Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Mizmor (מזמור) - Mizmor (2012)

Lo-fi Lowlife

We've just about reached the point where, having once come from the same fecund nest, all subgenres of extreme metal have gone full circle and started incestuously converging again. Death/doom has since quite a while proven to be mutually compatible and has become as much of a genre as its constituents are, while the black/death batallions count so many members that it's honestly a tad disappointing they all tend to sound so alike. It's to the coupling's credit, then, that black/doom lacks such an easily recognizable sound. מזמור (or Mizmor), solo project of A.L.N. from Salem doom cult Hell, sounds nothing like Barathrum's groovy devilry or the expansive ambient tearscapes put forth by Nortt. Imagine something like a stripped-down Rain upon the Impure-era Ruins of Beverast covering Khanate, and you're closer to the mark. And what a mark it is.

Its seventy minutes of feedback-riddled misery divided into four numerically-titled songs running from eleven to twenty-six minutes, Mizmor is an odd and very very sad duck. The body of the songs consists of mournful doom plods, passionate barked wails and the gravest, most pregnant clean chords this side of the Great Depression. All this is held together by a khamsin's worth of reverb, noise and riffless droning, drowning out all musical structure and reshuffling Mizmor's musical landscape when it subsides. Add a very cymbal-heavy drum kit to the mix and you've accounted for all tools present on this album; neither keyboards, nor samples, nor any other newfangled tricks make an appearance to palliate the rough edges.

The album is a journey through dreary wetlands and over dead hills, the noise and static swarms of midges against the backdrop of endless expanses of empty wilderness. The resonant cleans which open "III", standing out against the buzzing like dead trees, etch their mournful melody into you before fading out of earshot again. Every song – from the primarily black "I" to the doom-dominated leviathan that is "IV" – follows a meandering, organic pattern of pensive riffs toiling away amidst their own background noise. Aside from the dignified and melancholic tremoloing opening "I" and "II", the album has very little hooks, and humming along with it would resemble refrigerator droning more than anything. Simple chord progressions and competent drumming, reasonably vivid but never coming to the fore, are what make up this solemn voyage.

Like some old-timey Marlboro gent, this music doesn't particularly care whether you keep up with it or not. It knows where it's going and has its own story to tell – not particularly refined technically, lacking big climaxes and major turnarounds, and on top of that it has no qualms taking its bittersweet time to ultimately arrive nowhere. It's in this field that the comparison to "Rain upon the Impure" really comes into play: although not really sounding a lot like each other, both albums are governed by a similar mulish conviction that if the listener is to get anything out of it, they'd better be prepared to set aside some hours to take it all in at once.

Satisfying as all of this is, the album could've been handled better. The recording is demo-grade; everything sounds more than a smidgen trebly, cymbal splashes have a tendency to clip and the clean guitars in particular are blurry. This is especially noticeable when played back-to-back with any of Mizmor's other releases, on which the mix has gotten siginificantly roomier. Clean guitars sound physical and present, the snare packs a punch and doesn't get overpowered by the noise, and the bass returns un-neutered and persuasive. When stuck slogging through the wastelands of the self-titled I tend to forget these issues, but judged from a distance the band clearly cut some corners which could have heightened the impact. The very samey nature of the songs would arguably benefit from a more dynamic mix, especially in ears of less faith.

Despite the archaic production and limited palette, I can't hide I'm taken with Mizmor. Uncompromising in its vision, challenging to the listener, engrossing while it lasts and you may even go so far as to say pretty unique, Mizmor started out its carreer with a lot of promise, and went from strength to strength.