At “Wit’s End”: Mizmor’s A.L.N. Demystifies His New Album
Mizmor's Liam "A.L.N." Neighbors has long been vocal about the choices he’s made in religion and coming out from under the fog of indoctrination, and his work within the project has been a form of therapy for the decade that Mizmor has existed. With 2019s Cairn, A.L.N. started to see that Mizmor was beginning to undergo changes in its direction as he worked through experiences he had within the church, leaving religion behind and how that chapter was coming to a natural end. On the cusp of releasing Wit’s End in a world that has changed considerably over the last two years, A.L.N. has found that Mizmor’s message is now in alignment with how he views the world.
With Wit's End, Mizmor presents us with two new tracks, one of which is the Mizmor we have come to know and one which takes the music we associate with the band to an entirely different place. "Wit's End" follows a more traditional route in terms of the heavy doom elements that we expect from Mizmor and incorporates an emotional spoken word passage as well as heighted screams and low, guttural vocal lines. "Pareidolia," however, turns Mizmor on its head and runs backwards, gathering curious melodies and ambient waves in its wake. It’s a bizarre composition on first listen and as the structures become clearer with concentration, the hymnal atmosphere takes on a claustrophobic tone as the song grows into something more sinister. The phenomenon of Pareidolia is explained as seeing patterns in random objects/data - seeing faces in clouds or trees, random objects forming the shape of an animal or the image of Jesus in everyday life as though a message from God.
I spoke to A.L.N. about Wit's End, the effect of the pandemic and how Mizmor is changing as time advances towards the inevitable end.
At the beginning of "Wit's End" you have quite an affecting spoken word section. Was this something you had written or something that you found? The feel of it is like it was sampled, the voice feels different and there is an analogue hiss behind it (but I read that this is actually you), what drove this production choice?
The spoken word section at the beginning of the song is indeed my voice and is something I wrote. The goal was to create something that sounded like a sample without running the risk of copyright infringement. This approach also allowed me to say whatever I wanted instead of hunting down a preexisting piece that fit my themes. You have a good ear--the recording of my voice was run to tape and modulated in such a way to make it sound old, giving it the sample-like quality; it also disguised my natural speaking voice a little bit without making it sound too alien. In terms of atmosphere, I am definitely becoming more influenced by the kind of analog production choices you might find in ambient or electronic music. A big ingredient there is tape, which accounts for that hiss and warble you are hearing.
As it is spoken by you, it somehow feels much more personal. I’m not sure how to explain this but, you can scream and shout and the emotion is felt deeply through that approach but speaking quite plainly, with minimum background interference makes things much starker. I don’t know if there is a question here, rather an observation as a listener.
I appreciate that observation because I agree; that was intentional. It was actually kind of hard to do. I had to almost act to get the right emotion in my voice–something tired and frail, but impassioned. It was awkward, even though it was just me in the room. It’s just so plain, as you said. I didn't record it to the music either. It felt almost embarrassing to perform somehow, but I really love the result.
How did the pandemic influence the thoughts and themes that you have brought to Wit's End? By which I mean, did it? And if so, were you surprised that it did?
The pandemic definitely influenced Wit's End. The main influence behind the story of the album was the concept of the Great Filter within the Fermi Paradox. My take on the problem is basically that life self-annihilates before making it off the planet because of the inherent properties of consciousness. Observing the public response to the pandemic shaped the lens through which I presented this idea. Seeing the eagerness to embrace and spread misinformation, disinformation, cultism, and conspiracy theories really disturbed me and is one possible example of how we might come to annihilate ourselves as a species. Too many people employ faith-based, dogmatic ways of thinking that are not only hindrances to progress, but sometimes actually dangerous, especially in the midst of modern technologies like the internet and social media. We live in a fractured reality and the echo chambers we have all gotten pinned into have become especially powerful and troubling. It feels like we are abandoning reason and critical thinking as a society, that facts have become opinions, and this scares me. I wasn’t surprised to find the pandemic influencing my art. It also influenced my last release, Dialetheia. There is so much happening at large in the current zeitgeist that I feel so disconnected to in terms of values; the response to the pandemic is just an example and it’s a lot to bear witness to.
If there was an influence, do you feel that this will now change the trajectory of Mizmor or the message you want to put across in future music?
Yes. I’m finding that post-Cairn, a big shift has happened for me in the content of my music. I am no longer interested in writing about myself, my feelings/thoughts about what I’m going through, my inner life, and am much more interested in writing about humanity as a whole. Although I will carry some shard of my religious trauma with me forever, I have worked through my issues and come to a place of acceptance and healing. I don’t need to linger on that topic. There are bigger things at stake here. My perspective has shifted away from the first-person. I am so thankful for Mizmor and the emotional catharsis it has brought me over the last ten years but I am wary of becoming self-indulgent in my art. The big reason I have been so open, vulnerable, and public in my struggle with faith is that many people have reached out to me in solidarity, telling me of their own similar struggles and how my music and story have helped them. This is incredibly powerful to me and honestly what it’s all about, personally. I want to pursue art in a way that is helpful to others and not so focused on myself. Obviously I am still the creator here, and I really put myself into my music, it is still my thoughts and feelings on a given topic at the end of the day. But my own problems seem trivial right now compared to the problems humanity currently faces. My wrestling with Christianity is just an example of the bigger problem of religion, of dogmatic thinking, of doubling down on incorrect ideas in the face of new evidence as opposed to changing your mind when necessary. If I were a different person with different skills I would be more useful to this world, but alas I am really only good at songwriting so I need to harness that in such a way that I feel good about my work because it is bigger than me, because it is helpful to others.
