is quite possibly in the cards, having already been discussed between me and another individual.
What have you been listening to lately?
A.L.N.: I just got the new Bell Witch album and it’s phenomenally written and recorded. Also, Spectral Voice’s Necrotic Doom is a recent favorite. Those are probably the most current pieces of music I’m taken with right now. Other than that, I listen to a lot of Black Sabbath.
And now for the latest and most cliché question in these sorts of interviews. Any special message you would like to put out there to the people who are reading this?
A.L.N. : Haha, well as cheesy as it may seem, I want to thank everyone who supports and likes Mizmor. You are appreciated. And thanks, Artur, for the opportunity to speak.
No – I thank you so much for making this interview possible, especially to clear things about that bad luck incident with that scumbag from Dying God Hoax. Wish you all the best for the future.
– Untitled Winter EP 12” LP OUT NOW –
Edition of 500: 400 black, 100 grey w/ black splatter, both 180 grams. Comes in standard slip LP jacket with double-sided 6″x12″ insert. Includes digital download.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS AN INDEPENDENT RELEASE MADE BY MIZMOR ITSELF. SUPPORT THE REAL MUSIC ARTISTS.
The Untitled Winter EP Limited Edition 12″ Vinyl is already out, do yourself a favor and grab a copy right here on the Mizmor page before it runs out (it will.. trust me). If you’re too slow.. well you can always end up listening to all Mizmor releases on the band’s Bandcamp. But don’t despair! Keep an eye open for it’s future releases. Support the artists who create all this great music.