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Beginning to think is beginning to be undermined. - 100%

JetMeestard, August 31st, 2022

It has taken me two and a half years, and a very inconsistent writing schedule, but we’ve finally reached 100 reviews. From albums I’ve loved to ones I detest, from the mainstream to obscurities, I’d like to think I’ve covered plenty of ground, though never as much as I’d have liked. Writing for the Archives has been a hobby of mine that I am honestly quite grateful I picked up, for a variety of reasons. For one, it has motivated me to discover and bring attention to more underground music, and it has also helped improve my writing somewhat (seriously, if you think my recent reviews are bad do yourselves a favour and don’t read my first 30). I didn’t start this without much thought outside of “Yeah I’ll write about my top 10 from 2019 and that’ll be it”. Seeing as I’m reaching an important milestone here though, I think it’s only fair that I finally cover the album that started it all to begin with.

I found Mizmor’s Cairn by complete accident while I was perusing r/Metal on Reddit, being a neophyte in the underground and all it was the first year I got invested in constantly searching for new music. I still very vividly remember listening to it back in 2019. At the time, I hadn’t heard anything quite like it, and truthfully, I still haven’t. I wasn’t much of a repeat listener back then, I was a “one and done” type of guy, hopping from one release to the next in a futile attempt to quench my desire to indulge in more and more music. But something was different this time. Cairn was stuck in my head, I couldn’t help but think about its oppressive doom, the searing black metal riffs and A.L.N.’s howls for months after I had first listened to it. Then 2020 came about, a year I’m pretty sure no one looks back upon particularly fondly, and in that isolation I thought to myself “I’ve nothing better to do, might as well start writing about last year’s top 10”. It was originally going to be a very short 10 review run where I’d just write, all with the express purpose of getting good enough to write about the topic of this review. Didn’t take me long to realise I had a long way to go before I felt like I’d do Cairn any justice. After a multitude of detours, I managed to cover that infamous top 10, and I finally felt somewhat prepared to take the plunge.

Informed by Albert Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus”, Cairn is a journey of self-discovery. It details A.L.N.’s experiences after his crisis of faith, and how he was left with no higher purpose or being at the mercy of a cruel and uncaring universe, yet finding that the only thing that can push one forward in this absurd world is pure spite towards it. Admittedly, I can’t say I shared A.L.N.’s experiences 1:1, but having at the time barely gotten out into the world as a young adult, and seeing the state of the world around me, I couldn’t help but feel an inexplicable dread in regards to my being, my raison d'être and my place in this world. And it’s those feelings that this release captured in such a perfect way.

The album in and of itself is full of peaks and valleys, both sonically and thematically. It perfectly encapsulates the overwhelmingly crushing weight of an inherently meaningless existence, as well as the moment one becomes aware of it through its massive sound. Cairn is a monolith, meant to suffocate its listener by way of its relentless atmosphere and songwriting. The tracks are slow, long-winded behemoths, none being below the 10 minute mark, and the way they ebb and flow makes this arduous journey all the more intense. All of them are imbued with a strong doom influence, things more often than not slowing down to a complete crawl, each massive chord on tracks like “Cairn to God” and “The Narrowing Way” reverberating through a desolate, yet full, soundscape. It didn’t take long for A.L.N. to capture a sound that felt massive and open, yet at the same time so intimate. Cairn’s decidedly mid-fi sound is a perfect fit for what it tries to express, its buzzing, yet at the same time hulking guitars can both crush and sear the listener, depending on what the situation calls for, all while the bass’ pulsing adds a muscular, yet paradoxically gentle at times layer. The album as a whole is propped by this production, which turns it into something that is seemingly larger than life, encapsulating just how tiny man is in the grander scheme of things.

What I found most fascinating about this project though was its use of melody, sparse as it might be. At no point does A.L.N. launch into Gothenburg-styled soloing, nor does he play anything particularly elaborate, but the way he applies melody in subtle, yet impactful ways at the right points in the music is a game changer. Moments like the solemn lead in the first half of “Desert of Absurdity”, the melancholic acoustics that open and close the same track, as well as the mournful riff that appears after the 12 minute mark of “Cairn to God”. Their subdued nature helps enhance the strangely hopeful, but at the same time melancholic nature of the music, a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. It’s things like these that for me manage to dispel the notion that melody has no reason to exist in extreme metal, and prove that delicate use of it takes far more mastery than writing a saccharine solo that ends up being a flurry of notes that ultimately say nothing. To put it simply, Cairn is a showcase of the old adage of “less is more”.

