Danish one woman black metal project Myrkur burst onto the scene in a shroud of mystery with her debut self-titled EP last year. When her identity was revealed to be New York based artist Amalie Bruun of indie-pop duo Ex-Cops, the fickle factions of the wider metal community were seemingly more concerned about her apparently dubious metal cred than the frigid blast of old school Norwegian black metal, post-metal atmospherics and melancholic folk the EP delivered. Sure it wasn’t exactly unique, drawing comparisons to the likes of Ulver and Alcest, but it was at least fresh sounding, despite some clunky transitions and subpar production. It certainly sparked enough interest to have me curious about the direction Bruun would head on her next release, the full-length debut, simply entitled M. Admirably Bruun wrote all music and lyrics on M in addition to performing vocals, guitar and piano, enlisting several big game players and a host of additional musicians to flesh out the album, including session work from drummer Øyvind Myrvoll (Nidingr) and Teloch (Mayhem), and a guest appearance from Christopher Amott (Arch Enemy) on the blasty, guitar driven assault of “Mordet.”
M finds Myrkur establishing a greater sense of identity and confidence with her music, building upon the strengths of the debut and constructing an altogether more coherent and richer collection of songs. Her song-writing plays-up the striking and often disparate contrasts between enchanting folk and dreamy post-metal with harsher blasts of old school black metal, but the transitions and song structures are far better constructed this time. Opener “Skøgen Skulle Dø” features heavenly vocal harmonies that sounds like a medieval church choir and will have the kvltists ready to burn Myrkur at the stake. It’s a grandiose and epic beginning to the album, devoid of anything particularly heavy but complete with stylish folk instrumentation and mystical atmosphere. In fact, much of the material on M scarcely qualifies as black metal in the traditional sense, and it’s Myrkur’s brave forays outside of the blackened realm that births such a versatile and fresh take on the genre.
Say what you will about Myrkur’s metal credentials, nothing about M sounds forced or contrived. Bruun’s crafty skill at creating an immersive, enchanting atmosphere with her music stands out, while the ethereal quality of her beautiful singing voice is very easy on the ears. Essentially the haunting balladry featured on “Vølvens Spådom” and “Byssan Lull” offers stripped back, minimalist vehicles for Bruun’s voice to shine, while the dreamy post-metal and dense layers of “Onde Børn” and “Dybt i Skoven” feature sublime vocal melodies atop driving bass and droning guitars. When her sparkling singing voice is juxtaposed against the grim mid-paced sections and screechier blackened tirades, Mykrur’s dynamic formula is at its most engaging, with tracks like “Jeg er Guden, I er Tjenerne” and the blistering “Skadi” reinforcing this point. “Mordet” is another blazing number, with Bruun’s manipulated, inhuman howls sounding particularly vital. The song features an unsettling atmospheric mid-section which resonates deeply before descending into dense, lo-fi blasting.
Musically there’s a stronger collection of riffs and memorable melodies on offer, making for a catchier and more engaging listen. And in an age of overstuffed metal albums, the concise run-time of a fraction under 37 minutes certainly helps with the replay factor. The significant upping of the folk quotient, including the incorporation of a broad range of strings and horns, adds richness and depth to the compositions. However, it’s the sombre doomy melodies featured on the likes of “Hævnen” and “Jeg er Guden, I er Tjenerne” that really hit a sweet spot. Meanwhile, the blackened sections are far more ripping and intense, aided by tighter performances and a much improved production and mixing job. This was an area of weakness on the EP that has been satisfyingly rectified, even if there’s still ample room to improve and develop these segments further. Although occasionally M gets a little too airy for my tastes and some extra fire and aggression would have been welcome, the song-writing hits the mark more often than not, showcasing Myrkur’s growth in the relatively short period between releases.
Fittingly co-produced by Garm (Ulver), M is enriched with a fuller sound and far more sensible mixing job with an all-over-the-shop Dynamic Range roughly averaging out to a respectable 7. I would have liked a bit more definition and punch to the bass drums, but overall the production finds a solid middle ground between clean and organic tones and rawer second wave aesthetics. I was probably guilty of overscoring the EP, but Mykrur has written a far more cohesive and compelling collection this time round. M signals the marked improvement I was hoping for from Myrkur and the album’s glistening melodies, addictive hooks and gloomy melancholy make deep impressions that are not easily shaken.