Review Summary: A life of beauty and pain.
I have experienced the absurdity of life myself not long ago. Every human being is sooner or later confronted with an existential void that is simply insurmountable. If the answer to the question is that there is no answer, how unbearably absurd is that?
A.L.N., the mind behind Portland's abrasive doom institution Mizmor, has taken inspiration from the works of Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
specifically, to give shape and life to Mizmor's fourth full-length and second release for Gilead Media. In a recent digression with doomgaze
's prodigal singer songwriter Emma Ruth Rundle, the two artists discussed this as well as the many other themes that are beautifully illustrated by both Cairn
's music and artwork.
Personally, and if you'd allow such intrusion in this review, I had my main link to reason and meaning cut without a warning just three weeks away from this day. The passing away of she who gave me life and light had a devastating effect on me that, no matter how well prepared I thought I would be to rationalize it when it happened, it just dismounted everything I once thought I knew. As A.L.N. identified himself with the work of Camus, so I did at times with the entity that speaks through Cairn
. One of the concepts that stood out for me after reading said interview between A.L.N. and Rundle was that of the man in the desert, left to wander forever as the sun screams over him with an insufferable surge of sunlight, burning away his thoughts and whatever is left of his sanity, as he wanders aimlessly searching for the reason behind his meaningless state.
As the image above portrays, Cairn
is a taxing listen, four tracks that hit and go easily over the 10-minute mark with thrilling black metal passages that often lead to decrepit doom wastelands and comforting acoustic pieces, the latter purposely conceived as mirages of an oasis that give brief solace in the otherwise unforgiving trek that is Mizmor's latest release.
It is one of these pieces that starts the album, as welcoming as deceiving. Not long after a minute, "Desert of Absurdity" explodes in a suffocating blast beat while low tuned tremolos and A.L.N.'s gnarly screams dominate the first third of the introductory track. A superb display of funeral doom melts the rest of the song to an atmospheric ending of calming guitars and ghostly harmonies. From this onward, the mighty journey begins.
The title track falls upon you without mercy, a blend of Bell Witch and Thou, in which A.L.N., a former Christian and believer, sentences God to oblivion. It's a painful realization that he already thoroughly explored in Mizmor's debut, but that is also present in Cairn
, transposed somehow into this new setting, where God is just a mirage in the relentless desert that is our existence. "I won the knowledge" A.L.N. cries in the mid-section, while the song marches on, heavy and unwavering, same as the author marches through life with newly acquired clarity. And it is here where the concept behind the cairn comes into play.
As definitions goes, a cairn is a pile of stones, mainly used for orientation in ancient times. Throughout the album, this physical symbol replaces the "counterfeit and false" beacon that is God in favor of something tangible, in this case, a tower of stones that symbolize the things that matter, the people close to you, as the only possible and meaningful guide through the excruciating journey we call "life".
Suicide is another of the themes touched in Cairn
, as the third track clearly states. "Cairn to Suicide" picks up the black metal leads for a while, as a burst of anger and despair, before dying in what it sounds as a strangely soothing catacomb. The dripping of water and whispering voices fit perfectly in the mood of the album, and are later enhanced by an acoustic guitar as well as a myriad of background melodies and unfathomable noises. As A.L.N. suggests, the idea of suicide as the quick solution to the burden of existence is undoubtedly tempting. If life has no meaning, one might as well just end it and be done with it. And the track conveys this idea with frightening accuracy, first with the aggressive parts as the violent reaction to hopelessness and anguish and second with the quiet sections expressing the serenity potentially found in death.
ends with an incredible doom and sludge behemoth titled "The Narrowing Way". The same concepts that sustain the rest of the album are dissolved here into a single individual resolution. The denial of God, the refusal of suicide as the answer to the absurd, and the final realization and acceptance of life as a journey of both pain and beauty.
, Mizmor erects as the colossal symbol it represents, towering and imposing, just as the godly entity represented deftly by Mariusz Lewandowski's excellent cover. It is an album of both intense beauty and bottomless sorrow, crafted from a single question that simply has no answer, but may it serve as your cairn too, in this "toilsome trek" ahead of you.