Lone member A.L.N. of Mizmor is one of the most enigmatic figures of the Portland, Oregon metal scene. 2016’s Yodh made waves in the definition of what a blackened doom project can achieve, and the often overlooked Mishlei, a direct follow up to Yodh, continued the somber funeral march of religious origin. This year we will see the release of Cairn, another megalith from the prismatic mind of A.L.N. A departure in some ways from his established style, Cairn is a landmark in the discography of Mizmor, furthering the established motifs of tragic acoustic backdrops, vocal screeches and howls, and the delicate dance of plodding slow movements contrast to blast beat filled insanity. Not only are these motifs improved upon but a new bright and sweltering aura is granted due to a new exploration in guitar tones, unfamiliar to Mizmor’s established sound, creating an experience full of heat and exhaustion. This shows a new side to the project’s mentality while still remaining deeply personal.
Opening track “The Desert of Absurdity” leads in with Mizmor’s signature somber acoustic guitar passages, with a vast and empty atmosphere and a deep fog of mystery. Suspense is broken by flaying splendor, and a guitar tone that is both deep and bass heavy and contains a bright fuzzy distortion, invoking the aura of flames of wrath. You find yourself in the aforementioned desert, desperate and frantic, heat eradicaticating your sense of reality at an alarming pace. There is an abrupt shift in pace halfway through the song, as day turns to night and freezing hallucinations take hold. Deeply melodic and dreadful while still seeped in doom, the vocals are at the forefront, tortured and inhuman, no doubt the pained howls of spirits of bodies drained of all moisture and reason in the inhospitable desert night . The melody softens and reaches its climax, fading into a depressing climax, a bridge to the anguish of self realization and mental reconstruction of further tracks.
The second song “A Cairn to God” opens with the most unearthly of shrieks, a nod to “All Semblance Waning”, it is immense and terrifying. Stated in an interview with Gilead Media as a preview to Cairn, A.L.N explains “I was raised evangelical christian it’s been a large part of my life, buying into that. It’s been a couple of years as a really serious christian before realizing it was completely false and having a really intense emotional experience falling away from faith and this is how I grieved losing my faith in god.” This is reflected in the lyrics , “I won the knowledge, fully imbued, That God is counterfeit and false. My knowing is empirical, and tested, Memorialized by a towering”. Not only is the story of denial reflected in the lyrics but heavily in the atmosphere as well. Suffocating long pauses of self reflection, broken up abruptly by ghastly screams represent devastating breakthroughs. The entire aura is filled with the melancholy of utter defeat and absolution. The guitar parts in the opening of the song are a fitting tribute to the journey of the weedians to nazareth, as the tone reeks of the influence of Matt Pike, and by proxy, Tom G. Warrior, something I never thought I would say about a Mizmor song, yet utterly fitting for such strong religious themes. The finale of “A Cairn to God” is truly humbling in its massive sense of despair, you can feel yourself break as you experience losing a life encircling ideology through the eyes of A.L.N.
“Cairn to Suicide” is initiated with a breakneck riff that conjures a psychedellic journey following an intense loss, a despondency so intense that opens the gates of lunacy, racing along as every fiber of your being is shattered like glass. The intensity is furthered by yet another long silence, this leaves the listener time for their own rumination on what could bring someone, or perhaps yourself, to the capacious gates of suicide that every person must face at one point or another. Closing again with spirit of true despair, memorable and heart wrenching inflections drag you further down into the depths of a fractured psyche. Epilogue “The Narrowing Way”, features equally dispiriting guitar work followed by an empty sounding acoustic refrain, conveying being completely lost in the darkness not fully knowing how to put the pieces back together. There is a similar rumination in the lyrics, “I sat at the table of suicide, Was served the ashen bread, Starvation spread on silver platter, I decided on hunger instead. Again I built a massive cairn, A sempiternal warning ….And resumed my toilsome trek Through the narrowing wasteland. Remaining on that dizzying crest Is the only valid choice. Daily revolt – breath in my lungs. Absurdity is pain and beauty.” There is still a glimmer of hope in Mizmor’s deliberation however, as to not concede to suicide and to continue onwards. The final apogee of the album is especially powerful, with grand and robust passages as brushstrokes, as if smashed onto the final canvas. An earth shattering denouement, closing one of the years single mightiest albums.
Cairn will no doubt rock the masses perception of Mizmor to their core, with a massive story of monumental defeat and redemption. An unexpected display of amp worship complements the collosal soundscape that Cairn successfully transmits, all masterfully blended with Mizmor’s own unique style of wholly-doomed black metal. A.L.N states, “I don’t seek to write music. I wait until something bubbles up inside me, until it aches and I can’t hold it in any longer.” This is none more apparent in what a significant force of nature Cairn is as an album and as an experience.