That being said, we’re not only faced with pure doom, seeing as there are more than a handful of pure black metal segments. While at their core they’re rather traditional tremolo riffs that just rip through your speakers, the way they unfold is nothing short of ear-catching. An explosion of anger and revolt towards the universe, they’re uplifting despite their hostile nature, soaring over the rest of the instrumentation and propelling the narrative forward, both lyrically and musically. The way “Cairn to Suicide” bursts forth without any warning makes for one of the most intense and powerful segments of the entire album, a testament to man’s resolution to see life to its logical conclusion without resignation. It might not be my personal highlight here, but it’s undoubtedly Cairn’s defining moment.

I would be remiss not to bring up the man himself, and his vocal performance. A.L.N. is to put it bluntly, intense. The way his raspy screams and howls echo over the music reeks of desperation, and it’s felt every time his voice comes forth to spew forth his diatribes on absurdism. Even when he goes down to his lower registry, it’s not for long, nor is it any less forlorn. But the most powerful tool at his disposal, outside of the compositions themselves, is that scream of his. His so-called “hawk scream” was absolutely chilling the first time I heard it, and it’s no less effective now, almost 3 years after my first listen. It’s filled to the brim with so much raw emotion that I feel like using any adjective to put it into words wouldn’t do it justice. It’s this vocal performance that motivated me to read into the lyrics to begin with, and by extension do research on them, leading to me wanting to read “The Myth of Sisyphus”, a work I promised myself I’d finish before I’d come anywhere near this review. I wanted to read it not only for the sake of well, reading, but also in an attempt to get a more intimate knowledge and perspective on this work of art. Who’d have thought I’d end up getting into reading by way of music?

Honestly, this review might’ve ended up being pure word vomit of me just laying my thoughts and experiences in text rather than talking about the music itself, but I don’t care. Cairn is more than just music to me, it’s an album that outright changed my life. I can’t really bring myself to give it a concrete value of “favourite album of all time”, or anything of the sort, because the effect that it has had on me as a person isn’t something I can assign a numerical number to. It transcends any metric or scale and simply exists in its own little realm all by itself. Nothing will ever touch it there. It’s an album that inspired me. It inspired me to start writing these shitty reviews, to read more literature than I used to, to get into playing music, and all these are things that I don’t think I’d have ever gone through the trouble of doing had it not been for it. It’s a monument to man’s resilience and desire to strive to exist and create art. Albert Camus himself might’ve said music is far too strict and mathematical to capture the essence of absurdism, but that’s because he never got to listen to Mizmor, which is his loss really.

I might just be a few years into my 20s, but Cairn has had such a profound and stirring effect on me that I feel compelled to bookend this review with a simple “thank you” to A.L.N.. Sure, the odds of him actually reading this are astronomically low, but no matter how much I write about this album I’ll never be able to adequately put into words the things it makes me feel without this becoming a seemingly endless crawl of text that would ultimately still feel not enough. This is my longest review to date, beating out my terrible Metallica review from 2020 by a sizable margin, but honestly, if there’s any piece of music that deserved having this much written about it, it’s this one.

Desert of Absurdity - 90%

Nattskog7, August 4th, 2022
Written based on this version: 2019, CD, Gilead Media (Limited edition)

Back in 2019 מזמור released "Cairn", bringing some of the most estranged black/doom Metal to defile your senses. Below is my review from the time.

Opening with pristine acoustic guitars, there is a gloriously beautiful feel to the music which might cause you to feel relaxed if you do not already know מזמור and what sonic horrors await, so enjoying this tranquil opening while it lasts. Fuzzy guitars blistering in with fierce atmospheric riffing and incredibly warm bass alongside some tortured screams. The production value is incredible with an unwaveringly strong soundscape perpetuated by a vicious mix of guitars and vocals backed up by a wall of ecstatically enthused drumming, conjuring a really warm yet blisteringly bleak soundscape, this is inarguably captivating and emotionally jarring from the off. When the glistening black metal breaks into a mournful doomy performance there is a smooth transition musically but the hard-hitting catharsis of droning fuzz and sorrowful guitars really does grasp you with a darkened and well-balanced ambience. Sheerly haunting, this music will certainly give you chills with its bombarding array of piercing black metal that is contrasted by some of the most melancholic doom metal in perfect harmony.

