Icelandic terrors Abominor treat you to terrifying journey to hell on debut ‘Opus: Decay’

AbominorIt isn’t every day that you see album art that totally conveys what’s contained on the record you’re holding. I’m not saying a crazed painting or wild beast on a cover doesn’t properly get across the band’s point. That idea works, too. But I mean an image that you see it and go, “Yeah. That’s exactly how I felt listening to the music.”

Take a quick look at Abominor’s debut mini-album “Opus: Decay” and know for sure that tackling their music is going to feel the same way. It’s like looking down into a long voided tunnel, with winds whipping back at you, and your destination totally unknown. The journey feels claustrophobic, dizzying, and something over which you have no control. That long tunnel you see on the cover perfectly encapsulated these two lengthy epics, and it probably will make you feel like you never, ever will claw your way out. I’m not sure if this was what the Reykjavík, Iceland-based band—Alfreð Þór on bass and vocals, Óskar Þór on guitars and vocals, Kristinn Rafn on guitars, Þórir Hólm on drums—had in mind when they chose the artwork, but well done nonetheless. It’s also a perfect portrait into this stunning, churning release, the first official document (they also have a demo) from a band that’s been kicking around since 2008 obviously perfecting their craft and getting you read for madness.

Abominor coverWe begin with the 12:36-long “474,” an eerie burst of noise filled with mean gasps, mysteriousness, and eventually some pointed riffs that really get the soup boiling. The track breaks out into full launch, as immersive melodies surround you and batter your senses, and monstrous vocals tear their way through your soul. A cloud cover later sets in, making it tough to see through the thickness, and cold air arrives that leaves your vulnerable body in a chill. That later passes as the song gets smothering again, with fires raging anew, and that spills into a calculated pace, where the frost returns. But alas, there are even more convulsions ahead, as the band starts demolishing again, with animalistic vocals throwing up blood, the band pounding heavily, and a trance-inducing final bend mixing with abject horror.

The title cut finishes off the record, an 8:54-long piece that’s introduced with crazed guitars, drums being mauled, and a delirious pace causing your head to spin. That halts quickly, as the song heads into the fog and melodies bring the ice back to your blood stream. The band goes tornadic out of that, causing dust and mud to fly, and then they begin mauling harder than ever, with the vocals adding the extra damage needed. Everything crashes down savagely, leaving you no room to run and at the point in the tunnel where it’s far too late to turn around. The growls remain creaky and agitating, while the band delivers pain on all cylinders, bringing the track to a devastating end.

Despite being together for seven years now, this really is just the beginning for Abominor. And what a start it is. This two-track journey is dangerous and exciting, despite the fact you might not survive, and it provides even more hope for the future of black metal. I’m excited to hear this band tackle a full-length release, and here’s betting that thing is even more suffocating than this killer EP.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Abominor/275583995793045

To buy the album, go here: http://www.invictusproductions.net/shop/

For more on the label go here: http://invictusproductions.net/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Nechochwen unearth historical roots on enthralling ‘Heart of Akamon’

NechochwenThere are myriad bands that explore the folklore and history of their native homeland, most notably groups that hail from the Scandinavian region and England. Not that America doesn’t have these types of bands—Panopticon certainly come to mind—but we don’t seem to boast the multitude of artists looking to shed light on American ancestry.

West Virginia natives Nechochwen are another who have delved into their and the country’s past and found inspiration for their work. Ideally nestled on the Bindrune Recordings roster (where they thoroughly, completely belong), the band has carved out a rustic style and following built as organically as their music. Their mix of American folk, Native American sounds, black metal, and classic heavy metal might not sound wholly unique, but the way Nechochwen blend these sounds is. They’ve been a favorite of mine for many years now (I came in right around the “Azimuths to the Underworld” record, and we rightfully praised their eclectic “Oto” in 2012), and their amazing fourth record “Heart of Akamon” was a high priority for us once we heard rumblings of its existence.

Nechochwen coverThis entity has two primary members in the band’s namesake Nechochwen, who handles vocals, nylon and string guitars, hand drums, flute, and lalawas, and Pohonasin, who is on drums and bass. Live, the band has expanded even further as of late, as they took on Pandel Collaros and Amanda McCoy, and as “Akamon” has come into greater focus, the band tightened its grip on their mission. This record explores the band’s Ohio Valley homeland (before the arrival of European settlers), its rich history, spiritual elements, and even the violence that helped shape it, and it is unquestionably the best thing they’ve ever done. It’s a journey to find one’s place, while struggling to hold together the traditions and customs they hold dear. The record is easy to get lost inside of and have you revisit again and again on loop.

