There’s a certain air, a certain mystery around musical entities that spring from the mind of a single individual. It’s by no means novel at this point – especially within the metal scene – but regardless of how pervasive it is there’s always something a little different going on with them it seems. This week’s featured artist is one such case where the thematic and musical elements formed in the mind of a single person, A.L.N., and that mind has shepherded Mizmor through wrestling with formerly held religious ideologies with blackened doom metal. Mizmor’s expansive sounds, depth of lyrical content, and observable growth over the past decade has made it one of the most interesting bands in this sector and along with some similar experiences with leaving faith – and just how monumentally difficult that can be – made my conversation with A.L.N. one of the most enticing and ultimately rewarding that I’ve ever had.
With multiple LPs, collaborations, EPs and more under this moniker, there is a lot to explore and while the band’s sound has been relatively consistent since the beginning there is a wealth of material to enjoy. Lengthy compositions which blend black metal and funeral doom with a host of sonic textures, spoken word, and deeply moving vocal performances, Mizmor is a special band just from the mechanics that are immediately discernible just based on listening to the music. But as is often the case, knowing what drives an entity like this can add a layer of richness to one’s enjoyment of the music and without a doubt, this is one of the most interesting by far.
This year Mizmor released their 4th LP, Prosaic. After a four year gap there are always new ideas that will drift into a band’s sound or identity and while there were no stark changes to the foundations of the band’s tried-and-true blackened doom metal, there were some changes that I couldn’t help but notice and that is where I wanted to start the conversation. Yodh and Carin were lovely, haunting records that were rife with lamentations as well as strength but there were some differing ideas and approaches that were rising to the surface on Prosaic and inquiring on how intentional that was started an interesting conversation.
‘I think it was both intentional and natural and I think that both the sonic qualities and atmospheric qualities, even the thematic qualities have the character, they do, but a different character because of the sort of premise that I set out to achieve in the record, which was a very practical thing for me. Instead of coming to the table to make a new record with some overarching thematic concept, that all the content was to be about or point to I came to the table to make prosaic with the idea that when I make this record, in practice moment by moment as I’m writing and recording and editing it, it’s going to be less obsessed over. And I’m going to practice more acceptance instead of beating a dead horse and ask myself the question, ‘Okay, it may not be perfect but is it good enough? It is. Let’s move on.’ and to see if I could make a record in that fashion and get to the end of it, and still enjoy it and be proud of it and want to release it to the public. I’m purely out of curiosity and self love interested in exploring other ways of making records as opposed to like other things that a record can be about this record was exploring, ‘What if making a record was not as hard? What if I didn’t suffer as much over it, if it was even a little bit fun for me, the creator when I make it, what would that be like? What would that sound like?’ And I think that brought some of the changes in tone and composition and atmosphere that you’re hearing.’
Self love. That’s something that you don’t often see come up in a discussion with a metal musician but it was simply another indicator of just how self-aware A.L.N is and that beyond the technical skills that he is employing to make a record, he was also thinking about his music at the meta level. This response also cued me into the idea that perhaps in the past there has been a bit of consternation in his recordings and this could be a byproduct of not only the care that he puts into the music but also the physical process of doing most of this work alone.
‘Definitely both. I think that I structured the record recording process around how I naturally am as an artist and when I get to the point of feeling that something’s done and ready to release since I do all the instruments and vocals myself, it just takes a long time. I can’t go into a studio with other musicians and into a live room and get kind of the meat and potatoes all at once and then do overdubs. It’s just me. So I think there is definitely a natural byproduct of that which is I just have more time on my hands to obsess, like, you’ve brought up. But I also think that I do that purposefully. If I went into a studio to record a Mizmor album I would definitely feel the fire under my ass. Which actually could be interesting and I considered doing for this record, but I ultimately decided to make it myself still, but just change my approach. So yeah, I think there’s I’m kind of trying to reform a part of my personality that I think although, it makes me who I am and makes my art special, sometimes it gets in the way, which is an element of perfectionism, and I would like to have a little less of that in my life, or at least suffer over it a little less.’
I had the pleasure of seeing Mizmor in April of this year, before the release of the new record so it struck me to inquire a little further about if this new approach that was applied to the recording of Prosaic had seeped into other aspects of the band such as live performances. ‘It feels great, the songs translate live really well, and I think that I’m trying to carry that Prosaic album ethos into the live atmosphere as well and try to make the performances more fun for me and my bandmates, take it a little bit less seriously, and I think that we are having fun on stage and it’s noticeable. And that frees the crowd up to have a little bit more fun and I really enjoy that.’
Getting insight into what makes someone like A.L.N. tick is an interesting thing because throughout this part of the conversation (as well as the rest of it) I was getting the sense of just how not only purposeful and thoughtful his decision making is about the music, there was simply no part of the process that hadn’t been examined and considered. I could also understand why approaching Prosaic differently was appealing. There are some archaic notions about art and suffering that refuse to die out and hearing artists discuss how to counter these notions within themselves is an eye-opening discourse.
The conversation around what is often called ‘heavy music’ varies greatly and is often an arms race of which riff hits the hardest, which breakdown has the most ridiculous call out, or how fast the blast beats. All of that is well and good. But Mizmor isn’t about heaviness for its own sake but rather sees the weight of the music as an opportunity to adjust our connection to the things that have caused us pain in the past. Contextualizing the trauma that we have endured and letting those feelings wash over us and observe them as they drift away to the sound of doom.
