Photo by Kento Woolery

Crisis of Faith

Existential despair, droning doom and black metal in Mizmor

Mizmor is a one-man, Portland-based black metal project. Its dense, towering music first emerged through a personal crisis of faith.

Multi-instrumentalist Liam Neighbors, who performs under the name A.L.N., is the artist behind Mizmor. He’s doing a rare live show at Old Nick’s Pub next week in support of his new album, Cairn, which has just come out.

In 2012, Neighbors began recording his music as an outlet for heavy existential emotions. Now on his third album, the artist dives head first into bleak and philosophical themes, staging memorials to the ideas of God and suicide, set within a vast desert of absurdity.

“There’s been a transformation over the past seven or eight years, going from belief to agnosticism,” Neighbors says. “And now I’m at a place of atheism, and I’m still writing about the emotional aspects of that journey.”

Named after the Hebrew word for “psalm,” Mizmor initially functioned as a way for Neighbors to process a waning Christian faith.

“A lot of Biblical songs are full of praise and joy and worship, but there’s plenty of examples of wrestling with God, pain, bitterness and confusion,” he says. His lyrics may no longer address God directly, but they maintain a similar psalmic honesty.

It has taken some time, however, for Neighbors to grow into a voice and message that’s confident and unobscured. Back in 2012, he intentionally shrouded his debut record in mystery, involving no promotion in its release. “I wanted it to be just barely knowable,” he says. “You can’t understand the lyrics.”

At that time, still writing from the perspective of a struggling, on-the-fence Christian, he doubted whether the album’s subject matter would resonate with the greater metal community.

But as his worldview began to shift towards atheism, his outlook towards Mizmor began to change. “The project has taken on a more knowable aspect,” Neighbors says. With this new album, he wanted there to be no mistaking what it’s about.

 Through an overwhelming blend of droning doom and traditional black metal — along with a dose of inspiration from the French philosopher Albert Camus — Cairn places the listener within Neighbors’s existential journey. With patience, the looming tracks “Cairn to God” and “Cairn to Suicide” emerge as lofty stone monuments.

With another theme of the record being clarity and transparency, Neighbors also chose to dedicate more time than ever before to the album’s production, which meant investing in better studio gear and quitting his job to focus on the music full time.

He continues to view Mizmor as both an intensely personal statement as well as a therapeutic exercise, and he insists on recording all of the instruments himself.

“I have something specific that I’m trying to get out,” he says. “I just don’t want anyone else to incorporate their influence. The themes percolating in my mind and heart reach a point where they can’t be held in any longer and I’m drawn to my instrument and it’s time to create.”

For this album cycle, however, Neighbors has even more work ahead: translating his music into a more ambitious live show.

“We’ve never gone on tour and I am nervous,” he says.

In addition to a Mizmor set each night, Neighbors will also be playing drums as a live member of the band Hell, the tour’s co-headlining act. That’s two exhausting headlining sets each night.

“I’m just going to focus on how special it is to be on the road with five of my closest friends,” Neighbors says. “You just have to be physically uncomfortable for a while — that’s just how tour is — and it’ll be over soon.”

Mizmor, along with Hell, Bedlamite and An Empty Room, plays Old Nick’s Pub 9 pm Wednesday, Sept. 25; $13-$16.

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