“The Serpent Tradition”—I’ll go ahead and say it, arguably the best song in the band’s history—attacks a few paces out of the gates. There is an acoustic opening that sets the stage, and then everything charges forward. Heavily. The vocals are monstrous, the melodies are gigantic, and all elements build toward a brief calm that dips back into chaos and premonitions of war. Some great dual guitar lines meet up and gallop power metal style, and then the song morphs again, chugging, unleashing killer solos, and winding up in a thrashy end. Holy shit, what a song! “The Impending Winter” made me feel the presence of just that, and it’s a quiet instrumental that has drum beats built in to add some kick. “Lost on the Trail of the Setting Sun” starts with the horrors of battle, but the type fought with muskets and face-to-face bloodshed. The song begins to burst, with creaky growls pushing and a dynamic riff blowing out. There are desperate cries, as the tempo hits hard and the line, “War is our burden, as we must survive,” hammers home the struggle. “Oct. 6, 1813” starts with strong acoustic progressions and clean singing, with Nechochwen solemnly observing “the sadness almost too great as they left his grave.” Woodwinds rise up, the playing rows even stronger, and the vow, “We will rise again,” gives the track its inspirational power.

“Traversing the Shades of Death” plods along with might, with a cold, dark ambience sweeping in and a strong, folk-style composition taking hold. Acoustics sweep in in waves, as guitars singe, the vocals come out as a mix of roars and growls, and the track sinks into murk. The fog slips over the more rustic parts, yet another assault of howls takes the song out. “Skimota” begins like an acoustic jam session that you almost can imagine emanating in front of a roaring, crackling fire. Later the guitars take on a sunburnt feel, with singing going from croon to yowl, and chimes and echoes standing as the last thing you hear. “Skyhook” is heavy and clubbing, yet it has an atmospheric backing as well. The guitars explore all over the place, delving into classic metal terrain that’s later visit by acoustic flourishes. Winds gust, the energy charges up again, and powerful, thunderous melodies bring the song to its end. Closer “Kiselamakong” feels like sheets of winter quietly blanketing the ground, but the guitars later warm up, causing a glow. Woodsy sounds emerge, leaving the air all smoky, and then the doom drops hard. The guitars stream over top everything, though the bottom end is both muddy and dreamy, and as dialog turns into full vocal expression, the track reaches its natural conclusion, and this incredible journey comes to an enthralling finish.

Once again, Nechochwen have knocked us over with their power, intensity, and passion, as “Heart of Akamon” sounds like a history lesson they actually lived through themselves. These eight songs are a reach back to the past, to a simpler time technologically, yet a place where the struggles were possibly greater than they are today. That fire and journey are alive in this record, and these are songs that feel like they’ll settle even closer to the heart once colder winds come and we try to find places to stay safe and warm.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nechochwen-Official/110325015754751

To buy the album, go here: http://eihwazrecordings.com/distro/

For more on the label, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.com/

Wederganger imagine the dead returning to walk the earth on violent ‘Halfvergaan ontwaakt’

Wederganger-2015People are super into zombies right now. Like, really, really excited about them. I’m not really complaining about it, as I’ve been a big fan of George Romero’s work (the “Living Dead” movies essentially were made in Meat Mead Metal’s backyard), but it’s just interesting to see the fervor that has overtaken pop culture.

I don’t know if that’s what Wederganger had in mind when adopting that name for their band (you know, zombies and all), but the moniker means “one who walks again.” Well, that kind of would mean a zombie, but I guess there are many different ways of looking at it. One way or another, their music is chilling and terrifying, if trying to tell the story of a world inhabited by both the living and the dead. They have a strange way of going about things, and they sing in their Dutch native tongue, so there’s no way for me to really understand what’s going on. But I know what I feel when I hear the music on their ferocious debut “Halfvergaan ontwaakt,” and their strange, oppressive form of black metal is heavy, bewildering, an unlike most of what else is out there.