This record is emotionally crippling and empowering in unison which seems illogical yet makes perfect sense with the rasping of driven guitars, pounding drums and howled vocals concocting a hypnotically damning experience. If you, like me, ever wondered how Bell Witch or Pallbearer would sound with a blackened edge to their music, מזמור is the answer. Phenomenally utilised atmospherics enshroud you with this bleak ultimatum of devastating musicianship, forcing you into a catatonic state of funerary euphoria and dragging you into the abyss. With some cleaner breaks, this album does indeed offer some sleepy ambience which only accentuates the lethargic groove of monotonous, dreary doom sections and makes the blackened onslaughts all the more powerful. Within four tracks מזמור take away any hope you have and rebuild a sense of foreboding stronger than any you have experienced.

This is a fantastic example of how black metal atmospherics and crushing doom metal can be used together to make for true atmospheric ecstasy and deliver decimating blows of hardship and devastation. An ambient opus that is certainly going to receive a welcome reception and definitely lives up to the hype of following up the bands amazing previous album “Yodh”. Wonderfully performed, written and executed, this album will haunt your dreams for a long time with its roaring thunderous hell-scapes.

Written for

Blackened Doom, Depressive Crushing with a tinge of hope. - 87%

MrMetalpants, November 19th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, CD, Gilead Media (Limited edition)

Portland local one-man-band Mizmor, known by his stage name A.L.N. (Is that supposed to stand for "Alan" or actually an acronym? I like to think his name is Alan) started touring earlier this year. Saw them with Fórn and Worm Ouroboros in January 2019 in brand new form. Now there's a West Coast Tour with the band Hell in support of this full-length Cairn. Mizmor is definitely on an upward trajectory! When I first became accustomed to Mizmors style I noted it might not be the best one for a live setting considering pretty much every song starts with ~2 minutes of ambient and lightly played music then either blasting you or a nice crescendo into the song. 3/4 song on the album follow suit, but "Cairn to Suicide" is the quickest to jump right in, in a style unusual to the act. It worked out just fine live. When the songs are this long, it’s nice to have a breather from the assault.

The comeback from the pause at 8:20 on "Cairn to God" or 1:40 on "The Narrowing Way" are the most distended example of his style. He'll let the space take over the song and overwhelm you before continuing on. This is a motif that is on every song which helped create a unique style all his own. It's prevalent in his other works, as well. Once the music stops or fades away the song will come back with some chugs then open up to a large cascade of sound and continue on. This particular style is a combination of black metal and doom. There’s plenty of melody to be found which lends itself towards the morose. The songs are catchy when you want it to be then slam and drag when it needs to be. It supplies multiple listens with entertainment.

There's a handful of some of the highest screeches from him that on the surface sound cheesy but when you don't focus on them they lift the songs uneasy and creepy vibe. His style is an open throated soaring rasp, otherwise that fits the mood of the overall music. I wouldn't say A.L.N. is a guitar virtuoso, but man can he write a depressing riff that's still interesting. Look at the guitar work in the first 3 minutes of "The Narrowing Way". That's a unique pattern and is so depressing. Whether it's meandering leads, crunching riffs, or devastating chords, it's all rather simple but hits the right vibe constantly. Also, this has some of the best as acoustic guitar I've heard in a while from any metal artist. Mostly clean or acoustic in metal means you just segment a chord. He actually hammers-on and pulls-of. Little bits of flair like that help appreciate that he's not just a metal guitarist playing clean guitar.

This is blackened doom so the bass is extremely important. Not like in technical death metal how it needs to be as impressive as the guitar following it's scale and whatnot. No, here it needs to be so incredibly heavy and that's exactly what we get. Maybe that says more to the sound engineer than the bassist, but it's enjoyable hearing the thunderous rumble crush these tracks. I do like how it can ring for what seems like an eternity.

