The Tenets of Forgetting.
Album Review

Published: November 27th 2021

Artwork: Omar El-Sadek and Jesse Osborne-Lanthier

Éditions Appærent

Limited edition vinyls are available on

On The Tenets of Forgetting, MSYLMA’s follow-up to 2019’s excellent Dhil un Taht Shajaret Al Zaqqum, the Saudi Arabian singer teams with producer ISMAEL for the latest offering from Montreal’s Éditions Appærent label.

MSYLMA, unapologetically avant-
garde, with virtually no precedent in the Khaleej, keeps such a low profile as to almost not exist. As mysterious is ISMAEL, who, despite a general lack of information, and judging from the minute-and-a-half snippet from his Kraftfeld set—shot with all the audiovisual resolving power of a Nokia 7610 and uploaded 7 years ago onto KAIRO IS KOMING’s YouTube channel—is tailor-made for this collaboration.

In terms of presentation, the cover art, executed by recurring collaborators Jesse Osborne-Lanthier and Omar El-Sadek (who directed the hypnotizing music video for Al Zaqqum’s title track, in which a gelatinous onyx ragdoll becomes the alpine expanse) is an oasitic glitch very much like the music: it’s vast, a bit morose, synth-pinked, wistful, wistful, wistful.

The Tenets of Forgetting, unlike its predecessor, is less abrasive, slightly more accessible, certainly more nuanced—Zaqqum, while great, risked MSYLMA roleplaying Fuṣḥā Arca: trundled mawwāl backed by an intermittent battery of clanks, the aural gestalt of an ERROR dialog box, altogether merged effectively. This release, though sharing the same strengths, suffers the selfsame weaknesses: it can be plodding, garrulous, and for non-Arabic speakers, a little endless. Tenets is missing Zaqqum’s eccentricities, a Tuvan belch, or something as outright jarring as the two minutes of “Min Bab Jihad-i Alljtihad” to offset palate fatigue. That being said, it’s hard not to be awed by the vocal prowess, the poetry of the lyricism, ISMAEL’s immersive production, the sheer artistry of it all.

On the LP’s opener, “Ending Unto Dust”, ISMAEL’s warbling soundscape eases the listener in before the cold-water throw of MSYLMA’s أحكى. From there, you’re taken on a journey as literary as it is musical; the intent, it appears, is for both artists to come together and, over the course of a half-hour, harness a worthy enough vacuum through which the lyric passes.

On the album highlight, “The Followers’ Path”, over the Hyperpop-ish instrumentation, MSYLMA sings ‘a dreamt acceptance speech at a vague ceremony in a life other than this one, where gratitude was due to everyone encountered on the journey’:

وجب الشكر علينا لمن ساهموا فى وقوفنا أمامكم وقفا دين فى رقبتى دين لن يوفى دين سآخذه معى إلى قبرى لعل به وحشة القبر تقضى

[Thanks are due to those whose deeds helped us stand before you. A debt around my neck that I’ll take to the grave that it may make the grave less desolate*]

From the title track,

أينما يستقى بصرى سكر جمال نال عجاف إئتلاف الغيوم

[Wherever my sight thirsts for drunken sip of beauty, it finds the barren union of clouds]

And then there’s the closer, “Enter Stage Right,” replete with end-time lyrical gems like,

ومدار كوكب لم يرى الظل
بجوار ثقب في قوى العقل
والنار مثوى لمن نهى رباً
عن ظلم نفس و عذاب خلد
و عن الثقب فى سقف بيتنا ثقب
ننتظر غضب السماء فى صمت

[In the planet’s orbit no shadow seen. Beside a hole in the powers of the mind. Hellfire is the end for one who chides a god. For the injustice of eternal torment. Another hole is the hole in the roof of our home. Quietly we await Heaven’s wrath] 

It’s a fitting climax: under MSYLMA’s melismatic muezzin-cum-mystagog-delivery, ISMAEL ever-so-slowly foregrounds a macrocosmic twinkling. The listener has been flung to space.

Upon the release of the album, in a disarmingly candid post to his Instagram, MSYLMA expressed,

“I’ve been struggling to process that this album is finally out. It was difficult to write and at moments a heavy listen, as bare as my words and my ego have ever allowed, and I’m excited, relieved and humbled to share it.”

The seven tracks that comprise the album are works of a deep, inward probing, and grand ambition. The Tenets of Forgetting is an album MSYLMA and ISMAEL can proudly stand behind and, hopefully, only the start of a fruitful creative partnership between both artists.

*Lyrics translated to English by Nariman Youssef