Spin - "She crafts needling, crepuscular marathons that are pummeling in their darkness, but as soon as you adjust she'll confront you with something a beautiful as a reward for enduring."
Personnel: Myrkur (vocals, guitar, piano); Geloch (guitar); Havard Jorgensen (acoustic guitar); Ole Kenrik Moe (violin); Martin Taxt (tuba); Gone Rekhelt (horns); Myrvoll (drums).
Audio Mixer: Anders Moller.
Recording information: Oak kill, Subsonic Society (12/2014).
Photographer: Trine .
After Myrkur's critically acclaimed self-titled EP appeared in 2014, the mysterious identity of this one-woman black metal act became the subject of intense scrutiny. She is Amalie Bruun, a New York-based Dane who is half the indie pop duo Ex Cops and a fashion model. Thankfully, none but the most conservative of black metal fans care. M, her debut full-length from Relapse, is a more sophisticated extension of the music on the EP. It was recorded in Norway (and sounds like it) and was produced by Garm (Kristoffer Rygg) from Ulver. Myrkur wrote and arranged the material, she plays most instruments save for drums, played by Oyvind Myrvoll (Nidingr), and delivers all vocals. She also enlisted friends from Mayhem, Arch Enemy, and string players in various spots. The album's approach readily references black metal's second wave, atmospheric post-metal, gothic, darkwave, Scandinavian folk, and even classical music -- she's spent time studying the music of Grieg and Stenhammar. Garm's production is perfect; he fleshes out her sound, allowing all of Myrkur's skills to come to the fore more confidently. The madrigal vocals that introduce "Skogen Skulle Do" are appended by a violin, doomy electric guitars, and slow, thudding drums that build to a symphonic and climactic scream before returning to the gloom with majesty. First single "Hæven" is a different story. Its blackened tremolo picking and plodding riff give way to blastbeats and screaming, malevolent vocals that don't relent until the very end. "Mordet" commences with a chugging riff, but becomes downright ugly and sinister. "Jeg er Guden, I er Tjenerne" is doomy, with deep chimes, sludgy guitars, and double bass sequences juxtaposed against clean singing. The primitive "Skadi" offers guttural screaming, spooky piano, muddy tremolo guitars, and messy, distorted bass. Myrkur has been deeply influenced by the narrative suite-like structures on Ulver's album Bergtatt. This is especially true on "Onde Born," which uses the opening drum pattern from that record's "Capitel I: I Troldskog Faren Vild." Elsewhere, it is evidenced by the manner in which Myrkur's songs contrast harsh surfaces with soft and spare ones, creating a narrative architecture within and between each song -- the starkly illustrated, haunting, gothic folk balladry in "Volvens Spådom," "Nordys," and, "Byssan Lull" are interludes that provide examples of the latter, yet also stand on their own as individual entries. Bruun's startling vocal ability is matched by the weight of her compositions, arrangements, and playing. Though there is actually little on M that will satisfy a purist's view of "black metal," it doesn't matter; this record wasn't made for them. Myrkur's music melds all of her adopted stylistic elements, lets their seams show, and emerges with an innovative, alchemical creation of her own. M expands on black metal's boundaries yet holds its dark, foreboding spirit close. ~ Thom Jurek