Mizmor is a one-man project from Portland, Oregon. Surely many remember the magnificent album “Yodh” of 2016: An overwhelming work that combines, with mastery, Doom and Black Metal, and with which he won the acclaim of the public and the specialized critics. I had the honor to exchange some words with A.L.N, the mastermind behind Mizmor, and he told me about his future projects, his other bands (Urzeit and Hell) and about very important aspects of his theological vision and of life in general. A.L.N, welcome to Blessed Altar Zine. It is an honor to have you here.
Ok, Let’s start from the roots. How did you start in the world of music? At what age were you aware that you wanted to dedicate yourself to this?
I started playing and writing music pretty early on. I was born into a love of music; my dad taught me drums as a child, I learned guitar from my brothers, and was jamming with them and forming bands with friends from age 8. I made my first one-man CD when I was 11, performing and recording all the instruments myself on my parents computer. I drew the cover art and made physical copies I sold/gave away at school to friends. There have been ebbs and flows in my output throughout the years, but music has always been a part of my life and always will be.
What does the word Mizmor mean? How does it come about to be able to identify your project?
Mizmor means ‘psalm’ in Hebrew. A psalm is a Biblical melodic prayer. I began creating the music for Mizmor in the aftermath of a tumultuous personal life experience: losing my faith in the Christian god. Although it is the religion of my parents, which I rejected in adolescence, I had an adult conversion experience that led to over two years of an intensely devoted, personal practice of Christianity. Mizmor tells the story of me coming out of that indoctrination and coming to terms with the world in truth, one devoid of god. Early on the music was actually addressed to god. The songs were embittered, enraged, confused, heartbroken, upwardly-directed utterances, much like a good portion of the book of Psalms. The name came very naturally after the music, since it had a specific purpose and scope.
I have to ask you some questions about the incredible “Yodh.” Although it was released 2 years ago, I think that the repercussion that achieved in the underground circuit will have been remarkable for you, and your development as a musician. How did you live this until now?
“Yodh” is a very special album to me. Like all of Mizmor’s music, it is deeply personal. But what sets it apart from my other albums is based on a promise I made to myself. I had been making music for many years at this point in my life, but had never felt I’d made an album where I didn’t make a single compromise from the start of the process through to the end. Although I don’t believe there to be a perfect album, so to speak, I wanted to make something I’d at least be comfortable enough hearing in 10 years, without cringing at the sound of everything I should have done differently. So I decided, no matter how tedious or long the process, no matter the cost or effort, I would make the album in my mind/heart. I’d self-release it and lose money if I had to. All I cared about was the art: presenting a vision effectively without any factor adulterating it. I’m extremely grateful that “Yodh” resonated with people, making ripples in the underground world. I’m honored that self-releasing the album was not its ultimate fate, for Gilead Media gave my art a larger platform, which undoubtedly encouraged the album’s impact on the community of extreme metal listeners.
The music of “Yodh” is like an incredible amalgam of Black Metal, Doom, and even Drone. What artists influenced you to get to this mixture? Do you have a favorite band within the Black / Doom genre?
The fusion of sub-genres that describes Mizmor’s music is due simply to my two favorite genres of music: doom metal and black metal. I find immense influence from both of these genres. In my own case, I wanted to convey my feelings of despondency and depression in the midst of an anti-Christian existential crisis. Writing and playing doom metal had already been a companion to me in my expression of depression, but dawning the black metal esthetic was new for me; it was the perfect way for me to express my internal, religious conflict. Ironically, I’m most inspired by the more pure forms of the genres rather than the fusion of them. From the doom camp Burning Witch and Worship are two essential bands for me, and from the black metal camp Burzum and Wolves in the Throne Room have been important sources of inspiration.
One of the most striking aspects of “Yodh” was his incredible cover art. Its author is the Polish artist Zdzisław Beksiński, owner of an incredibly disturbing and obscure work. How do you get to it and how does the concept that illustrates the album come about? Does it have any special meaning?
I am glad that the artwork is striking to you because it was very striking to me when I first saw it, and it hasn’t lost its effect yet. Back before “Yodh” was even on the horizon I saw that piece and was stunned. Visual art doesn’t grab me as easily as music. Something special happens to me when it does though; I felt a certain breathlessness because it resonated with me so much. The face in the piece, it just looks exactly how I feel… it looks how Mizmor feels and sounds to me. It’s not a brilliant answer, but it’s true. I wanted to use it for the album I was currently working on, but it seemed too good a painting – it needed a special album. I waited until “Yodh” materialized, at which time it became an obvious album cover. But obtaining the rights was certainly an ordeal. Luckily I had made that promise to myself.