WedergangerCoverThis odd band that hails from the Netherlands has an interesting structure. There are three core members in Botmuyl (he does the growling and screaming), Alfschin (who handles the ghostly, warbling singing), and MJWW (he takes care of guitars). But when this band expands to the stage, they take on added members including Bezetene (guitars), Quaetslagher and Gluyperd (both play bass), and Onmens (who sits behind the drums). It’s an interesting arrangement that I assume lets the primary members create their visions in the studio, and their added members allow them to translate these terrors live. The band’s music is inspired by Germanic eschatology and Gueldrian folklore, with an emphasis on spirits, the undead, and overall horror. I’ll be damned if the music’s aura doesn’t pay that off rather perfectly.

“Dwaallichtbezwering” begins the record with disarming guitars, sobs that turn into screams, and monotone singing that sounds detached from the earth. The track hammers forward, punishing and causing bruising along the way, while the final moments are mesmerizing and violent. “Gelderse Drek” opens with black metal-style guitars cascading, while vicious, gurgly growls spill over and the pace just goes off. The overall sense of the song turns to haunting, while throaty, talk-like singing takes over as the horrors bleed out. “Dodendans” is the longest cut at 7:49, and it steers into buzzing, yet reflective winds, burly clean singing, and disorienting guitars the sweep into the picture. The track takes on a hazy, overcast feel, like a warm summer afternoon devoid of sun, and a psychedelic wave comes lapping in before the track returns to full, relentless boil. “Wera Wulfa” has dizzying riffs that meet up with deep, gut-wrenching growls and bouts of severe hypnosis. The playing draws to a trickle, eating away ever so slowly at you before the eruption returns and leaves everything in the dust.

“Vlammenvonnis” brings back reminders of that dreary summer afternoon, only now the rains have come and fall just enough to soak you slowly. Clean crooning starts you on your path, but then you meet up with devastating growls, dramatic section of melodies, and an explosive burst into full speed, leaving you absolutely flattened. Toward the end, calm arrives, the singing returns, and then it’s off to “Schimmenspel,” which is a strange, mind-altering instrumental cut. Here, pianos drip, strange noises smear the scene, and weird echoes drive home the sense of vertigo. “Walmend Graf” picks up the intensity again with chunky riffs, guitars catching fire, and harsh vocals rushing back again. There are odd, clean calls over what feels like the chorus, and after a dose of manic assaults, the song rounds itself back to the beginning. Closer “Zwarte Gedachten” has guitars charging up right away, deep growls that almost sound like monstrous dialog, and eventually the grip loosens so the music can shimmer a bit. Melodies and violence intertwine down the stretch, each taking the advantage from time to time, and the song ends with a grim vocal display and every death-teasing element fading into your nightmares.

Maybe one day the dead really will walk the earth, and we’ll look at bands such as Wederganger as one of those visionaries that tried to warn us of what’s ahead. “Halfvergaan ontwaakt” is an interesting collection, one that really stands out from a lot of the swollen black metal pack for its unique strangeness. This band is one you’ll want to spend a dark evening alongside, preferably with a room-temperature stout as your mental guide, and slip into the terrifying world Wederganger celebrates.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Wederganger

To buy the album, go here: http://www.van-records.de/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/vanrecs

Creeping’s combination of doom, death are the stuff from which horrors are made on ‘Revenant’

CreepingI don’t often have nightmares that include music. If I have, I don’t remember having them, so the experience pretty much was lost on me. But now and again I’ll hear something and think that it would be ideal to hear while unconscious, exploring the weird caverns of my brain.

Doom/death beasts Creeping always seemed to be a band that could fit the bill. Loud and grimy, punishing and disturbing, they’ve spent the past decade making music that sounds ominous and foreboding. They don’t waste their time trying to make things more horrific than they are. They’re not attempting to make a horror film here. Instead, they tap into the darkness and terror of existence with aplomb and give you something a little more tangible to freeze you in your tracks. Or in other words, they splash their records with audio nightmares. Their latest album “Revenant” keeps delivering that morbidity, twisting and turning your anxiety over the course of five tracks and 31 minutes of hell. The record’s so massive, in fact, it can’t be contained on a single label. Iron Bonehead is handling the vinyl edition, while Daemon Worship is putting out the CD. Each version will have different artwork as well.

Creeping coverThe New Zealand-based band is comprised of members of The House of Capricorn and Abystic Ritual with Marko Pavlovic on bass and vocals; Scott Blomfield on guitars; and James Wallace on drums. After a debut EP in 2005, the band released their first proper full-length “Funeral Crawl” in 2007, with “Order of Snakes” arriving in 2011. The only other new music from the band came on a 2011 split with Glorior Belli, making “Revenant” the first fresh material from the band in the past four years. Things sound just as bleak and vicious as ever for Creeping, so hopefully their new label affiliations will help pique interest in the band. Certainly anyone with a death and doom appetite are going to find themselves fulfilled.