To go back to your previous answer, in that the pandemic changed how you viewed the world–how do you view your place in it? Do you feel as though there are some complications in the way you want to live your life and what is actually possible considering the modern age we are in?
For sure. It’s hard to accurately perceive my place in the world, but I definitely feel that the Millennial generation has it worse off than our parents did in terms of quality of life via things like school expenses, wages, and the price of buying a home. Every generation has a gripe with the prior one, but I think if we mapped out well-being and the ability to attain it, there would be a bell curve and it’s peak would be in the past. I am very thankful for what I have but I am concerned for future generations. Specifically referring to the hindrances brought on by the pandemic, I worry about the stability of my work since it relies on events. Living off of what I do is an incredibly fragile thing and if events continue to get canceled, or can only happen in an unpredictable fashion around viral flare-ups, I will need to figure out additional ways to make money.
There is a…. sort of celestial, sickeningly sweet aura to the beginning of the song "Pareidolia." It reminds me of entering a church as a child, being overwhelmed by the sounds, the architecture, the sheer magnitude of the occasion. However, it is as if the sweetness is covering for something much more sinister. Is that the hidden message, the Pareidolia of the title?
I love that comparison. "Pareidolia" was derived from an original hymn I wrote and recorded over ten years ago. It was a dark, neofolk, worship song ripe with the faith-shattering sadness I was about to go through as I created the first Mizmor album. The message of the old song was death of self: self-crucifixion for the glory of Jesus, emptying the vessel so it could be filled, no longer I that lives but Christ that lives through me. This is a central teaching of the New Testament and I didn't realize how damaging it was until much later (it caused me to lose my identity and hate myself). I wanted to include this on Wit's End to show a first-hand example of the lunacy I was seeing in our culture, but it was too painful and disgusting to me in its original form. I decided to reverse the song (among other production choices) thereby inverting the meaning of the song and making it new. It shows me at wit's end, devoid of reason, attributing meaning to meaningless happenings, following the narrative of God and his plan for my life. This is what "Pareidolia" describes for me; seeing faces in inanimate objects is like believing there is a God behind nature and intent behind everything.
Is this hidden, backwards lyric something you would share or would you rather people try to manipulate the track to find out for themselves? It is an interesting concept as you had the whole Satanic Panic in the 80s where people were convinced there were hidden messages in heavy metal songs when played backwards - did this come into your mind at all during the creative process?
Another great reference. The album includes the lyrics to "Pareidolia," but you will need to read them in a mirror because they are printed backwards just like the music. I want those who are interested to be able to know the story. I figure the true heads will reverse the audio file, though this will only reveal so much because of reverb and how I structured the playback. The Satanic Panic thing didn’t cross my mind, but I love that–if you reverse this record you will hear… a hidden Christian message! Beware!
How exactly did you come to make a song such as “Pareidolia?”
"Pareidolia" sounds like another realm to me, like floating around in delusion. It is an old pre-Mizmor song that foreshadows a lot and I think incorporating some of these old Christian folk songs is a powerful way to continue to tell more of my story walking away from the faith. There's a handful of these songs actually and they directly precede my departure from the faith and beginning of the Mizmor project, but the feeling and goal is the same. It’s too personal to present straight up so I became drawn in by the idea of the inverted song, especially for meaning's sake. This one was stretched out over time and reversed (among other modulations and effects) to create what you now hear. I felt it made a stark contrast, and thus a nice compliment, to the song "Wit's End." Together I feel the two songs serve as a warning against magical-thinking, one through speculating about our future, the other through recounting my past.
Would you be open to presenting some of these older Mizmor hymnal compositions in newer work, or reconstructing them to fit the direction that you’re taking the project?
It's a definite possibility that another reconstructed old hymn appears on a future Mizmor release.
It is quite a departure for you in terms of song-writing and formation. Perhaps in the past there has been these hints of ambient structure or atmospheric tone, but this is a monumental song in terms of its presence and difference to what is expected from Mizmor. What drove you to create something like this and how do you feel people will react to it?