Another of your well-known projects is Urzeit, where you play drums and vocals. Stylistically, it is almost the opposite of Mizmor. What motivates you to be part of such dissimilar projects?
With music in general and metal in specific, my taste hinges on a precise balance of harmony and disharmony – too melodic and it sounds overly positive, poppy, and cheesy; too dissonant and it sounds overly chaotic, negative, and unmemorable. I’ve found that I typically don’t like anything too far on either end of the spectrum. I think Mizmor combines melody and dissonance in a pleasant way. Urzeit is a bit further toward the dissonant side of the spectrum though, which is understandable once you know that in addition to myself, R.F and M.S. (the Vrasubatlat lifeblood) complete the Urzeit lineup. They thrive on this more brutal style of metal, and there’s definitely a place in my heart for it as well. We pretty much just all love Darkthrone and enjoy music that expresses the nihilism we can’t help but feel in this chaotic existence. It’s fun to play our primitive, irreverent style of black metal. It’s absurd and absurdity is necessary. It sometimes feels more like playing rock and roll, which is just plain fun.
Portland has gained notoriety for the amount of underground extreme metal bands that have emerged in recent times. Could you tell us what the scene is like at this moment, and particularly what reception do you have from the audience?
I’m hardly the lens through which one might accurately see the scene. This is mainly because my projects are fairly inactive, as bands go. To this day Mizmor has performed only three times in the six years it’s been around and Urzeit is silent at the moment. This leaves Hell, the band I’m a part of that performs most frequently. We tour every year or two and play a handful of local shows every year when our friends’ bands tour through and need support. And although we play Portland, we are from Salem, which has its own weird little scene. Basically what I’m trying to say is, I’m kind of on the outside but the scene is active and growing from my point of view. There are lots of great bands here, and a scene to support them. There’s community and camaraderie but not without a healthy dose of pacific northwestern passivity and isolation.
Recently you edited a single and a compilation that gathers part of all your works. I imagine that many people must be waiting for the successor of your most successful album. Do you plan to edit it at some point? If so, at what stage is the project at this time?
Yes, Gilead Media has just released my newest EP “This Unabating Wakefulness” on vinyl, and I self-released a cassette version. It’s a 15 minute long single track, originally released as a digital bonus track as part of last year’s box set release, now physically realized. The compilation you speak of is a digital album now being distributed that compiles my works from 2013-2015; these songs were originally released as various EPs and splits but now are a full digital album to help new fans catch up on the back catalog. As for a new full-length album… it is on the horizon, but still a ways off. I’ve begun writing, but do not have a schedule or plan to which I’m adhering. It will happen when it happens.
What is your main objective when composing your songs? Is there something vitally important that you want to express with your art, knowing that there are many people who will listen to it?
It is vitally important for me to be an honest, vulnerable, struggling human in my music. My music is about what’s true (especially in the conversation of theism versus atheism), what parts of that truth are hard to accept, and how that makes me feel and influences my life. It’s been so cool and humbling to see and speak with those whom my music resonates with. Connecting over that empathy for pain caused by paradigm shifts in understanding regarding religion and worldview is amazing and incredibly human and natural. It’s not why I make the music of Mizmor, for it will be made no matter what, but why I release it to the public and continue to do so.
Is there an artist that you admire, with whom you would like to share the stage sometime?
Anything Stephen O’Malley is a part of. That dude’s riffs and tones are responsible for so much.
What would you say to someone who wants to perform extreme music, feeling fully influenced by your style? Is there any advice you would like to express?
When talking about extreme metal I’d say, if it ain’t from the heart, if you don’t feel like you simply have to make the music or you’ll explode, then don’t make it. If you do feel you’ll explode, then open up, be yourself, and let it out. But we have enough derivative, unremarkable music in this world and don’t need anymore. Extreme metal is most compelling when it comes from extreme circumstances. Play a different genre if you have different goals in mind than catharsis for healing from music.
A.L.N., thank you very much for agreeing to carry out this interview. I wish you all the best in your future projects. You were very kind, really.
I send you a big greeting from me and from all the staff of Blessed Altar Zine.
Interview by Sergio