‘For me the whole point of Mizmor and metal and heavy artistic exploration in general, is ultimately to achieve some sort of healing or therapy or catharsis and it’s easy to get lost in the extreme sounds and extreme approaches to this kind of art and its creation and kind of go to more of a destructive or self-destructive place with it. I guess all I’m trying to do is highlight the positive that ultimately comes from suffering. I don’t discount the feeling of the emotions and the traumatic experiences, but I think that if we sit with them and feel them and process them through art and get them out, I mean, the goal has to be to, to grow, right?’
Growth. Self Love. Therapy. Again, these perhaps aren’t the terms that one would expect to hear in an interview such as this, but thankfully, A.L.N. isn’t typical by any stretch. The idea of growth became a bigger part of this conversation as the interview went on and I wanted to dig in a little deeper. Mizmor was created as a vehicle to express the heartbreak of losing faith and while that was cleverly obscured early on, watching this act grow in the confidence of the decision to move on from religion has been one of the most interesting things that I have witnessed over the last decade. While I’m sure the bulk of this journey has been a private matter, the idea of handing off the pain of such a thing to a musical entity and allowing it to aid in processing such a life-altering trajectory is quite a singular thing.
As someone who has had a similar journey from the throes of an extremely religious upbringing, some of the most difficult work comes after the decision to leave has been made. The blank canvas that follows after the constraints have been eliminated can be paralyzing and determining a direction for yourself is a set of challenging questions that you more than likely haven’t asked yourself before. Once you eliminate an all-knowing being from your life which is supposedly responsible for not only the creating and sustaining everything around you but also one with which you have a daily personal relationship, the amount of blank space left is daunting and leaves you with not only questions about the universe but also now leaves you without a constant companion. Knowing just how much deep thought goes into Mizmor, I was curious if post-deconstruction had been grappled with through the band and if these larger topics were being processed through the music.
‘As a Christian the things I believe were just not adding up to my experience in the world. So to me that is a marker of truth or reality. I just kind of slowly kept going in that direction. Now I am far enough through this process that I have some closure and it’s not this open wound that I’m tonguing at to try to get to heal. I feel pretty resolved in where I’m at and the reason that’s significant is that it, yeah, it opens me up to start to think about and feel other things and surprise surprise, there are definitely more problems to explore in myself and in the world. And a lot of the things I’m finding interesting and writing about in my music now are things that the absence of God and faith has kind of given way to. There are questions that God and religion answer for you and those answers go away when you lose faith in religion. So, you know, now my music focuses on the mystery of consciousness, it focuses on ideas and how they spread like viruses whether they’re good for you or not, it focuses on the origin and fate of the universe and where mankind is headed on this earth and things like that. Because once you don’t have God to answer all those questions, the questions themselves are still interesting to me and you know, largely through science I have come to understand alternative better answers to questions like that but my art still explores that. Perhaps the thing at the very bottom of it that Prosaic gets at more is at the end of the day when there’s nothing really to write about, there’s still experience itself and waking up every day and finding purpose, accomplishing tasks, and just being conscious and aware in the present moment.’
Aside from the larger philosophical and social questions that are left to be grappled with, the personal aspects are also left to deal with. Metal is often an openly anti-religious place but is usually a social rebellion that is more interested in being contrarian or counter cultural than actually dealing with these topics on a personal level. Given the level of involvement and acceptance of the dogma to which one subscribed, peeling this many layers back can be painful and gut wrenching in equal measure. This is one of the many things that has set Mizmor apart since the beginning and dealing with the loss of that can still elicit a passionate response from A.L.N.
‘It’s not just that you have a friend group and an institution and a worldview about how the earth was formed and all these things that your brain, this software that your brain is operating on. You also actually believe that you’re going around every day in the world with a best friend and advocate, a father, a brother. There’re so many roles that God through the trinity of the father, son, and holy spirit occupy for the individual. I mean you’re almost literally constantly praying to this all-knowing, omniscient, omnipotent ultimate source of good and love that’s on your team. That hears what you’re asking for, that’s right there, listening to you and answering your prayers and has your best interest in mind. You are in constant communion with that force and when you have doubts about that and stop believing in that, it’s heartbreaking, it is lost, it is grief and that’s not to say anything about how hard it is to do a 180 in your life and lose all your friends and start over and know nothing about the world, or how it works and feel alone. There’s a deep personal aspect to losing your faith that hurts so bad that it caused me to make this project, Mizmor and why it sounds the way that it sounds.’
This is a testament to just how long-lasting the effect of such a change can be but having the coping mechanism of art and specifically the heavy music that so many of us enjoy can be a boon in dealing with whatever plagues us, regardless of what it is. Mizmor’s vision from the start has been motivated by one man’s open mind and search for a way to release the tension that his worldview was creating in his life. This is the kind of story that challenges ideas that are often held about metal but it also signals that regardless of what a person is dealing with in their life, there’s no wrong way to deal with it, other than simply refusing to deal with it at all. We all have things that we need to confront so I’m taking this moment to encourage you to do so and to find a constructive and healthy way to make that happen.
My time with Mizmor‘s music as well as the hour or so that I spent with it’s creator has solidified this band as one of the premiere acts in al of metal, not only because of the level of musicianship but also the level of care that goes into every aspect of this musical entity. While this level of depth is by no means a requirement to enjoy what an artist is purveying but it can certainly enhance one’s experience with the music and such is the case with Mizmor. While this brand of blackened doom isn’t the simplest to digest the investigation of themes, lyrics, and sonic ideas reveal that A.L.N. is a singular force in metal and I’m excited to watch as he continues to add to his legacy.
Be on the lookout for more touring dates from Mizmor in the next few months as there is hope to take Prosaic back on the road in as many countries as possible and while the surprise collaboration with Portugal. The Man has been out for a few weeks now, I can’t imagine A.L.N. will be resting on his laurels for too long before we here more from his camp through some kind of collaboration or new material.
A.L.N. – Everything