It's some of his best work, but there has been heights reached that rival this albums best material. This is a hefty listen for those first experiencing his work. It's almost an hour in length with the average song length being well over 10 minutes. It is insanely heavy and sonically depressive with inklings of hope to keep you going. Welcome to the desert of absurdity.

Favorite tracks (all of them, but in order):
1. Desert of Absurdity
2. Cairn to Suicide
3. The Narrowing Way
4. Cairn to God

Technical Skill: 72% Origniality: 86% Song writing: 90% Production: 91%

…Its brilliance revolting. - 90%

GrizzlyButts, September 18th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, CD, Gilead Media (Limited edition)

In the most classic sense absurdism is only vaguely scientific in its avoidance of the catatonia of nihilism. The requirement for a tangible ‘infinite’ to exist does allow for some meaning to theoretically exist in an objective state although your own advancing mortality, paired with death being remarkably final outside of fable, cheapens the caveat that’d distinguish absurdist conclusions enough from the nihilistic point of view. This Sisyphean plight was never the main point of Camus‘ explorations of absurdism and to dig into the greater bulk of his oeuvre reveals a thread of self-liberation, living in defiance of meaninglessness, from a man intending serious societal reform. Any freedom gleaned from an enlightened rebellion against norms, the absurd cyclical primitivisms we assign ourselves for the sake, still dies under the burning sun of the absurd without its own caveat; That you must accept meaninglessness without resignation and continue to roll out of bed with purpose, doing whatever it is you do with integrity and in avoidance of the confining boundaries set by bouts of hope and despair. Through an artfully spread bolt of linear prose thoughtfully encased by an hour of mountainous atmospheric blackened doom metal Portland, Oregon based musician A.L.N. expresses this third Mizmor [מזמור] full-length as a sojourn through existential thought that’d begin with the soul-drying cough of absurdism’s main tenets. ‘Cairn’ is not a morbid stack of regrets in remembrance of the death of hope but, instead a document of the freeing of the ‘self’– A different sort of ‘ego death’ viewed through ‘western’ classicist philosophy.

We begin one step beyond the chaotic torment of the here-and-now having placed both feet into the clairvoyance afforded by existentialist enlightenment. Here a desert is already a spark of brilliant imagery “This terrain, neither hell nor / mirage, Repels fiction with its / polarity. Existence undressed, / Reality laid bare.” Even if you’re not familiar with absurdism (or nihilism) the atheist will understand this brutal feeling once you have reached out and accepted the bleakness of reality’s wide-angled view. Musically speaking Mizmor has always been a project that appeared devoted to experimentation that held no self-conscious doubt when employing lo-fi textures, droning noise, harsh landscapes, and barren atmospherics. To say that the self-titled debut from Mizmor in 2012 was intuitive and sense-oriented within its exploration of atmospheric/post-black metal (a la Dolorian) ideologues and post-rock influenced doom metal bouts is fair enough but, it did not yet offer a clear enough statement beyond challenging stretches of meandering subtlety to appear as more than successfully ambient curio. Yet the archetype was set therein in terms of theme, raw compositional structures, and an appreciation of dynamics afforded between atmospheric black metal, modern doom metal, and post-metallic bindings. So much of Mizmor‘s lyrical focus was that loss of faith, the death of ‘God’, and a new way; Much of these events are re-contextualized in grand poetic luster throughout ‘Cairn’.

‘Yodh’ (2016) was the first crack in the sky for Mizmor as it established a warmer extreme doom metal tonality, introduced what most would see distinctly as A.L.N.‘s falconesque black metal shrieking, and saw a marked improvement in overall instrumentation, recording, pacing, and without losing some of the texturally satisfying ideas found on the self-titled debut. At this point it’d been easy to pigeonhole Mizmor in with bands like Yith, Usnea, and a certain biting rasp would find folks pointing towards Thou and Dragged into Sunlight for reference; These were fair comparisons in terms of tone but the soul of funeral doom seemed to have been more important from my own perspective, not the typical points of interest but rather something regionally relevant like Bell Witch (specifically ‘Four Phantoms’) at the time. All of these conjured comparisons and similarly bleak points of view don’t necessarily apply to ‘Cairn’, in fact a broader survey of composition, feeling, and overall tonality had my mind wandering towards The Ruins of Beverast‘s post-2007 era and late 90’s Aeternus (“Desert of Absurdity”), at least in terms of rhythmic deployment and vaguely folkish black metal style. The doom metal influences are off in another direction that is distinctly not pulled from the black/doom or post-black ‘playbook’, instead opting for the warming yearn of modern doom catharsis-ists Pallbearer, Warning, and some more blatant sludge hits (first half of “Cairn to God”) this time around. The juxtaposition employed by A.L.H. is still clever enough to carry a full hour listen and I’d say ‘Cairn’ is the most distinct and memorable record he’s written thus far.

