The old PR hype machine has been cranking out the pre-release superlatives and playing up the mystery surrounding the debut EP from Scandinavian one woman black metal project Myrkur. Typical of male dominance in the metal community, the gender novelty has been thrown around, however it’s the identity of this apparently Danish born artist that has raised much speculation and underground sleuthing from dedicated metalheads. Although there’s nothing set in concrete, the firmest evidence appears to point towards Myrkur being the moniker for Brooklyn-based musician Amelie Bruun, aka, one half of indie-pop duo Ex Cops. Whatever the case, the mystery surrounding this project has worked as an effective, although frustratingly vague marketing ploy. In the end I’d rather deal in cold hard facts than speculation. So whether this impressive EP was recorded in an isolated cabin within a fog shrouded forest in some Scandinavian country, or punched out in an upmarket studio in New York, is largely irrelevant.
Background suspicions aside, Myrkur largely delivers the goods here. The atmospheric elements, strong melodic bent and Myrkur’s earthy, mystical spin juxtaposed against a traditional black metal backdrop makes for a unique and rewarding listen. Her music has an enchanting vibe that adds a touch of warmth to the typically bleak tones and frosty temperatures of the material. Two of the EP’s songs (“Ulvesangen” and “Frosne Vind”) are short hymn-like interludes, showcasing Myrkur’s pure, crystalline voice atop sparse soundscapes. But it’s the more fleshed out songs that create the most affecting impact. Opener “Ravnens Banner” begins with some achingly beautiful vocal harmonies that work a clever trick shot before exploding with a raw and sudden burst of blackened fury and before shifting gears into a beguiling mid-tempo march through frosty climates. Despite Myrkur’s songwriting being littered with engaging moments and quality songcraft, the transitional shifts between moments of serenity and full blown blasting are a tad jarring and could certainly be improved upon down the line.
While Myrkur’s breathtaking vocal melodies rightfully garner the most attention, musically the EP offers plenty of variety and dynamics; from the tremolo picked riffs, otherworldly screams and blasting drums that punctuate the dynamic structure of “Nattens Barn,” to the menacing riffs of scorching closer and EP highlight, “Må Du Brænde i Helvede.” Meanwhile, “Dybt I Skoven” wins a point in the diversity stakes, riding a dreamy post-metal groove reminiscent of True Widow’s recent Circumambulation release, albeit peppered with aggressive drum patterns. Potential is the word that keeps springing to mind during each spin, as the EP exhibits all the hallmarks of a raw talent on the cusp of creating something truly unique and profound, but still experiencing the inevitable growing pains of a songwriter still finding her niche and developing a signature sound.
Conflicting factors that I’ve been grappling with are the strange production and mixing jobs on the recording. Something sounds amiss and the inconsistencies and flat spots can be downright distracting and off-putting on occasions. During certain passages, particularly when Myrkur’s clean singing is overlaying a speedier section, there’s a detachment between the vocals and music that sounds frankly a bit odd. Another drawback is the sound of the drums. I have a gut feeling the drums aren’t programmed, but man, they are mixed badly during the blasting sections, sounding both artificial and overbearing whilst seriously drowning out the impact of the guitars. It’s a damn shame too as the versatile guitar work is one of the EP’s notable strengths. Fortunately the guitar tone itself is top notch, sounding crisp yet retaining a raw and edgy crunch.
Quibbles aside, at the heart of this impressive EP is a fearless young artist with a strong emotional connection to black metal’s gnarled roots and the willingness to stretch the boundaries of the genre into unique and ambitious terrain. Myrkur’s anticipated debut EP is worthy of praise and attention and despite the frustrating elements that crop-up from time to time, this is a notable first movement for an artist on the rise.