Hailed last year as the bright new beacon in the shifting fog of modern black metal, the one-woman project Myrkur maintained her mystery and hidden identity as long as she could. When it was revealed that Myrkur was Amalie Bruun of alt pop duo Ex Cops and Danish modeling fame, the great victory of discovery and subsequent controversy that was to be expected from her unmasking dissipated almost instantly. After the release of her first EP in September, her fans didn’t seem to care about her background, but rather what else she had to contribute. Nearly a year later, Bruun has offered her initial vision fully realized on the first Myrkur album, simply titled M.
Out on Relapse Records, the label that surprised us all last summer with the news of Myrkur’s signing, M boasts a lists of contributors well worth their widely spreading influence in modern black metal. Kristoffer Rygg, commonly known as Garm, the mind behind Norwegian progressive black metal revolutionaries Ulver, serves as producer, and featured on guitar and drums are Mayhem’s Teloch and Nidingr’s Øyvind Myrvoll, respectively.
Owing a great deal to Garm’s early work with Ulver, Myrkur also derives influence from the folklore and musical arts of her native Scandinavia, or more specifically, from Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, who united the two in perfect harmony. Shortly after releasing her self-titled EP, Myrkur also provided a short Spotify playlist comprised of the music that inspired her at the time of recording. Placed side-by-side as if close cousins at a family reunion were several songs from the second wave of black metal, from greats like Enslaved and Mayhem, and classical pieces by composers like Wilhelm Stenhammar and Grieg. Upon closer study, though, the formula derived from these influences becomes all too apparent.
For Ulver fans, M might feel like déjà entendu, recalling the group’s first album, 1995’s Bergtatt. Ever present on both albums is the transcendent feeling of wandering through Scandinavia’s storied woodlands searching for — or escaping from — some great mythological presence. Even more tangible is third track “Onde Børn”, which follows a similar template to that of Bergtatt‘s “Capitel I: I Troldskog faren vild”, with a short drum fill at the beginning followed by soft vocal intonation underlaid with guitar riffs and drums. The same sort of soft instrumentals used on Bergtatt to provide a sense of narrative can be found on M, allowing space for Myrkur’s enchantment. It can’t be ruled out that their similar artistic views brought Bruun and Garm together.
If only Grieg were still alive to collaborate. Bruun’s vocal stylings are often graceful and more than fit for Grieg’s choral arrangements. In an interview with Consequence of Sound, Bruun revealed that her vocals for M were recorded in a grand mausoleum “with no windows or heat and paintings of dead bodies on the walls,” where 11 seconds of reverb could be achieved naturally. These are the ideal conditions for accentuating the ethereal qualities of her voice. The very mystique and menace inhabiting Grieg’s music, especially in his most famous Peer Gynt suite, is alive in Myrkur’s.
This isn’t to say that M lacks any forgiving or distinguishing characteristics. Its production is sharp throughout and cleaned up where needed. Every performance is executed superbly; that’s especially true of Bruun, whose musicianship is explored to its greatest extent. Her voice allures and invites on one track, and like the deceitful witches of Scandinavian folklore, transforms into something much more vicious on the next, filling all the spaces with shrieks and screams. In the same way, where her piano work is almost otherworldly, her guitar riffs are blistering, unforgiving, and even catchy.
Despite the album’s excellent execution, it’s still primarily Bruun’s love letter to her influences. M doesn’t differentiate itself greatly from the early work of many black metal artists. That said, the album shines with potential and the promise that a more unique followup waits further down the trail.
Essential Tracks: “Skøgen Skulle Dø”, “Vølvens Spådom”, and “Skaði”