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.

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