The record begins with the seven-minute “Death Knell Offering,” opening with funeral bells, doom riffs, and mournful melodies. The vocals are a guttural growl, and as guitars begin raining down, the pace gets into uneasy dream territory, and the waters grow murkier as the song builds. In fact, it starts to feel like a chilled, relentless rain storm is moving in, with the music creating thick, impenetrable fog where you barely can see five feet in front of you. That continues right up to the end, when the track slowly fades away. “Scythes Over My Grave” is the longest cut at 9:07 and ignites right away, with the track taking on a black metal feel. The bulk of the song does a fantastic job doing bodily harm and smothering you, with melodies intertwined into the chaos, raw-sounding howls emanating from Pavlovic’s throat, and later the track going cold. But that doesn’t last as the fires start burning again, the growls churn, and the song rises to a blinding glimmer before fading away.

“Cold Soil” is a quick one, a slow-moving, whisper-filled track that feels like it’s taking you into a weird patch of serenity before the death vibe returns and the brute force leads into “Drear.” This one opens in the midst of choppy waters, driving hard and standing as one of the most punishing cuts on the record. The vocals once again come across as harsh and unforgiving, and out of yet another misleading dose of serenity, the band comes out on the other side dealing vicious body blows. The song smears and pounds, with doom-infested sentiments returning before it disappears into the night. The closing title cut has guitars lighting up right away, with some cool, spindly riffs leading the way, a strong melody sneaking up from behind, and an epic sense injected into the song’s DNA. There’s a nice, gray texture behind the mix here, with the final minute really coming to life with heaviness, guitars splashing down in sheets, and a dizzying, grisly conclusion that caps off this awesome trip.

Creeping are in good hands as far as labels are concerned, and they delivered a damn strong record after being away for the past four years. “Revenant” hits hard, makes you feel spooky inside, and definitely could be a welcome addition to any nightmare. Certainly Creeping are not alone in making dark death and doom concoctions; they just happen to do it as well as any other group currently trying to do the same thing.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/creeping666

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.ironbonehead.de/en/

Or here: http://daemonworship.org/distribution.php

For more on the label, go here: http://www.ironbonehead.de/

Or here: http://www.daemonworship.org/

PICK OF THE WEEK: War’s eternal fires flare up on Adversarial’s bleak ‘Death, Endless Nothing…’

AdversarialAll-out war has come. Explosions rock the ground, buildings are blazing out of control, and the assault is coming right for you. There isn’t any place to hide, as you’re in the wide open, and your only choice is to fight back for your life or let the opposing forces absorb you as you become a stain in the earth.

The above scenario is how it feels taking on Adversarial’s punishing second record “Death, Endless Nothing and the Black Knife of Nihilism,” one of the most furious death metal platters of the second half of the year. These guys are complete blazers, unloading everything they have on you and crushing you with blinding assaults that come from all ends. Over these nine tracks and a little more than 37 minutes, Adversarial do whatever it takes to demolish any weaklings standing in their way who are afraid of the fight. They want nothing more than blood, chaos, and violence, and they pay that in dividends during this record, which should thrill the hell out of anyone with a hunger for death metal that is as violent and unforgiving as it comes.

Adversarial coverAdversarial crawled out of hell’s gates (well, OK, Toronto) nearly a decade ago, and they delivered their sickening debut album “All Idols Fall Before the Hammer” in 2010. The members of this band—vocalist/guitarist C.S. (Sentient), bassist M.M. (of criminally underappreciated and like-minded Paroxsihzem and formerly of bands such as Nuclearhammer), and drummer E.K. (formerly of Horde of Worms, Lapidate)—also delivered an EP in 2011, then two split releases (one with Antediluvian, the other with aforementioned Paroxsihzem). But all of it leads here, to this maddening, dangerous, smothering album that practically sounds like it’s being delivered form the mouth of a raging inferno and has enough deadly riffs and smeary growling to keep you on alert for weeks.

