Black Metal Mixtape
M is the debut full-length from Myrkur, the one-woman black metal project of Danish songstress Amalie Bruun. Bruun is also a member of the festivalcore duo Ex Cops, which is ultimately un-kvlt and un-tr00, and therefore devastating to her black metal forest cred (it would be akin to Wolves in the Throne Room’s Weaver brothers actually also being Ratatat). Thus, this fact has been duly ignored in M’s promotional materials.
What the materials do trumpet proudly is the involvement of Kristoffer Rygg – A.K.A. Garm, A.K.A. Alpha Ulv, A.K.A. Fiery G., A.K.A. the Perdition City Champ, A.K.A. God Head, A.K.A. Still Caking off the Nattens madrigal Fiasco, A.K.A. Trickster G. Rex – as record producer. The Ulver mastermind has worked extensively in everything from the lo-fi-est black metal to electronica to resplendent orchestral productions, and thus seems a very good fit for Myrkur’s varied textures.
And varied they are. Opening track “Skøgen Skulle Dø” begins with gentle choral singing rolling down the misty Norse hillsides. A pounding, guitar-buttressed folk symphony soon supplants the voices, until Myrkur lets loose with a frightening howl. A few moments later, the symphonic elements drop out and a very low fi (both sonically and musically) riff hangs in space, until the return of soaring voices, distant strings and majestic tremolo guitar rescue it from its own abjectitude.
There is a lot of this kind of thing on M, which sounds like a confusing meeting of Enya (this is not an insult), Bjӧrk’s background singers, early Darkthrone, early Ulver, and over a decade of the Scandinavian folk-metal tradition. There is a lot of beautiful, interesting stuff in here, but it is tricky to parse. The lo-fi black metal parts, as exemplified by the blasts in “Hævnen,” are hilariously and jarringly hideous, flawlessly replicating the idiosyncratic (and often just plain shitty) sonic balance and weirdly recorded vocals that defined an era. Those who have come to black metal through more mellifluous modern acts like Deafheaven, latter-day Enslaved or even Vattnet Viskar, Sun Worship and Yellow Eyes will be doing double takes. Some of the straight folk-metal, i.e. “Onde Børn” and “Dybt i Skoven,” can be a little overly serene, raising the dread specter of corny, female-fronted symphonic metal acts like Nightwish.
Unfortunately, it seems all of this unevenness may be M’s defining characteristic. The swings from choral uplift to folk reverie to lo-fi buzz to black gallop just aren’t as smooth as they should be, and seem to exhibit little logic in their order and progression. Many black metal classics are classics because of the trance they induce – all the fuzz and clatter take on a hypnotic quality, smeared melodies and rhythms become abstracted and fascinating, hopeless voices cry out from unfathomable spaces and the whole phantasmagoric ritual proceeds by its own bizarre set of natural laws until the last note. M jumps around so much in terms of style and fidelity that it squanders whatever powers of immersion it might have had. Rousing, relatively straightforward metal songs like “Hævnen,” “Mordet” and “Skadi” jockey in the track sequence with standstill choral pieces like the lovely “Vølvens Spådom,” and the somewhat less interesting “Nordlys” and “Byssan Lull.” The songs that mix the styles are ambitiously interesting, but still bear unaesthetic sharp edges.
“Promising” may seem like backhanded praise, but for M, there are few other ways to put it. Myrkur’s talent and ambition are undeniable, and Rygg and the additional musicians do a fine job in realizing her broad strokes, but the hurdle of cohesion has yet to be cleared. M would be a very fine collection of ideas to start an album with, but in a genre where musicians regularly use their powers to make ten-plus minute songs that still end too soon for their listeners, Myrkur has some work to do in weaving her myriad of lustrous threads into a resplendent whole.