Mizmor’s latest full-length, Cairn, is an exercise in extremes. The penultimate song, “Cairn to Suicide,” begins as an extreme metal workout, with double-bass drums and throat-rending shrieks. At the halfway mark, the music comes to a halt; waves of feedback and light industrial touches give way to the 12-minute endurance test’s mellower second half, finishing with a delicate acoustic passage. Take that “endurance test” descriptor to heart: With three of its four songs hitting the 10-minute mark, Cairn’s prolonged anguish defies casual listening.
One of metal’s great strengths is its willingness to grapple with heavy universal themes, and those weighty topics make up the core of Mizmor’s music. The sole member of the Portland-based project, A.L.N., speaks frankly and frequently about his loss of religious faith; in a recent interview with the artist conducted by singer Emma Ruth Rundle, he framed the 18-minute album highlight “Cairn to God” as a song “about mourning loss of faith in god, and how that was explored for the past seven years.” Fortunately, songs like the opening “Desert of Absurdity” are up to the task of matching those existential woes with equally dismal sounds: high-speed drums, heavy distortion, swelling feedback, and prolonged musical passages played at mollusk-speed.
These ingredients could be jarring in other contexts, but A.L.N.’s compositions convey grief commensurate with life’s toughest struggles. Like all great metal albums, Cairn offers rewarding catharsis to those willing to undergo its trials and tribulations.