“Dissenting the Waking Shell” tears the record open, with the band pounding relentlessly, the riffs burning, and the vocals delivering outright savagery. It feels like being stuck in a pit of chaos, with bullets flying all around you, and as the band shifts back and forth between tempos, the drums erupt and start slaughtering. The final moments are delirious and crazed, and they lead toward “Intro,” a song that has some weird placement and has a strange cosmic feel. We then head into “Immersion Void Paragon” and its boiling atmosphere, where you feel the sweat beginning to flow from your forehead. The vocals are crawling deep in the mix, sounding infernal, while the music slashes and lurches, and the lead guitar work sweats away. “Eonik Spiritual Warfare” has guitars stabbing all over the place, with gruff growls bubbling and an intense pace. The lead work goes all over the place, dizzying and troubling, while the drums are turned to dust. The vocals unleash torment before the tide pulls back and fades. “Interlude” is built on sirens, gunfire, and the sound of fires crackling, as lines from “1984” sneak through, the most impactful being, “Always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler.”

“Cursed Blades Cast Upon the Slavescum of Christ” isn’t exactly a spiritual anthem, and it erupts right from the start, with horrifying vocals, a blistering pace, and the growls later turning into pained wails. The riffs return to dominate, with all of the elements spiraling, and the track comes to a fiery conclusion. “Old Ruins Slumber in a Crushing Hatred of Man” continues the epic song titles and has an ominous, stinging beginning. The track melts into a mid-tempo hulking, with the guitars once again drawing blood from fragile skin, and the song eventually fizzles out in pools of lava. “Lone Wresting Hymns to the Warmoon of Chaos” gets crushing right away, stomping bodies and claiming everything in front of them. The growls are just furious, with the pace kicking into overdrive, the drums bashing in your brains, and your entire skeletal system getting rattled to its core. That leads into the title cut finale that is an immediate onslaught of violence, a face-first drive into torture that should bubble your skin in no time. The pace is ungodly massive, twisting and turning the gears and unleashing the blackness, while the vocals return to their gurgly best, chilling your bones on the way through damnation’s gates.

Adversarial’s approach isn’t safe or sanitized, and surely they wouldn’t have it any other way. This is music meant to hurt, designed to terrify, and trying to do as much bodily and auditory damage as possible. “Death, Endless Nothing and the Black Knife of Nihilism” is for those strong enough to handle it, and it’s one of the year’s most satisfying death metal albums. War is coming, and it’s charging right from the boots of Adversarial, who don’t have time to take prisoners.

For more on the band go here: http://www.adversarial.ca/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/store/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/

Funerary, Ooze bring their new doom-demolished, abrasive split album to 7th annual Skull Fest

Funerary

Funerary

“Your summer is dying, but for you the worst is yet to come.” That’s the statement that smacks you in the face on the flyer for one of tonight’s kickoff events for the seventh annual Skull Fest. If you’re in Pittsburgh tonight or this weekend, you have myriad shows to blow your face off and tons of ways to get a slew of cuts and bruises you’ll have to explain away at work come Monday.

Yes, there are four days of activities yet to come, but for someone who revels in doom and weirdness, tonight’s show at Gooski’s is the main event. Starting at around 10 p.m. (it’s always kind of a loose start time), you can witness Pittsburgh doom/Tom Atkins apostles CANT, fellow city dwellers and noise mongers Night Vapor, as well as the headliners we discuss today, funeral doom crushers Funerary and Italian sludge fiends Ooze. It just so happens those two bands have a new split album out (on Midnite Collective), and there’s a good chance if you’re in attendance tonight, they’ll treat you to the hammering new creations. It’s going to be loud, probably really hot inside, and a damn good night for those of us who like things metallic and even a little bizarre around the edges.

Funerary Ooze coverWe’ll start off with Funerary, who likely won’t be phased by the heat considering they hail from moderately warm Phoenix. The band has been crushing souls since their formation just two years ago, and they delivered their first record “Starless Aeon” last year. The five-headed beast is comprised of J.A. on vocals, I.L. on guitars and vocals, E.G. on guitars, P.B. on bass, and S.M. on drums, and their deranged, drubbingly heavy style makes for the more grinding half of this split effort. The band is scary, slithering, and delivers two crushing songs that might leave you concussed.