I really love ambient music. I probably listen to it more than metal these days. I find it extreme, but in an entirely different way than metal. It’s very calming to me. Making Dialetheia with Andrew Black inspired me to press harder into this direction. It’s a genuine facet of my artistic expression. Also, as I play the role of producer more, I am starting to think about sounds differently, wanting to explore texture more, like how we talked about tape warble/hiss already. In metal, it’s more common for an artist’s experimental/drone endeavors to be harsh and noisy sounding, so I know that this will be weird for some folks as my interpretation is much more in the traditional ambient vein, sounding soft and airy. To me, it is still very dark sounding though. Mizmor is defined by me, as a person, making dark music that contemplates god, self, depression and the like and I feel I am still being true to that even though I am transcending genre a bit here. I can only hope that at this point I have genuine fans of me as an artist who are willing to go where I go. I don’t expect it to be for everyone, and that's ok.
You recently built your own studio–what was the impetus for that and how has it lent itself to your creative output so far, if at all at this point?
My partner and I recently bought our first house. Everywhere I live, I have a space for music creation, so that was a requirement for our house. The place we ended up getting had a big enough space for that, but the room was a converted garage that needed a lot of work to become a studio. I put in the work and am really pleased with the results. It's so much bigger and more complete than any of my previous spaces. It's still a very modest home studio, but it's finally big enough that I feel I can not only work on my own projects here, but invite others to come make records here as well, with my help as engineer/producer. In addition to my personal work, I have already completed a full-length album for a client (Litha) since opening a couple months ago. Recorded, produced, and mixed by me at my home studio. This is a first for me. Nothing that has been made here is yet available for the public to listen to, but it will be soon enough. I wish I could talk more about what I’m working on right now, but alas I cannot. It's vital for my process to have an inviting space with all my gear set up, ready for me to create in. It encourages me to continue this line of work and to push myself. We’ve also been having Mizmor rehearsals here, getting ready for live performances later this year. It’s also where I ship merch from and where I’m doing this interview from. It houses all things Mizmor and I love it.
Can you talk about the artwork and the artist? How did you choose the artist and did you give them direction or was this a work that they already had and that happened to fit?
I commissioned Justyna Koziczak to do a custom painting for Wit's End. Her piece, "The Gate," was the result and I couldn’t be happier with it. I found her online, I believe through social media. I was instantly drawn to her Polish-surrealist style (those who are familiar with my albums will know this is a theme of mine). Her paintings are very colorful yet somehow still dark feeling. I gave her lots of direction thematically - the album’s audio and lyrics as well as my back story. She delivered a few digital painting sketches that I was able to pick from, which would then become the real painting. It was a very easy and effective process; she was a delight to work with and definitely an artist to watch.
What have you discovered about yourself over the last, almost, two years of this bizarre era we are in?
I've discovered that I constantly have to balance judgment and disdain with curiosity and compassion or else I will become so despondent I will give up on society/humanity. I've discovered that no one is going to come fix things in my life for me and that I have to make positive changes via self-love, from the inside out, or else I will stay in a rut and decay forever. I've discovered that psychedelics can be incredibly powerful therapeutic tools if used in the right way, sometimes breaking down the wall or shifting the paradigm in a way you otherwise could not do on your own. I've discovered that meditation and therapy can make you a better person, improving the lives of those around you.
You mentioned psychedelics there, and I have read about people microdosing in order to balance feelings of depression and it has had much success, and for unlocking new pathways in the mind during meditations–are you willing to share that process of how you came to this realization and how these work for you in practice?
I don't really microdose, though I know this can be incredibly helpful for people. Maybe once a year I will take a moderate dose of a psychedelic. I've found that these can be very emotional, personal experiences. Sometimes they are just light and fun, but other times personal issues are illuminated and you are more or less forced to deal with them, which isn’t pleasant in the moment. I’ve had at least one significant emotional experience that led me to personal growth and healing. It totally broke me down in the moment, but I was with my closest friends, we talked it out, and they helped me process what was happening. It resulted in me making a change in my life, from the inside out, that I otherwise would have never made. Psychedelics can help break down the ego a bit, transcend the self, and recognize the oneness of nature in a therapeutic way. For me, it has promoted compassion, curiosity, and self-love. They aren’t for everyone or every set/setting, but sometimes they are very helpful tools for changing the way you think.
You’ll be playing Cairn at Roadburn Festival in April, how are you approaching this performance in terms of bridging the old and "new" Mizmor?
I’m just so excited to finally get to perform this album. The pandemic robbed me of the opportunity. We’ve only ever played one song from Cairn and I had big aspirations to tour on the album. I’m ready to pick up where we left off and do the music justice in the live setting. As for old and new, I don’t really think of it that way to be honest. Cairn's message remains evergreen for me and I feel people still want to experience the music live.
Do you have suggestions for further reading for people who are interested in the concepts that you are bringing to Wit's End?
I was reading a lot of science and philosophy books around the creation of Wit's End. Some of them are slogs, but for anyone who is interested I recommend these books:
Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett
From Bacteria to Bach and Back by Daniel Dennett
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
The Extended Phenotype by Richard Dawkins
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Waking Up by Sam Harris
The End of Faith by Sam Harris
The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris
The Plague by Albert Camus
A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss
Wit's End releases January 14th on Gilead Media.