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.
…Its brilliance revolting. 4.5/5.0
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