An Interview With A.L.N (Mizmor)
I discovered Mizmor through a recommendation, the album was the 2016 release Yodh, the artwork for it instantly attracted my attention and when I settled down and listened to Yodh I was instantly hooked, as an avid fan of black metal I really enjoyed that fact that you can take the genre beyond its limits and add doom/drone elements and make it sound more haunting than it already is. Mizmor is a perfect example of that and I would highly recommend the entire discography for those unaware.
Below is a link to the Mizmor bandcamp where you can find the latest release "Cairn" which is discussed in the interview.
You've not long got back from your first ever tour with Mizmor, how was the overall experience?
The overall experience of our first tour was immensely positive. It was a challenge to perform the Mizmor set consecutively for so long and it was extra exhausting to perform two sets each night (since Hell was on the tour as well), but it was loads of fun to be with my best mates and the shows were great, all well attended with an attentive audience. The expected discomforts of tour were naturally present but, as is almost always the case, I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. It felt especially right to be out on the road around the release of “Cairn,” the new Mizmor record, and witnessing people’s excitement over the album and us performing in their city was really special to me. Thanks everybody who came out and all who helped make the tour possible!
Tell me about your experience with creating music from the beginning up until now, how do you handle the whole process now compared to the past? Would you say it's become more challenging?
Yes and no. With Mizmor, I don’t seek out the experience of writing a song or album. The nature of the project has always been intensely personal, a necessary honest reflection much like a journal; it is there for me when I need it as a therapeutic resource. There is a sense in which the music almost writes itself. A thought and/or feeling will percolate within me until its expression is so urgent that I am drawn to my instrument to outpour and resonate my experience in musical catharsis. It is challenging in the sense that music made in this way requires pain as a source of fuel or inspiration, and it is easy in the sense that when that pain is present, it wants to be released in this way (at least for me). Comparing the beginning of the project to now, this base mechanic is still the guiding principle of my musical creation. However, I would say it has increased in difficulty in that my need to make this music is decreasing in proportion to my pain around the specific issue that defines Mizmor. In the beginning the wound was still gaping so I wrote more. Now I feel I have some answers, healing, closure and the gaps in releases get further apart. Though it’s bittersweet, this is actually a good thing to be completely honest (being that the project is a form of therapy for me, and with any therapeutic treatment the goal is ultimately rehabilitation and wellness to the degree of no longer needing it). Mizmor will always be a book left open but entries in it have become less frequent because I am suffering less, at least in regards to the subject matter that drives the project. Mizmor is ultimately about seeking the truth though, and that is a lifelong affair.
Why the name Mizmor? You had faith in the past so I imagine that had an influence on it but what was it about the word Mizmor that made it stand out the most?
Mizmor means “psalm” (also translated as “melody,” “song,” or “prayer”). When I began the project in 2012 I was grappling with my loss of faith in the Christian god. I had a daily devotional practice that consisted of time spent each morning in prayer, the scriptures, and worship that gradually became more and more difficult and begrudging due to the overwhelming presence of my depression and personal doubts about the Bible. Since my heart was no longer in it (and it’s all about the heart with Christianity, or at least it’s supposed to be) I sought other means of being genuine with god. Instead of going through the motions and performing a hollow ritual each day, I began to write songs. These songs were embittered, confused, heartbroken, desperate cries written to god that eventually became the first Mizmor album. I sought to name the project/songs just for my own archival purposes. I was searching for an appropriate name and was very inspired by the Psalms of the Bible. Most of these resound praise for the lord, but some of them are sad, enraged, wrestlings with god, which is exactly what I was writing. “Psalm” and other similar words sounded too familiar and simple to me so I sought to wrap it in more mystery by using a different language. Hebrew was an obvious choice being the original language of the Psalms. I tried a couple words in a language translator but it wasn’t looking concise and powerful enough to my eye. Finally I typed in just “psalm” and the Hebrew word came up: “מזמור.” It gave me chills down my spine because it looks so similar to my name, “Liam.” That cemented the name instantly in my mind. At the time, still a struggling Christian, I remember thinking it maybe even a divine moment (now easily recognizable as a mere, however wonderful, coincidence). The romanization of this Hebrew word is Mizmor. It is the perfect name for the project as it accurately describes the concept of the music (and with a personal touch).
How would you describe the sound you create with Mizmor?
With Mizmor I’ve always sought to blend my two favorite types of music, black metal and doom metal, in a long-form, narrative song structure, piecing together the journey’s different movements with segments of drone. Over the past 8 years, the flavor of the doom and black metal has evolved a little, featuring more of a funeral doom sound and a darker, less “Cascadian” black metal sound, but the same desire to fuse these two supremely melancholic genres remains. To me, the music is taxing and all-encompassing; it demands focus and isn’t easy to listen to. It is emotionally raw and when understood accurately, compels the listener to consider some pretty big questions. The vocals contain the most humanity and emotion and often sit purposefully at the front of the mix. Aside from throws of delay/reverb on long screams, most of the lyrically driven vocals are dry and without effect, imploring your attention, however uncomfortable. It is not a casual listen and isn’t for everyone. It is urgent and existential in its purpose and sound.
