“Unprecedented times.” The phrase we’ve all seen more than we care to in the last nine months. From email greetings to official press briefings, there is ample reminder at every turn that what we as a collective are going through right now is something many people never even imagined. The loss of tangible connections to the communities we had built for ourselves, especially in times that are already turbulent enough on their own, is perhaps the most devastating aspect of having to shelter in place in the middle of a pandemic, and musicians, for whom community is both their raison d’etre and their livelihoods, have been feeling this loss harder than many other people have. Yet in our strange age where physical presence is a danger, we are more connected to each other than ever before through our technology, allowing many to find the kinship they seek and a shared purpose to keep their artistic visions alive. Thus, did A.L.N. and Andrew Black, founder and live bassist for Portland, OR’s Mizmor respectively, share a vision for an album created by and for our unprecedented times, a colossal ambient work called Dialetheia.
Many familiar with the name Mizmor might enter this album expecting more of the lumbering, somber blackened doom sole-member A.L.N. has christened “Wholly Doomed Black Metal.” While Dialetheia takes a turn decidedly away from metal as a whole in its inspiration, there are plenty of touchstones that keep the core of the band’s identity intact, while simultaneously moving it into uncharted territory. Mizmor’s music may be loud and abrasive at times, but it is no stranger to moments of quiet ambiance, often using lonesome, windswept acoustic guitar-driven passages to provide contrast to bouts of scathing blackened doom. Here, however, that ambiance takes center stage, bolstered by the deep, droning bass, electronics, and keyboards of Andrew Black, turning these bleak soundscapes into the soundtrack to isolation, loss, and the beauty of finding yourself among the rubble. Album opener “Looking At | Looking Through” places the electronic elements of Dialetheia front and center, using sparing and heavily effected electric guitar to accent the shimmering drone of the track, while “Nostalgic Dystopian” is driven by a combination of distorted and clean guitar work, while the electronic elements provide a psychedelic background swirl. The two tracks here mark the most stunning shift musically in Mizmor’s career, yet manage to keep the same weight and atmosphere that makes them a singular entity in the world of extreme music.
Of Dialetheia’s writing process, A.L.N. says, “It was a somewhat inconvenient and novel approach to an album’s creation that accounts for a lot of beautiful quirks and otherwise-not-tried ideas.” It’s true that this album probably would never have been made, at least not in the manner it was, piecing the songs together and building on ideas by trading computer files back and forth through email, without the context surrounding it. The end result, however, makes this inconvenient approach completely worth it. In so little words, Dialetheia manages to make tangible the feeling of two people looking at each other through a window, a window of physical separation, of necessary isolation, and all the accompanying loneliness, frustration, and grief that comes with it. More importantly, however, this album is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit to continue to find a way to connect and create in spite of the most humbling of circumstances.
Many years from now, Dialetheia might look like nothing more than a relic of a bygone day. Divorced from the times that surround it, who is to say how it will be remembered and approached again further down the line. The universality of ambient music is what has always drawn me to the genre, however; the ability to imprint whatever you feel strongest on the songs is a feature and not a bug. There will always be times when we feel alone, distant and separated from those we love, for any number of reasons. When these feelings resurface, Dialetheia is here to remind you that no matter how alone you are, there is always a way to reach out.
Dialetheia is available now on CD and vinyl through Gilead Media, and a tape edition available through Mizmor directly. For more information on Mizmor and where to buy a copy of Dialetheia, visit the band’s Facebook page.