Funerary get started with “Ascent,” an 8:08-long bruiser that has a grim opening and plods along from there in violent fashion. Terrifying shrieks are traded off for gut-wrenching growls, as pure menace is injected into the space this song inhabits, and the body just keeps lurching along. As you follow the trail of smeared blood it leaves behind, don’t be shocked to find more horrifying screams ripping out of each corner, a merciless drubbing, and a conclusion that lands in piles of ash. “Descent” begins with a harrowing doom riff that blows into Sabbath territory. The track devastates completely, with the shrieks raining down like razors, the band pounding heavily, and a brief cold reprieve followed by smothering anguish. From here, they drop tonnage on you, smashing and bashing in place while the vocals tear at your face and sickness is allowed to permeate. The song bleeds out in smoking fashion, leaving everyone in its wake choking teary-eyed.

Ooze

Ooze

On the other end come Ooze, an Italian quartet who have been in existence a couple years longer than their split counterparts and provide something a little bit different. The band debuted in 2012 with their EP “Sister Tank,” and they responded last year with their debut self-titled full-length on Totalrust. The single-named ghouls who make up this band are vocalist Andrea, guitarist Sino, bassist Ans, and drummer Stefano, and their approach is a little faster, just as dirty, and satisfyingly thashy. The band kicks in four songs that are a little longer combined than Funerary’s two cuts, and they should be a blast of fun to hear live as they rob you of your hearing.

Ooze bust out of the gate with some swagger, with grimy vocals leading the way, and killer riffs lighting fires. The atmosphere is thick and smothering, as the band comes at you with bursts of speed and monstrous intent. “Necrotopya” enters in a feedback hiss, with burly riffs breaking out of that and the band chugging heavily toward you. The vocals maim and encircle, while the band kicks up the savagery for good measure, slamming you face first into “Bridges Burned.” Here, they catch onto a muddy groove, with the vocals again coming off as abrasive (in a good way), and the rest of the group even howling back. Eventually a slow-driving tempo takes over, letting the punishment be dealt slowly, and it all ends in a skull-crushing fit and swarm of wild howls. Closer “Satanchia’s Will” lets noise spit like sparks rushing from an over-ripe socket, with the band at first taking calculated steps before letting the gurgly growls take over and the guitars to quiver hellishly. The music boils and lets off steam as it goes, punching and ramming its way toward its final moments, where feedback screeches rise to threatening levels before finally letting go.

This split album from Funerary and Ooze is a damn explosive document, and it’s great material to plaster all over their Skull Fest appearance tonight. Both bands do doom just right, each coming at it from a different approach. This record also is a fine way to introduce yourself to each band if you’re not familiar, or just a way to put yourself in a demented amount of pain. Enjoy Skull Fest, and try not to cry that your fun sunny days are dissolving before your eyes.

For more information on Skull Fest 7, including lineup, times, ticket info, go here: https://www.facebook.com/events/881990855223362/

For more on Funerary, go here: https://www.facebook.com/funerarydoom

For more on Ooze, go here: https://www.facebook.com/oozeband

To buy the album, go here: http://midniteclv.storenvy.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/midnitecollective

Cast all the doubts you want, but Myrkur’s debut full-length ‘M’ is a hell of a rousing record

MyrkurThere are pieces that I write that I really look forward to getting on record. Today is one of those. I love records and artists that separate people, make them clash, force silly accusations of true or not true. It’s endlessly amusing to me, and please know every one of you who have questioned my stake in metal or my tastes in the comments section make me laugh riotously every time. Because none of it matters.

I say all of this because we have Myrkur’s first full-length “M” up on the block today, and we all know this one is going to be a hot topic. For those of you unaware, Myrkur is led by Amalie Bruun, who has the “audacity” of being a model and a member of killer indie pop group Ex Cops. So obviously that already disqualifies her from making black metal. Actually, much of the backlash isn’t really her fault. Myrkur was rolled out as sort of a mystery project last fall by Relapse with the release of the self-titled EP that seemed to land out of nowhere. I remember being assigned a review of the music last summer and scrambling endlessly to research who this band was, who was in it, if they’d done anything before. Eventually it came out that Bruun was behind it as its sole member, and all the bullshit hit the fan (though I wonder if she would have been dismissed outright anyhow had they come clean from the start). Her credentials were questioned, her creative prowess was doubted, and she was ridiculed by a great number of brave internet creatures. Never mind what the EP sounded like (it was good, not great). We must defend metal at all costs from outsiders… And by the way, I have read a good bit of legit criticism based solely on her music and not anything else about her. So I don’t want to come across as “every negative thing said about her is sexist or childish.” That isn’t the case, and I completely expect people to disagree with me on this piece just from a musical standpoint.

