Mizmor is A.L.N, presumably a human being that lives in Portland, Oregon. One could easily argue that A.L.N is an eldritch vessel, a tuning fork for the forbidden whims of ancient dead gods, but that might be a stretch, particularly when the metal artist—for how colossal the sound—makes music that is deeply, devastatingly vulnerable, dealing heavily in themes of religion and the personal trauma that comes with it. Cairn is a four-track LP that aims to revise at a structural level the sonic concepts that were created with 2016’s Yodh. Thematically, lyrically, and in terms of its production, however, it has raised the stakes on every level.
Leadoff track “Desert of Absurdity” begins the album with unexpected layering, an introduction that contains Spanish guitar influences, and sits in forlorn acoustic glory, until shattering its atmosphere with an expansive black metal blast beat and A.L.N’s throaty, tormented growls. Never have choking vocals sounded so exquisitely rich and painful. A.L.N sings “The desert of absurdity/ its brilliance revolting,” which in nearly one line captures the magnitude of vocal styles, fluctuating between a bellow, a growl, a snarl, a choking reductive burst that bears a slimy grit to it. That same richness pervades the music itself, a second half in “Desert” revealing its latent doom influences, with giant lingering chords that steadily march into a cave of oblivion, slowly muting the sound as the track reaches its climax. The highs here are higher than ever, and the lows feel intimately low, calm enough to linger and brave enough to simply let go.
Refinement can be heard throughout. The title-ish track, “Cairn To God,” is an 18-minute track that cuts itself open from belly to throat with a goblin scream that will arouse if nothing else from it’s listeners a sense of panic. The richness of the guitar tones in their doom-drenched glory is deeply reminiscent of some of Wolves In the Throne Room/Sunn O)))’s recent, crisp and organic affairs that strive to promote a more authentic texture. Mizmor’s command of a glacial progression, without sacrificing an atmosphere of complete annihilation, is beyond impressive. Lyrically there’s an equal amount of transcendence and study, a concerted effort put forth in simple lines that inherit a macabre existential truth in isolation becoming aphorisms such as “Supernatural anxiety shan’t evoke belief.” The lingering trance-like progression feels orphaned from the top firmament of a haunting sonic mist that seems to coat the entirety of the track. Something lingers throughout like a haunting, its imprint felt not just on this track but throughout the entirety of the work.
There’s some relief, if you could even call it that with “Cairn to Suicide,” a twelve-minute jaunt into a whispering maw of terror. While the previous track found itself firmly between canyons of sound, “Cairn to Suicide” is more narrow, more angular, but without sacrificing its rich production. It also starts an elevated tempo, which adds to the identity of the track. It possesses also a particularly warm, inspired final four minutes that soars away from its once grounded and subterranean claustrophobia. It’s an affirming moment among a track that deals with the very thing its title suggests, with lyrics such as, “Without the underlying current Of a mystic/ a guiding hand/must I obey the call to live or can I give way and die?“
“The Narrowing Way” encompasses the last 16 minutes of the album. It is the remaining thesis of the album both in its lyrics and its committed, almost classical doom approach, at least for its first half, upon where Mizmor’s efforts become more elongated in each passage, a sort of staggering snowball of sonic chaos that leads into solitary notes plucked away in a vacuum of space, building into a roar that ends the album only as it could be imagined. A dirge into truth, and a full embrace of the warm vacuous void that permeated the lyrical conceit and sonic template that Mizmor had built.
The level of fidelity on Cairn is stronger and far more pronounced than prior Mizmor efforts, and to its own benefit its soundscapes and tones are more rich and harmonious. A crypt of sonic despair has been unsealed here, its remnants fetid and unknowable. As an album, Cairn has four distinct movements that are equally separated by distinct areas of focus, all unified by themes both sonic and lyrical. That seamless synthesis is what lies at the heart of a truly incredible, personal and deeply human album.