Full disclosure: while I would certainly have defined myself as a metalhead during my high school years, it has been a good, long time since I’ve identified as such. Starting in college through to the present – a span of 15-plus years – I have been more of an “all things post-” type of guy. Post-rock, post-punk, post-hardcore, post-metal: these are the bedrock of my musical tastes. The last metal bands that I found myself truly taken in by were Archivist and Rosetta, both of whom I began listening to over a year ago. I really dig the Astronoid record that came out earlier this year, but like the previously mentioned bands they exist more in the post-metal realm. At Arctic Drones we have a number of writers who far outrank me on the “metal guy” scale, so when I stumbled across Yodh, the new album by Portland, Oregon one-man “blackened doom” artist Mizmor, I figured it was worth sharing, and that someone would find it intriguing enough to cover.
RELEASE DATE: 12 August 2016 LABEL: Gilead Media
A funny thing happened, though. I just couldn’t stop listening to Yodh. For starters, if I was to begin a dialogue entitled “The Heaviest Thing I Have Ever Heard,” Mizmor would have to be involved, so that immediately compelled me to continue through its pitch-black subterranean passageways, just to see if it could maintain throughout its running time.
Without a doubt, this is one of the most oppressive, terrifying records that I can recall experiencing. That was a careful word choice on my behalf, because you don’t simply listen to Yodh, you experience it. It blankets you with a cloud of misanthropy, making it difficult to pay attention to anything else but its seemingly bottomless darkness. It is breathtaking in its ability to crystallize the very essence of the word “doom” into a sonic landscape. When I imagine the music that might play behind a slave-driver in some hateful dimension beyond Hell, this is it. Have you ever been possessed of a vague, blurry idea, floating in the back of your mind, about what the perfect version of a particular kind of music would sound like, then all of the sudden you’re staring directly at it and realizing “THIS is it!” That is the experience I have had with Yodh. It is what I have always imagined doom metal should sound like, except I’ve never quite heard it represented as such. Until now. This record is stunning. Not in a hyperbolic sense. As in, I sat in stunned silence for an hour straight listening to it. That almost never happens to me, and certainly not with extreme metal.
The 5-track, 61-minute album begins with “i. Woe Regains My Substance,” which immediately sets a haunting tone, sounding like an eons-dormant being groaning back to life, renewing an existence drenched in suffering and determined to torment. And torment it does, pummeling the listener with a dizzying array of blast beats, pulsating bass crusted with the remains of civilizations long-forgotten, and a guitar riff that slices like an unbiased reaper’s scythe, cutting down everything in its path. After this initial assault the track congeals into a bubbling onyx sludge, driven forward by almost inhuman-sounding vocals that force one to pause and consider what their source could possibly look like in person. Apparently, this symphony of horror is the work of a single man who identifies only as A.L.N., and while I’m sure he’s actually a fairly unassuming regular guy, it is far easier to imagine him as a towering Lovecraftian monolith of unfiltered hatred for mankind. This is only track 1, remember, so make sure you hold on tight for the remainder of the ride.
“ii. A Semblance Waning” starts with a pretty, yet slightly foreboding bit of acoustic guitar picking before depositing you blind into a dank, cavernous space with the ever-louder screech of feedback giving way to a bone-chilling shriek that wraps ‘round and ‘round a lurching doom riff until it is coiled snake-like, draining you of the very will to live. This is followed by an extended stretch of dissonance that allows for the listener’s guard to let down before launching into fist-clenching blast beats and wailing, tortured guitar. What’s truly remarkable about Yodh is that in the midst of this swirling, cacophonic onslaught, held together with hellish pick slides, roaring feedback and sonic ichor pumping from a pulsing black heart, it is a shockingly listenable record. It’s so pure in its approach, so rooted in the courage of its convictions that it never ceases to be compelling listening. It’s not an album that relies whatsoever on hooks, but it finds plenty of ways to grip your attention.
Everything about this record is shrouded in mystery and foreboding. I have discovered no social media presence, which probably has a lot to do with an inability to type the series of Hebrew symbols that represents the artist’s name. When I downloaded the album to my iPod, the result was something I’ve never seen. There is just a blank space where the artist’s name would normally be. It seems fitting. The album artwork is a whole other point of discussion. It’s a black and gray rendering of a behemoth creature from another reality, hovering menacingly as our already-bleak landscape cowers futilely waiting to learn whether it will be forced to obey or simply crushed out of existence. It looks like the most harrowing image from a “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark” book, and one that would have long-imprinted itself into my nightmares had it appeared in those pages 25 years ago.
Mizmor’s website has this cheerful bit of insight from the artist himself: “…the content behind the project is that of the existential – primal and innate musing about cause, purpose, self, and god. It is the search for light and truth, or the fact that there is none. It comes from an embittered, burned, confused, and broken heart. It is the fight for survival when reason and foundation has turned to nothingness. It is the crashing down of towers of falsehood and the freedom that comes through a certain kind of grief. Ultimately, Mizmor is the manifestation of my long-felt depression, and neither have an end in sight.” Well, there you go.
The remaining three tracks have no letdown whatsoever, and at this point you’re either sold, or you’re a dyed-in-the-wool metalhead who thinks I should stick to reviewing post-rock albums, or you bolted four paragraphs ago, so I’ll spare you the additional 750 words I could launch into regarding this album. All I know is this: earlier today I was going about my business, then I heard Yodh and my soul is a little more haunted for it. I certainly wasn’t consciously looking for an album of the year candidate from such an unlikely source, but here it is nonetheless. Yodh is available for digital download through Mizmor’s BandCamp page.