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The Death of Faith Painted as a Mirrored Portrait, Mizmor’s “Cairn” is Doom Goddamn Almighty


It is difficult to write a work that transcends typical critical bounds, one where objective analysis and even mapping of its subjective contours feels utterly inadequate and totally wasteful. A typical record, the ones that never get written about, follow a structure so easily digested as to be a waste of time to engage with; others, the ones often written about, have something inside that demands some amount of critical work to parse and make legible for others.

But it is another realm entirely to make a work where these kinds of approaches don’t seem to capture the whole of the emotional timbre and force of the record. Within this class of records there are certain obvious ones, e.g. Rumours and The Dark Side of the Moon and Born to Run, for which discussing each track and what makes them tick is interesting but fails to capture that undeniable spirit that suffuses the songs on their own, especially when conjoined in proper sequence. Not all records of this class are necessarily of that caliber, of course, but all of them at least have that component in common: a spiritual effervescence that cascades beyond describing how many verses there are or how hooky the material is or how memorable the lyrical phrases.

Mizmor, prior to Cairn, had been circling this space. The early work by sole member ALN was promising, deeply so, but scattered, feeling almost like Blakean sketches of some outer madness lingering on the rim of consciousness. Those songs were, notably, composed while ALN still possessed his faith, albeit in an increasingly complex and fraught place. Those tortured moments as his faith lay dying were documented powerfully, and the sophomore record of the group Yodh was rightly lauded as one of the best of the year on its release due to the emotional heft ALN was able to put behind stories of his desperation.

Cairn is not about the dying of faith, however; that period ALN bore in silence, one that anyone who was once devout and found themselves on the other side of spirituality will understand and, sadly, no one else. It is a unique pain, the loss of faith, one not incomparable to the death of a parent or a partner or a child. For the nonreligious, it is easy to view this as hyperbole, but: it is your God, your lodestar, your beacon in darkness, loved as truly and devoutly as anything you possibly could love, and the death of that love upon which you quite literally believe is staked the immortality of your soul after the dying of your body is a heartbreak beyond earthly compare.

The album is difficult to write about in typical format because I have experienced what ALN chronicled in my own faith, a beacon in my own darkness and the wilderness of traumatic youth, and found myself healed by the same force that permeates this record, the absolute stellar darkness of a nihilism beyond nihilisms, that nothing has meaning nor can assemble meaning for there is no ground upon which to build. Only spirit, only being, only presence. In the darkness of the world without God, we are alone, but alone together; we are bereft of meaning, drawn to suicide, but a suicide which seems less like escape the more we ponder it. After all, where would we escape to? There is no directionality in this place; there is no motion; there is freedom from these conditions. Only existence and non-existence.

ALN captures this sense of desolation with such profound beauty.

Cairn is one of the greatest funeral doom records of all time, vaulting both Mizmor’s prior work and that of almost all of their peers, sitting side-by-side with Bell Witch’s Four Phantoms as one of the greatest statements in the genre and a masterful example of the artistic and aesthetic value of heavy metal. The songs are separate but feel impossible to separate; the first track chronicles the psychic awakening of the atheist in the forlorn and desolate reality without God, the second and third tracks concerning the mind turning over the succor of either God (here a metaphor; any higher purpose or grand design will do) or suicide as means to save us from this tremendous weight; the fourth is an acceptance of not the joy but the burden of responsibility of a life where we cannot pin our actions on the designs of a God but must instead fully own them as true extensions of ourselves.

There is of course a sublime joy to this, but ALN is wise in his compositions, displaying joy here the same as he did in previous work, alchemically joined to sorrow via sublimation. In the sublime, both joy and sorrow can sit peacefully with one another in ways they cannot in the mere happy or sad.

Cairn treats these moments with the same deliberation and consideration that Mizmor records previously treated questions of God. This base nihilism that bleeds into absurdity is not a cartoonish or uncomplicated sentiment but instead a sensation that places a burden back upon us that once we had relinquished to God. This burden is mirrored in the music, which is in turn delicate and heavy… heavy not in the crass sense, but as if were imbued with tremendous weight. It feels like weighted stones are laid across your back, pressing you into the earth. You are to sit and meditate and do so seriously, sternly, with an open heart. Importantly, Cairn achieves this without feeling goofy or melodramatic, no mean feat for music that demands an air of seriousness for such extended periods as this.

The most important part: Cairn is what the first steps in a world without faith feel like, an accurate portrait of the tortuous thoughts of the first act of accepting that you will never again have a certitude of action in your life the way you did with God, as heavy as the sinner’s contemplation of life caught in the tension state of existential vertigo forever.

Cairn released September 6th via Gilead Media.

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