No passage speaks more clearly the value of the album than its centerpiece, “Cairn to God”, a moment of unveiling that’d dive into the groaning ecstasy of resounding sludge/doom riffs where Mizmor divulges the second of three realizations: “I won the knowledge, fully / imbued, That God is counterfeit / and false. My knowing is / empirical, and tested, / Memorialized by a towering / cairn”. The decision to not believe in ‘God’ and/or flat out believe in nothing is a moment of self-empowerment rarely conveyed within heavy music in such an austere way. A defiance that is personal and not performative absolutely speaks to me as I age and maintain the fortitude to hold hard truths based upon years of evidence, potentially leaving the scientific mind at bay. The 18+ minute track is a point of emphatic motion for ‘Cairn’ that seeps into “Cairn to Suicide” without any pointed separation of movements. The first half of this third song is perhaps where the mentions of early Aeternus (second album, primarily) come into view, as the long-winded rhythmic black metal egress of those first four minutes offer a truly exciting build. Facing the enlightenment of absurdism and naturally considering death by one’s own hand almost has to be addressed carefully as feelings of meaninglessness typically only go in one direction, perhaps occasionally subverted by denial or escapism. “I cannot commend escape, / Even an enlightened one. Like / faith it shies away from strife, / And forfeits resolve.” Here the resolution is again evidence based, after a passage on the self-created gallows and the tragic end of others who’d gotten this far with the thought experiment and bailed. Here the soul of Camus‘ examination of absurdism is enforced and given to empowerment rather than resignation.

“The Narrowing Way” offers the most direct and translatable prose, all but completely spelling out its conclusion: The way forward is ultimately Sisyphean, yes, but to maintain the free will that enlightenment brings allows the spirit to hold strength as we march forward on an ever-thinning scaffold unto death. The nature of existence is difficult, painful, complex, and well sure, still utterly meaningless without self-ascribed truths. The conclusion as I see it falls in line with my own bias tending towards an atheistic existentialism at heart. At some point within this final song it really does begin to feel as if Mizmor have transformed fully into an extreme sludge metal modality but, again very much in the vein of regional greats like Samothrace, Un and Aldebaran. By the time this song comes into full view I was usually entranced by what’d come before it and its 16+ minutes tended to be a point of reflection until I’d make an effort to focus on its composition. Focus achieves around eleven minutes into the song and in this sense a fan of a group like Thou, who tend to save the last twenty percent of any song to really let the listener have it, will feel at home in this deeper extreme. Therein lies my only ache among the 58 minute record, it’d likely benefited from slashing a minimum of five minutes off of the introduction for “The Narrowing Way” though I do understand why conceptually this dynamic works on paper.

There are few subjects more dishonorably (well, superficially) treated in heavy metals wide umbrella than philosophy where hypocritical misunderstandings and rote retelling of the masters act as filler for fellowes who’d tired of blood, politics, dungeons and dragons. Counting Mizmor among one of the most thoughtful and lucid expressions of a philosophical awakening surely places it already quite high on my personal scale of interest and the additional focus on blackened doom metal constructs that’ve moved away from post-music cliche lands it, for my own taste, into the realm of finer releases of this year. Massive in size but with easy, joyously navigated slopes on the way down the great mountain built by ‘Cairns’ is a pleasure to revisit, reabsorb, and perhaps even meditate within its well-contained tempest. The only reasoning holding me back from a major recommendation is some of the length, though that’ll not be an issue for the sub-genre splicing indoctrinated only the generalist. Very high recommendation. For preview purposes I’d have to recommend “Desert of Absurdity” only due to its relative brevity, of course if you’ve the fortitude for the 18 minute opus of “Cairn to God” then sure, immediately devour it.