Like or hate her heavily indebted style of enchanting folk and atmospheric, Scandinavian blackened metal, talented Danish singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Amalie Bruun has taken the metal world by storm since her inception operating under the Myrkur moniker. Moving from strength to strength in a relatively short period, her potential began to crystallize on 2015’s debut full-length, M. Despite her share of detractors and some ignorant bashing of her supposed black metal credentials, M revealed a musician in a rapid mode of artistic development, where prominent influences were largely trumped by Myrkur’s confident, charismatic vocals and improving song-writing skills. I’ve enjoyed her output thus far, and though in hindsight I was a little generous with my evaluation of M, it remains an impressive debut LP and a solid platform from which to build upon. With the danger of the dreaded second album syndrome casting uncertainty, Myrkur trudges ahead fearlessly to deliver Mareridt.
Myrkur’s spectacularly beautiful and engaging voice remains a key focal point, especially when adorned with mysterious layers of frosty atmosphere and attractive instrumentation. Right from the outset, those special pipes are put to good use on the brooding, snowy forest atmospherics of the title track, unfurling ominously before segueing into the ferocious black metal offensive of “Måneblôt.” Although these sporadic passages lend Mareridt its heavier metal kick, I’m not solidly convinced of their value when stacked up against Myrkur’s more appealing traits. However, “Måneblôt” certainly isn’t a failure, with intensity levels raised and the medieval-tinged folky violin break, this is another tick in the effective use of atmosphere column. The blackened passages have plenty of teeth but still remain an underdeveloped aspect of Mrykur’s music. Things get more interesting on “The Serpent.” Perhaps gaining inspiration from album guest Chelsea Wolfe, the song features Myrkur’s intoxicating and ominous vocal melodies atop a thick, chugging base of doomy, atmospheric rock, winding down with a simple but haunting piano melody. It’s a relatively straightforward but hugely powerful and addictive tune, finding Myrkur at her gripping best.
When shifting her focus around the richly textured Scandinavian folk, creative instrumentation, and doomy, dirge-like songs, shrouded in a bleak undercurrents and bolstered by sombre melodies and soaring vocals, Mykrur’s music thrives. The chilling melodies and frosty core of “Ulvinde” are another highlight, coasting on a typically strong vocal and doomily grim disposition. A brief interjection of primal blackened screams contrasts well and doesn’t feel obtrusive in this instance. Similarly the gorgeous melodies and epic builds on “Gladiatrix” benefit greatly from an aggressive drumming performance, albeit hindered slightly by the poor sound of the bass drums. There’s a cool collaboration with the wonderful Chelsea Wolfe on “Funeral,” with the mournfully beautiful harmonies and the distorted wall of noise bleeding through the deathly slow march. Unfortunately, Myrkur struggles to maintain the high standards of the stronger material here. Several songs don’t quite achieve lift-off (“Crown,” “Elleskudt”) despite some bright moments and the album doesn’t end on a particularly high note. Jaunty instrumental “Kaetteren” comes and goes before the album closes by taking a leaf out of the age-old horror trope of using children to up the creepy factor. In the end its a weird and limp way to conclude the album.
Mareridt’s production has a few troublesome issues though it doesn’t prove overly detrimental to the album. The inconsistencies are more a source of mild frustration. She seems to be conflicted about the tone and vibe of the production, continuing to strip back the sound during the heavier moments, while sounding quite crisp during the other parts, creating an inconsistent sonic palette. And the bass drums are way too muffled and drowned out in the mix. On the plus side, the softer folky numbers and haunting singing on delicate compositions such as the title track and “De Tre Piker” illustrate the beauty of Myrkur’s voice and rich accompanying instrumental arrangements.
Mareridt in many ways seems like another step towards Myrkur’s evolution as an artist, but also feels a little bit sideways after M. The harsher black metal aspects have been further scaled back to the album’s advantage and Myrkur seems to be increasingly aware of her strengths as she gradually develops a more distinctive sound. Inconsistent production, along with a couple of undercooked songs and weak ending prevents the album achieving the knockout blow it promises. Regardless, one gets the feeling that when Myrkur gets the balancing act right and builds upon her song-writing strengths and flashes of captivating brilliance, true greatness won’t be far away.