When the Portland musician A.L.N. started Mizmor (stylized as “מזמור,” Hebrew for “psalm”) in 2012, he did so as a Christian wrestling with his faith. The one-man black metal project was intended as a tool, a means of interrogating his relationship with God through art. Accordingly, the band’s earliest material has a desperate, searching quality to it. On the self-titled Mizmor album, A.L.N. frequently echoes Christ on the cross, asking why God has forsaken him. He describes himself as being “haunted by [his] Lord,” but when he cries out for Him, he hears only silence.
To borrow a Pig Destroyer lyric, A.L.N. would soon shed dogma like snakeskin, and Mizmor would become an ongoing document of his apostasy from the church. His next full-length, 2016’s doom-drenched Yodh, sounded like a kind of anti-spiritual rebirth, a strident declaration of self. A.L.N.’s next musical cycle – a body of work that included 2019’s Cairn, collaborations with Andrew Black and Thou, and the Wit’s End EP – served to conclude Mizmor’s religious exploration period. “Pareidolia,” from Wit’s End, even saw A.L.N. revisiting a worship hymn he wrote when he was still a practicing Christian, shaping it into a mangled drone piece. That book has been closed.
Prosaic, out this Friday, is the first Mizmor release to be fully liberated from the band’s foundational premise. The album is every bit as emotionally intense as Yodh or Cairn, but A.L.N. has declared it a “less conceptual, more slice-of-life” rendering of his personal vision. If Prosaic is, by definition, an anomalous Mizmor release, it might also paradoxically be the definitive Mizmor album, and the best place for newcomers to start. For one, it’s the best sounding Mizmor release yet, with little of the raw harshness of the project’s early work but all of its visceral crunch. And for anyone who might be daunted by the extensive Miz-lore, there’s no narrative baggage here, no homework that needs to be done. Prosaic is simply a musician at the peak of his powers, writing some of the best songs of his career. All you need to do to appreciate it is let it wash over you, and A.L.N. has provided some absolutely devastating tidal waves for the occasion.
Mizmor albums are always immersive, and A.L.N. drops us into Prosaic practically in media res. The first sound on the album-opening “Only an Expanse” is an almost overwhelming composite: a roar, a riff, a rumble of bass, and a roiling drum pattern, all happening at once. It’s undeniably a black metal passage, but A.L.N. doesn’t play it like a typical black metal band would. There’s a spaciousness that makes each part individually legible within the fray, even before the groaning, quarter-speed riff that pries the song open around the four-minute mark. A.L.N. has long set up his base camp at the permeable border between black metal and doom, and with “Only An Expanse,” he reminds us of his fluency in both. The 14-plus-minute song – Prosaic’s longest, but relatively concise by Mizmor standards – doesn’t shift between black metal and doom so much as it brings them into union. In Mizmor’s music, “blackened doom” doesn’t just mean playing doom riffs fast and black metal riffs slow. It’s more instinctive than technical, more about finding emotional commonalities between doom’s depressive depths and black metal’s blazing fire.
All over Prosaic, A.L.N. shines a light on those congruencies. “No Place To Arrive” starts by trudging through a swamp of hellish, sludgy doom that wouldn’t sound out of place on a record by A.L.N.’s friends in Thou, emerging only briefly into a fiery field of black metal splendor before handing things off to a plaintive acoustic guitar, alone in the ruins. Over its final stretch, the song unleashes a blistering passage that makes a cohesive whole of its disparate modes — the melancholy, the fury, and the beauty, together as one. It’s awe-inspiring stuff, and he pulls off a similar high-wire act on the intense black-metal-plus-spoken-word opening of “Everything But” and throughout the contemplative album closer, “Acceptance.”
“No Place To Arrive” is probably the song on Prosaic that best represents Mizmor’s psychic shift. The first few Mizmor releases after A.L.N. left the church were full of righteous anger. (Anyone who’s gone through a similar journey will likely understand why. At one time, I was a fan of Richard Dawkins. Let that sink in.) Now, he sounds like his loss of faith has moved from the center of his life to the margins. He doesn’t sound at peace, necessarily; depression and disappointment are both a big part of Prosaic. But he doesn’t sound like he needs a god to rage against, either.
“It’s all already happening/ Indifferent to acknowledgement,” he howls on “No Place To Arrive,” with a mix of cold resignation and something that sounds suspiciously like empathy. Prosaic is a personal album for A.L.N. The very nature of a project like Mizmor means they’re all personal. Yet it’s also the most engaged he’s ever sounded with the world around him, and with the other people living in it. As the song sweeps to its overwhelming conclusion, he offers a piece of wisdom from someone who spent a decade going through the spiritual wringer and came out the other side in one piece: “This is the task/ You’re already here/ Swim now with the tide, curiously noting.”
Prosaic is out 7/21 on Profound Lore.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Blur’s The Ballad Of Darren
• Strange Ranger’s Pure Music
• Guided By Voices’ Welshpool Frillies
• Restraining Order’s Restraining Order
• The Mark Ronson-produced Barbie: The Album
• Allegra Kreiger’s I Keep My Feet On The Fragile Plane
• Valee & Harry Fraud’s Virtuoso
• Kitba’s Kitba
• Zoh Amba & Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt’s The Flower Room
• Fatboi Sharif’s Decay
• Oxbow’s Love’s Holiday
• Babyface Ray’s Summer’s Mine
• Andrew Bird’s Outside Problems
• Cut Worms’ Cut Worms
• Upper Wilds’ Jupiter
• Lori McKenna’s 1988
• Wren Hinds’ Don’t Die In The Bundu
• Paris Texas’ MID AIR
• Agriculture’s Agriculture
• Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway’s City Of Gold
• Nils Lofgren’s Mountains
• Half Japanese’s Jump Into Love
• Outer Heaven’s Infinite Psychic Depths
• Gorgon City’s Salvation
• Mort Garson’s Journey To The Moon And Beyond
• Lily Taylor’s Amphora
• Mount Kimbie’s City Planning (Deluxe Edition)
• Nina Simone’s live album You’ve Got To Learn
• Bloc Party’s The High Life EP
• Burial & Kode9’s Infirmary / Unknown Summer EP
• Michaël Brun’s FAMI Summer EP
• Death Bells’ Take My Spirit Now EP
• Miss Tiny’s DEN7 EP