You recently released Cairn, how was this received by the public?
So far, “Cairn” has been well received by the public. In fact, we already have to repress it. I’m very thankful for the coverage and response I’ve gotten from the record so far. The album’s release has resulted in features from NPR, the Washington Post, New Noise Magazine, Bandcamp Daily, and Metal Hammer to name a few. I make the music purely for myself (as I’ve explained in the therapeutic nature of the project), but it’s of course always nice when folks like it too. I’m really grateful to have a record label that believes in me and puts out my work and also to have an audience with whom my music resonates. Thanks everybody for your support! We now have the huge honor of preparing the full “Cairn” album as a live set as part of Emma Ruth Rundle’s curation of Roadburn Festival 2020; I’m really excited about that.
The artwork for Cairn was created by Mariusz Lewandowski, it is an amazing piece of art, does it hold any specific meaning behind it at all?
The piece Mariusz did for “Cairn” holds great significance to the Mizmor project and me personally. I commissioned this piece specifically for the album so we spent some time emailing back and forth, getting on the same page about the album’s themes. I sent him all the lyrics and a sample of the music (it was still being recorded at the time, so he didn’t hear most of the album until it was totally done) and he set out to paint his own interpretation of my lyrics, essentially. The painting, titled “Immemorial Question,” spans both the front and back cover of “Cairn.” It specifically depicts the song “Cairn to God.” On the front cover you see a larger-than-life hooded figure holding an electrified prism. This reaper-like being is a symbol for god, the prism representing superstition and mankind’s temptation to deify the natural world. The figure is on fire and at its base you see a tiny human form, in between them a chasm of fire, suggesting the person is responsible for the arson. On the back cover you see the vastness of the desert, which is the setting of the album, and in the center a cairn (or mound of stones, a memorial or landmark), presumably made by the human form, the destroyer of god. The song is literally about killing the idea of god in the ‘desert of absurdity’ and building a monument to it, so I’d say he nailed it. Honestly, I was completely floored when I saw the piece for the first time and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect and tasteful visual adaptation of the record. Mariusz is a living legend and I’m overjoyed to have worked with him. I reached out to him because, since he is a polish surrealist intensely inspired by Beksinski, I thought in working with him I could continue the esthetic of “Yodh” while at the same time adding the personal touch of a commissioned piece.
At what point did you decide you wanted to take Mizmor out of being just a studio project and perform live?
Mizmor performed live for the first time in August 2016 at the first Migration Fest in Olympia, WA. This is Adam Bartlett of Gilead Media’s fest he does with Dave Adelson of 20 Buck Spin. I was set to release “Yodh” with Gilead at that same time and Adam approached me about doing the first Mizmor show at the fest for the album release. It just made too much sense. With Mizmor I’ve always only taken the project as far as the demand goes. Appropriating the project’s progression and accessibility has to be necessitated in my opinion; I’m not trying to push my music in the world. This goes back to the beginning of the project. The creation of that first album I described above - that was just for me. I wasn’t even going to put it on the internet until a friend who saw how hard I worked on it and how much emotion I poured into it urged me to at least put it out there so people have the chance of hearing it. I put the album online and not too long after I received a demand (literally, though non-threatening) for a physical copy in the form of a CD. This person was a collector and having digital audio files wasn’t enough to legitimize his ownership of an album. So I thought for a while and decided to make him a CD. I made 10 so I and a couple friends could have one too. Then I started selling them one at a time online until eventually I just made a bunch and called it a release. The music is necessitated personally in that my life experiences drive me to create art to cope, but public access to it also has to be necessitated because of the intensely personal nature of the music. It’s a bit of cycle but, simply put, I generally don’t go looking to expand via new opportunities. When an opportunity finds me, however, and makes sense to me, I’m usually happy to take the project to new levels. This is true of the live performances as well. There simply wasn’t a need for it early on in the project evidenced by the fact that I was never invited to play anywhere (which of course has mainly to do with being a one-person project that had never played a show; I’m sure it didn’t seem like an option to many). I was content making the music at home and not performing. But once I got offers to travel and play festivals, I realized what a big deal that is and seized the opportunity. In this way, it is always slowly evolving (as things do). After three years of doing special, one-off shows at festivals and the like, we went on tour for the first time (as we talked about at the beginning of this conversation). I could only hear people urging me to come to their cities so many times before I felt there was a real need/demand for it (and the thought of not doing it, conversely, made me feel kind of bad for those folks). So, though it was a small tour, we got out there and played a bunch of consecutive Mizmor shows - some west coast, some east coast, and one in the Netherland. I create as much Mizmor as I need in my life and people experience as much of it as they want/need in theirs and I truly never thought I’d be here, so thank you all.