Myrkur coverAnyway, Bruun assembled a killer cast to assist her in making “M,” something that’s also not bound to silence the doubters out there, but who cares? Bruun has charged up her growls and screams, sounding downright monstrous in spots on this record, while her otherworldly singing is more plentiful and more haunting on this collection. She sounds fully confident and in command. That’s in addition to her guitar work and piano, also vital elements of this record. Along with her are Håvard Jørgensen (he’s worked with Satyricon and Ulver) on guitars; Teloch (Mayhem, Nidingr) on guitars and bass; Øyvind Myrvoll (also of Nidingr) on drums; and myriad other musicians adding strings, horns, and tuba. Also, Christopher Amott (Arch Enemy, ex-Carcass) also delivers some great guitar work on one track, more than delivering in the riff department. Another vital component is Kristoffer “Garm” Rygg, Ulver’s vocalist, who helped mix the album and whose fingerprints certainly are visible. Credit to Bruun for putting together such a sturdy backing band, as she really poured everything into “M.” I fear people won’t give her enough credit because if the studded cast. Without her, this project doesn’t soar to the heights she reaches. And for better or worse, people are going to remember this album at the end of the year one way or another.

“Skøgen Skulle Dø” kicks off the record as sort of an amalgamation of everything you’re about to witness. Choral sections take hold, as strings rise and deepen the drama, and then screams rip your heart out. Horns begin their march, while moody passages sweep over, and the back end has noises raining down to create a foggy ambiance. “Hævnen” is a barn-burner, with heavy riffs trudging and Bruun’s vocals sounding feral and terrifying. Her delivery should send chills, while later in the song, the tempo turns into a Euro-folk-inflected serving of blackness. “Onde Børn” strikes hard, with melodic leads, riveting melodies, and strong, catchy singing. Bruun’s tradeoff from vicious to visceral in the same song is something that keeps things interesting and flowing. The track surges late, with murky strings and swirling sounds dizzying. “Vølvens Spådom” is the first of several shorter, interlude-style cuts, this one full of echoes and chilling wonder. “Jeg er Guden, I er Tjenerne” gets back to aggression, with guitars grinding and the singing floating above it all. The track settles into a mid-tempo, with bells ringing and shrieks wailing, striking your nerves before heading back to melodies that dressed the song’s front portion.

“Nordlys” is the second shorter, quieter song, as piano flow quietly and Bruun wordlessly sings, injecting the piece with a strange vibe. That leads to “Mordet,” the track featuring Amott, and it’s the strangest of the bunch. A total death riff kicks things off, feeling like we’re going in a different direction, and Bruun’s vocals help add even more danger to what’s going on. Then dark tidings arrive, the storm front nears, and just as you think you’re drifting off, explosions burst anew and pull the song into total insanity. “Byssan Lull” is another shorter, quiet cut, again built on pianos, dream-like singing, and a vibe that feels absolutely snowbound. “Dybt i Skoven” has guitars calling out at the start, and then it’s into a more rock-oriented piece, with the singing wrapping itself around your brain and claiming you as captive (the melodies just won’t get out of my head). The entire band creates something here that even could pull in folks from outside metal circles. “Skaði” is a good final burst of savagery, with every element hammering down and causing thick smoke, monstrous growls decimating any hint of peace, and a sense that feels somewhat demonic. Pianos then begin to beat down, with a haze emerging behind, growls mixing into thick choral clouds, and the track settling into a towering inferno one last time before calm claims the day. Closer “Norn” is a fitting outro, a couple of minutes of reflective, gentle playing that closes the back cover on this magnificent adventure.

There are going to be people who pass off “M” just because they think they’re too important and too mighty to even consider this. But ultimately they can do what they want. What matters to me is I hear a major progression from the EP to this record, and from the first time I heard this record a couple months ago, I’ve been fully immersed. I’d still like to hear expand a bit more, examine more of her influences, and get even stronger musically. There are going to be detractors out there and people who want their opinion to eclipse the art. Myrkur doesn’t seem on the path to let that happen, and Bruun’s project is one of the most interesting, provocative in all of black metal. Hell, in all of metal. This is a rewarding record, and I’m going to be journeying through this one for some time to come.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.myrkurmusic.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.relapse.com/store.html

For more on the label, go here: http://www.relapse.com/